Book Review: This Organic Life

This Organic Life: Confessions of a suburban homesteader by Joan Dye Gussow

This Organic Life is a memoir. It weaves in plenty of facts and advice (recipes too!) but in the end it’s a memoir. Published in 2001, it is still relevant. It’s a nice accompaniment to The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Gussow and her husband started gardening in the seventies in order to live off of local food as partly an example to hold up to her students and partly as a way to live by their ethics and beliefs. Gussow was lecturing about eating locally and arguing against GMO’s etc, etc, etc in the seventies. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

The story of Gussow’s garden is not about preaching. It’s about living, loving, and building a life, a house, and a community. It’s a celebration of the seasons, learning to be self-sufficient, and making a life worth living. It’s written like a chat with a good friend. Quotes from her journal, her favorite books, and her favorite articles sprinkle through the text and give extra life to her remembrances. It’s a story about her life with her husband and pursuing their dreams together. All in all it’s a moving portrait of a backyard garden and a life built around it.

I suppose it’s more enjoyable if you’ve already swallowed your share of the environmental Kool-Aid. If you’re still arguing about climate change and want to maintain the current subsidies for corn and support the patenting of seeds, you will find yourself getting pissed. If you’re a garden-radical already, it’s a good read. Settle in with a cup of tea or coffee and read about some of the hard realities of self-reliance.


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