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This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader + Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables + The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing (October 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931498245
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931498241
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #234,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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. Ilse Heidmann, San Marcos, TX
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

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.

(Ilse Heidmann, San Marcos, TX)

"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


More About the Author

Joan Dye Gussow, EdD, is Mary Swartz Rose Professor emerita and former chair of the Nutrition Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she has been a long-time analyst and critic of the U.S. food system. In her classic 1978 book The Feeding Web: Issues in Nutritional Ecology, which tracked the environmental hazards of an increasingly globalizing food system, she foreshadowed by several decades the current interest in relocalizing the food supply.

Her subsequent books include The Nutrition Debate (1986), Chicken Little, Tomato Sauce and Agriculture (1991), and This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader (2001), the latter based on the lessons learned from decades of working toward growing her own, Her 2010 book, Growing, Older, is as it's subtitle suggests, a garden-based collection of "reflections on death, life and vegetables".

Born in 1928 in Alhambra, California, Gussow grew up in a California landscape dominated by clear skies, orange groves and lines of eucalyptus trees. She graduated from Pomona College in Claremont, California in 1950, with a BA (pre-medical) and moved east to New York City. After seven years as a researcher at Time Magazine and five years as a suburban wife and mother, she returned to school to earn an M.Ed and an Ed.D. in Nutrition Education from Columbia's Teachers College.

Early in her career she managed to scandalize significant portions of her chosen profession by testifying to a Congressional Committee about the poor quality of the foods advertised to children on television; her willingness to tackle difficult topics did not abate during her 40 some years in the field.

During her career she has served in a number of capacities for various public, private, and governmental organizations, including chairing the Boards of the National Gardening Association, the Society for Nutrition Education, the Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation, and Just Food, serving two terms on the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, a term on the FDA's Food Advisory Committee and a term on the National Organic Standards Board.

In addition to her books, she has also produced a variety of articles on food-related topics. Gussow currently lives, writes, and grows organic vegetables on the west bank of the Hudson River. She is at work on a new book based on the complete destruction and miraculous resurrection of her beloved garden. Her tentative title: "Starting Over at 81".

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Wryly wise, poignant, wonderfully written.
caroline jackson
Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in local, sustainable agriculture, gardening memiors, and promoting a sense of place.
Carrie E. Seltzer
She paints a beautiful picture of the glories of growing and eating food produced locally, all from her own experience.
HenrysMom

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Deb Nam-Krane VINE VOICE on March 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
I had this book on my wishlist for quite some time, then finally broke down and checked it out of my local library. I had been warned about the "chatty" style and the lack of focus, but I was intrigued enough about the subject itself to overlook those potential flaws. I used to belong to a CSA Farm, so the subject of sustainable and responsible agriculture is close to my heart.
The style of writing did not bother me. Although she does seem at times to meander in the early chapters, she has quite a few complicated and inter-related subjects to cover: the purchase of her first home, the purchase of her new home, the development of her commitment to self-sufficient agriculture (or something close to it), and the death of her husband. Once those subjects are covered, I found the book became clearer and more linear (for better or worse).
Most of what she says I can't argue with. I agree that there is something fundamentally wrong with a food production system that makes it more affordable for we Northeasterners to buy food shipped in from California than to buy food from our own home states. When she describes the system as essentially a lot of fuel going to ship cold water, one has to want to reevaluate their food choices.
I found myself nodding in agreement when she talked about the taste of the foods we have the "luxury" of being able to buy year round. Having tasted food right off the farm, I can verify that there is a world of difference between it and the items you find in your store- even if they are "in season". Fresh produce does get addictive. Of course, not everyone has the luxury of having enough land to grow a substantial garden on, as Gussow points out. She suggests a CSA as an alternative, but that can be an unrealistic commitment for many people as well.
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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful By disco75 on September 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
"This Organic Life" offers a crucial message about the importance of soil, a living part of the Earth and of our lives, and about how our food choices affect the health of the soil. Gussow makes this and some related points forcefully and repeatedly, and bravely offers up the example of her own decisions to enact a local-foods philosophy.
The writing suffers from underinvolvement of an editor. The work lacks focus, especially in the first half, when her marriage, her community, a search for a new home, remodeling, and other events compete with the "Organic" promised in the book's title. An editor would have been able to bring continuity and theme to these essays, which actually are a narrative of the middle age and early elderly eras of her life. Strong editing would also have eliminated the confusing (and really needless) details about the nature of her newly purchased house and the foot by foot descriptions of the lot. Verbal descriptions, at least of this kind, cannot provide a sense of the surely daunting prospects she and her husband faced in claiming their new plot of land.
The really interesting stuff is contained in the latter part of the book, where Gussow combines polemic with her adventures in gardening and storing food in her own yard and in the community garden she helped commence. Each of us who tries to live a commitment to sustainable and healthy participation in the natural coil struggle with a myriad of choices and compromises. We are hopeful that our journey towards responsible activity is a progressive one. I think an essential part of the journey is a frank acknowledgement of our limitations and contradictory behavior. Gussow makes some concession to hypocritical choices in food selection.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By G. Creedon on June 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
From the Washington Post: Books Show Organic Gardens Can Be of Beauty and Service By Joel M. Lerner Saturday, June 16, 2001; Page H07
...(G)et a copy of "This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader" by Joan Dye Gussow (Chelsea Green...). You will forget that education is the purpose of this book, because it moves so much like a novel. However, you will find yourself stopping and jotting down little bits of information and recipes along the way.
This informative text is about the author's trials and tribulations, a story of self-sufficiency and living off the land. It is so well written, poignant and packed with facts that every page is enjoyable and educational reading. You will go through floods and feasts, good times and bad, and come out the other end an extremely well-informed organic gardener, but you get there almost subliminally as you enjoy this 273-page hardcover account.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By HenrysMom on June 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Gussow's book is an important work that enlightens the reader to the meaning of eating and living locally. She tells us about the costly effects, both personal and global, of eating food that comes from half way around the world (if we know where it comes from at all). She paints a beautiful picture of the glories of growing and eating food produced locally, all from her own experience. Her gardens are astounding, something to aspire to! But so is her knowledge of nutrition, agricultural politics and organic gardening. Key points in her writing are puncuated with simple, delicious recipes. Her granola is great! I look forward to trying more of them when things come in to season. She reminds me of MFK Fisher, with a very clear and pointed social conscience. Reading this book has inspired me to be much more aware of where my food comes from and has given me good reason to always ask the supermarket to sell me local produce when possible.
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