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This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteaderby Joan Dye Gussow
Synopses & Reviews
Joan Dye Gussow is an extraordinarily ordinary woman. She lives in a home not unlike the average home in a neighborhood that is, more or less, typically suburban. What sets her apart from the rest of us is that she thinks more deeply — and in more eloquent detail — about food. In sharing her ponderings, she sets a delightful example for those of us who seek the healthiest, most pleasurable lifestyle within an environment determined to propel us in the opposite direction. Joan is a suburbanite with a green thumb, but also a feisty, defiant spirit with a relentlessly positive outlook.
This Organic Life begins with Joan and her husband Alan's trials and tribulations growing vegetables for their own table while coping with careers and a sprawling Victorian house in Congers, New York. Motivated to go "off-the-grid" of the global food system in their later years, the Gussows find and fall in love with a dilapidated Odd Fellows Hall on the banks of the Hudson River. Joan's often hilarious accounts of the "renovation" of the "dream" (some would say "nightmare") house and the creation of their new gardens are spiced by extracts from her own journal, and over thirty wonderful recipes using fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
There is also an occasional pontification about a food distribution system run amok! At the heart of This Organic Life is the premise that locally grown food eaten in season makes sense economically, ecologically, and gastronomically. Transporting produce to New York from California — not to mention Central and South America, Australia, or Europe — consumes more energy in transit than it yields in calories. (It costs 435 fossil fuel calories to fly a 5-calorie strawberry from California to New York.) Add in the deleterious effects of agribusiness, such as the endless cycle of pesticide, herbicide, and chemical fertilizers; the loss of topsoil from erosion of over-tilled croplands; depleted aquifers and soil salinization from over-irrigation; and the arguments in favor of "this organic life" become overwhelmingly convincing.
"This is the most important book I've read in a long while. Full of hope, kindness, and arresting wisdom, it will serve as a valuable guide to anyone who wants to live more thoughtfully on the only planet that feeds us. For many years, as I've worked hard to raise some of my family's food and attend closely to the sources of the rest of it, doubtful observers have asked me why I bother, when stores nearby sell anything in any season, cheaply. I've struggled to explain that this effort is for me a matter of moral responsibility. From now on I'll simply hand them a copy of This Organic Life." Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible
"This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader...[is] a passionate tale of house building and gardening as floods, droughts, insects and vermin periodically devastate [the Gussows'] crops." The New York Times
"It's very rare to be moved by a gardening book, but This Organic Life has an uncommon depth of feeling, not in the prose, which is plain-speaking, and not in its philosophical aspirations, which are more economic than spiritual. There is something happily, almost chaotically jumbled — and thus lifelike — about the way this book proceeds: a flood, a recipe, a death, a recipe, a community garden, a recipe. What ties it all together isn't merely Gussow's passion for making herself useful. It's her understanding that 'the production and consumption of fresh local food is so rich an experience for me that I find it hard to imagine how I would live if I couldn't grow what I eat and eat what I grow.'" Verlyn Klinkenborg, The New York Times
Book News Annotation:
Dye's memoir of leaving New York City to create a new life in a town on the Hudson River will appeal to other, similar folks who are craving a change from their urban lifestyle, do-it-yourselfers who have bought dilapidated old houses, and gardeners who will empathize with her battle tales of varmints and weeds. Dye draws on journal entries to fill out the emotional aspect of this personal history and includes a number of recipes featuring produce from the vegetable garden.
Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A woman with a decidedly green thumb, Gussow's book describes her quest to grow an organic garden that will totally provide for her family, thus eliminating store bought, foreign produced foods from their life. 30 recipes.
About the Author
A highly acclaimed nutritionist whose work has been published in Country Journal and Annals of Earth, Joan Dye Gussow is living testimony that eating well year-round from an average-sized lot in the suburbs of Piermont, New York, is both possible and desirable. To live this civilized version of "the good life" involves no sacrifice of variety or taste, and only enhances life's sensual pleasures and one's mental outlook.
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