Done with This Organic Life

Yesterday I finished reading This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader by Joan Dye Gussow, a memoir recommended by John Mesko of Lighthouse Farm. I enjoyed it, and learned quite a few things along the way.

The best and most interesting aspect of the book is the account it gives of the Gussows’ mostly successful efforts to grow most of their food in a small suburban garden. Mrs. Gussow is a professor of nutrition at Columbia University in New York City, and a long-time proponent of local, organic food; her gardening efforts are driven by a desire to walk the talk. Although the book is not a gardening manual, anyone who is hoping to feed their own family from a small garden will find lots of encouragement as they read about Mrs. Gussow’s successes and failures. She also offers quite a few intriguing recipes along the way that are not only simple but designed to make effective use of what her garden is producing at a given time in the year.

Structurally the book is a mess, and that may put some readers off. A good portion of the book is devoted to the tale of the Gussows’ unsuccessful efforts to restore a house on the Hudson River, interesting but not much to do with food. But Mrs. Gussow’s writing is clear and engaging and the stories she has to tell are always entertaining and often edifying.

One thing that fascinated me about the book was its liberal milieu. No surprise, I suppose, that a New York City academic and her artist husband will spend much of their time hanging out with the politically correct. And so it was intriguing to see how Mrs. Gussow’s commitment to growing and eating her own food shaped her thinking in ways that put her out of sync with her compatriots—sometimes giving her a conservative tinge, but not always. And it was funny to read the anecdotes where the liberal-leaning writer encounters thinking that was too radical even for her, e.g. a fellow community gardener who admits to taking a mouse injured by her cat to the vet.


2 thoughts on “Done with This Organic Life

  1. I live in the same neighborhood as Columbia University, and I can so relate! This is one of the most liberal neighborhoods in the country, and there’s not much room to grow your own anything, but at least there’s lots of support for organic food and farmers’ markets.

    I confess that I once took a gerbil to the emergency room of an NYC animal hospital, but that’s another story…I’m ruthless with mice.

    I bet this *is* an entertaining book!

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