Gt has often been said that stories
are the best teachers. Joan Dye Gussows recent book, This
Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, is a deceptively
simple story of one womans passion for gardening. The author
is a respected writer and speaker on nutrition and health, and here
she is revealed to be a gifted storyteller and teacher as well.
Her saga begins as she and her husband decide to move out of the
large Victorian house that they have lived in for the last 36 years.
Also, as a result of her fiery speeches about problems in the food
system, they also decide to put theory
into practice and be as self-sufficient as possible by growing most
of their own food. They want to liberate themselves from the usual
food production and distribution channels.
So they plan to leave a house that is too big and a garden that
is never quite big enough and increasingly in the shadows of a number
of large mature trees and shrubs. It is their search for more sunlight
that leads them to a small parcel of suburban land on the banks
of the Hudson River that also contains a 150-year-old Odd Fellows
Hall that they think can be renovated into their last home.
It is in the telling of this story amid the discussions of vegetable
varieties, gardening techniques and recipes that the authors
thesis reveals itself: eat locally; the global environmental damage
will be much less and it will be healthier for you. What Gussow
calls her most abstract and uncomfortable reason for trying to eat
locally is her profound concern for the future of the planet.
She reminds us that it is not Kraft, General Mills, Kelloggs or
any of the other myriad supermarket brands that provide us with
our daily foodstuffs. Rather it is our sole dependence on growing
plants and our relationship with the food-producing ecology of nature
that gives us our sustenance. When speaking at a recent conference,
Gussow cited two reasons why people didnt eat locally. First,
they didnt know why they should do it, and secondly, and most
importantly, they didnt want to know why they should.
From an environmental perspective, the idea of eating locally is
imperative. As the author points out, most fruits and vegetables
sold in the U.S. come from California. She wants us to calculate
the true cost of this fruitfor instance, it takes 435 fossil
fuel calories to fly a five-calorie strawberry from California to
Throughout the book she pleads for consumers to support their local
farmers. Local farmers cannot compete with the subsidized water
that California farmers enjoy. Presently, organically grown food
represents only about two percent of the total retail food market,
but during the last several years it has had a 20-percent growth
rate. Next year the long fought over national standards for organic
foods will be in place, and they are expected to prompt even greater
gains for the organic food markets.
The cyclical systems approach that is inherent in organic farming
techniques not only results in wholesome, chemical-free, non-genetically
altered food, but it also promotes biodiversity, clean water and
energy and soil conservation in the typically Leopoldian stewardship
concept of useful and appropriate land management.
This book should engage the larger debate about our dated agricultural
policies. Future farm subsidies, which are presently in the tens-of-billions-of-dollars
range, should be given to farmers who are attempting to accomplish
some of these organic farming goals. They should be getting payments
for not growing crops in the old petro-chemically intensive manner.
We should be rewarding good farming practices and penalizing bad
A backyard gardener somewhere once said, The only things money
cant buy are love and home grown tomatoes. Well, you
can buy this book, and it is written with so much love that you
can almost taste the home grown tomatoes. Its like an unexpected
letter from a good friend that you havent seen or heard from
for a long time. Every word is cherished because each one carries
with it the personality of the writer, all the common experiences
and the wisdom gained through aging.
I must admit to a personal bias. I am an organic gardener and have
maintained a garden every year for more decades than I care to admit.
I realize that not everyone likes to garden and even fewer people
probably understand the need to provide food locally. But this book
is a pleasure to read. It doesnt preach, but is still insistent.
The story is so genuine and heartfelt that the truth of its message
Traditional native people in this country believe that there is
no truth, just stories. This is a terrific story that answers the
constant question, But what can I do? Im just one person.
Start a gardenthe impact will reach far beyond your kitchen
table. Our connections to nature come into focus when gardening, and the
environmental choices we face automatically become clearer when
growing our own food.
|WHERE CAN I GET THEM?
This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader
by Joan Dye Gusso
© 2001 Chelasea Green Publishing, $22.95
Richard Walthers (email@example.com) is
founder of PRAIRIE fish; a Chicago IL-based consulting firm dedicated
to design and sustainability issues.