This book review originally ran in the Spring 2015 edition of Florida Food & Farm.

People who look at a patch of ground and imagine what could be growing there will find John Zahina-Ramos’ first book, Just One Backyard: One Man’s Search for Food Sustainability, to be a page-turner.

But he’s aiming for a much wider audience – and not just people who wonder whether they could trim food budgets by growing their own produce.

He wants local, state and government policymakers and legislators – who decide what can be grown and where – to take notice of his research.


It has produced hard numbers that confirm the value of community-supported agriculture: community gardens, backyard food gardens, and urban farms.

The author, now in his 50s, grew up in Iowa watching corporate mega-farms take over family-owned ones. But more importantly, he watched family members growing fruits and vegetables in “kitchen gardens,” giving him a love of working with seeds and dirt.

The grandson of German immigrants, and the 14th of 15 children, Zahina-Ramos moved to Palm Beach County in 1979 to pursue further education. He became an accomplished scientist first and an urban cultivator later, keeping meticulous records of the resources consumed, and of the produce grown, as a basis for his premises in Backyard.

An ecologist for decades, Zahina-Ramos holds a master’s degree in biological sciences, as well as a doctorate in geosciences with a concentration in urban agriculture. The latter is both a recently recognized field of study and an ancient practice in which his philosophy is rooted.

He runs a consulting company whose services are focused in that area, teaches as an adjunct professor, and gives frequent lectures at local museums and educational institutions. He often uses his Palm Springs garden as a “lecture hall,” speaking about the value of growing food locally – instead of half a continent away on mega-farms.

His purpose, in a nutshell: “A lot of people have gone around saying that the benefits are there, but nobody’s measured it before. So this is the first time somebody has sat down and comprehensively measured all of these (effects) and said, ‘Here you go. Here’s the cumulative benefit from our urban agriculture production, and here’s why we need to be supporting it and putting government policy and community leaders behind it.’”

Chris Felker writes and edits for various South Florida media, including Okeechobee – the Magazine and The Coastal Star. He has lived in Palm Beach County for over 30 years. Prior to becoming a freelancer, he served as an editor for The Palm Beach Post for 22 years.