This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader by Joan Dye Gussow

After reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma this past summer, I wanted to do a bit more reading about sustainable living. Luckily, Pollan has posted a reading list on his website, which included Gussow’s This Organic Life, written in 2001.

Joan Gussow does not beat around the bush. She manages to live almost entirely off the vegetables and fruit she and her husband grow in their suburban backyard and spends most of the book telling you how she does it. It’s not an easy task, but she maintains that people don’t think hard enough anymore about where their food comes from. Gussow wants to be an example that raising your own vegetables and fruit year round can be done, even in New England. Eating locally grown food makes the most sense environmentally, ecologically, and economically. She demonstrates that with her careful research into food transportation. Transporting asparagus from South America in the winter (out of season) costs more in energy calories in shipping than you’d get eating it. Plus that asparagus will probably lack flavor having been refrigerated for at least a few days. Not to mention the impact on the farmers growing the produce in South America.

I only wish that Gussow’s book had a little more focus. She covers many subjects: buying her first and then second home, moving into her second home, planting the gardens at each home, the problems within the food system of the US, and the death of her husband. It goes back and forth in time, even within a chapter, and it can be confusing at times. Plus she can come across a little holier than thou and she seems behind the times, even taking into account this was written in 2001. Nevertheless, her overall message is clear and a good one and the passion that came through when she talks about her garden makes this book worth reading.