Posted by: Kate | May 23, 2013

Book Review: This Organic Life

There are certain books or documentaries that have played pivotal roles in the evolution of the local food movement. Joan Dye Gussow‘s book, “This Organic Life Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader”, is one example. Published in 2001, this book was a battle cry for people outside of California to look at how and where their food was grown.

Gussow’s book doesn’t begin like a lesson. It is autobiographical, the story of her quest to eat from her garden year round in the NE United States. This became a passion and a way of life for Gussow, and the book gives you examples of how she became a year-round gardener gleaning goodness from the cold soil. The first two-thirds of the book any gardener would enjoy, for the familiar stories and also the tips and suggestions along the way. Cooks would enjoy it as well, as Gussow sprinkles recipes through-out her chapters. Gussow is your ordinary, obsessed gardener, sharing a good story.

The last few chapters reveal Gussow’s agenda. She doesn’t want to just influence her neighbours and friends, but the entire country. As a well-known voice in the food debates, Gussow’s arguments for local foods is compelling and well-rounded. She brings into the discussion issues over water, economics and choice. She is compelling and yet non-threatening.

Local food is a hot topic these days, with every grocery store proclaiming local something or other in its produce department. I would imagine that Joan celebrates this. Here in Canada, the government is stepping in to redefine local, which current standards holds at 50km from point  of sale. Under the new guidelines food produced within the province or even 50km outside the province boundaries will be considered local. This seems to have been done with a lot of pressure from large farm groups in Ontario. It remains to be seen if here on Vancouver Island that changes our in-store labelling, I for one hope not. We have a strong grown in BC program which labels a lot of our products as grown in the province, so the local-grown is a different and distinct label right now.

Do you buy local? Do you grow your own? Or do you support large-scale agriculture as the most economic and efficient system of food production for North America? All points are explored in Gussow’s book, although she is very clear about what side of the debate she stands on.

I recommend the book for anyone interested in food. Her writing is entertaining, and her garden adventures will at least make you shake your head in wonder.


  1. This book is on my “to read” list. Unfortunately so are about a hundred others. I might need to bump it up the list.

    And I meant to leave a message on your previous post, but then forgot. Happy Anniversary!

  2. Book sounds interesting, thx for the excellent review. Perhaps one day I’ll find the time to read it.

    • note: my nightstand is growing higher & higher with books to read. love it!

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