Yes, yes, I know: My Joan Gussow obsession borders on slightly stalkerish, but since it’s planting season, she’s probably out in the garden and not reading this.
I don’t garden much. I have basil and parsley in pots on my front steps and tomatoes in earth boxes on the driveway. Those are the spots that get sun. Everything else is shaded by the giant fucking tree in my front yard. When faced with a similar dilemma, Gussow took down the tree. Since I’m pretty sure I’d be haunted by tree-loving ghouls if I touched the magnificent tree, I use it as a convenient excuse to avoid having a garden. And, let’s be honest, people who move as often as we do are stupid to put time and money into tearing up lawn and creating a garden. Pots can move with us; if they’re too heavy, we can give them away.
Although I don’t garden much, I greatly admire those who do. (Sort of like I admire people who can carry a tune.) Joan Gussow is one of those gardeners. In This Organic Life, she chronicles her life growing all her own vegetables and some of her fruit in a modest backyard. It sounds incredibly dull when I put it like that, I know, but keep in mind that this is the woman who inspires Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver. Gussow earned that title “Godmother of the Local Food Movement.” In her case, “local” means her backyard, but she acknowledges that most people won’t garden like she does, and she encourages us lesser mortals to think about all the food we buy: how it was grown, how it got to us, and who grew it.
The “who grew it” part is important. She urges respect for farmers. You know, the people who grow our food. Because we kind of need them. Since they have to fight off things like drought, floods, and woodchucks, farmers probably don’t need shitty policies that reduce their crops to almost worthless.
Gussow is a beautiful writer, direct, down-to-earth, impassioned. Her tale is of a house, of a garden, but mostly of a love. The period she writes about is the one in which she and her husband moved to their second house (ever), then found they had to tear down the house while building up the garden. Then her husband died. Gussow weaves that loss through the book, even as her garden is booming all around her.
Most of you know I believe in local eating and reducing waste and all that eco-friendly shit. If you don’t want to be convinced, don’t read This Organic Life, because once you’ve read Gussow’s work, you’ll be incapable of sticking your head back into the sand. You might even start checking the origins of all the food you buy. If, however, you want to reduce your negative impact on the environment, read the book. You’ll be inspired.