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This Organic Life

Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader

Categories: Gardening

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, with a feisty, defiant spirit and a relentlessly positive outlook.

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.

Joan’s story is funny and fiery as she points out the absurdities we have unthinkingly come to accept. You won’t find an electric can opener in this woman’s house. In fact, you probably won’t find many cans, as Joan has discovered ways to nourish herself, literally and spiritually, from her own backyard. If you are looking for a tale of courage and independence in a setting that is entirely familiar, read her story.

Reviews and Praise

  • Library Journal-
    Two decades ago, when nutritionist Gussow was giving fiery speeches about the importance of eating locally and seasonally, she realized that it was time to put her convictions into practice. In this combination memoir, polemic, and gardening manual, she discusses the joys and challenges of growing organic produce in her own New York garden. Initially, Gussow had planned to write about her misadventures in buying a 150-year-old house on a Hudson River floodplain. That story was incorporated into this book, but many of the boring remodeling details should have been omitted. Interesting points include a description of establishing her new garden, tips on making compost and on growing fruits and vegetables successfully in a northern climate, and various recipes using the garden bounty. Throughout, Gussow stresses the need to live responsibly "in a society where thoughtless consumption is the norm." Her constant reminders that industrial agriculture produces tasteless, environmentally destructive food well intentioned though they may be start sounding like a litany after a while. Yet, despite its flaws and self-righteous tone, this work offers encouragement to urban and suburban gardeners who want to grow at least some of their own produce. A suitable addition to gardening collections in public libraries.

More Reviews and Praise

  • "I love the 'sustainable hedonism' term that has been applied to Joan. Her homespun storytelling serves as an inspiration to all of us that we can be good stewards of ourselves and the earth, all while having a splendid time!"--Janet Luhrs, author of The Simple Living Guide, and Simple Loving and editor and publisher of Simple Living: The Journal of Simplicity

  • "It's very rare to be moved by a gardening book, but "This Organic Life" has an uncommon depth of feeling."--New York Times Book Review

  • "Reading This Organic Life could be dangerous... It might make us excited about doing things differently..."--The Times Argus

  • "highly readable... helps us understand the true cost of food, and the joys and challenges of growing and eating it."--HopeDance Magazine

About The Author

About Joan Dye Gussow

Joan Gussow is a highly acclaimed nutrition educator who has demonstrated that year-round eating from 1,000 square feet in a suburban riverfront village is possible, life-sustaining, and delicious. She is the author of This Organic Life, The Feeding Web, and Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables, and is Mary Swartz Rose Professor Emerita and former chair of the Columbia University Teachers College Nutrition Department. She lives on the Hudson River in Piermont, New York.

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Books By Joan Dye Gussow

Pages:288 pages
Book Art:Includes recipes
Size: 6 x 9 inch
Publisher:Chelsea Green Publishing
Pub. Date: October 1, 2002
Paperback: 9781931498241

Available In/Retail Price

Paperback, 288 pages, $24.95

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