Edible Iowa Valley Review
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Aging Well, Eating Well
Examiner.com - January 19, 2011
A well-lived life can take many forms, but for writer/farmer/teacher/activist Joan Dye Gussow, it requires frequent sojourns into the muck of her Piermont, New York garden. It also involves the relentless pursuit of truth, whether in her personal relationships or in her analysis of social realities.
Growing, Older, Gussow’s third book, blurs the lines between philosophical treatise, political rant, and incisive commentary on marriage, aging, and the looming environmental catastrophe facing our planet. By turns entertaining, informative, and moving, this occasionally preachy collection of 27 essays zeroes in on the ecological havoc wrought by 200 years of industrialization. At the same time, Gussow does not separate the personal from the political, and her description of the emotional turmoil that followed the death of her husband is eye-opening.
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Novella Carpenter Reviews Growing, Older
Ghost Town Farm Blog - January 18, 2011
I’m reading Joan Gussow’s book Growing, Older and just got to the part where she talks about planting asparagus, and what a pain in the butt it is, having to dig a two foot deep trench in the garden, soak the crowns in water, then shore them up with good compost. Joan’s 80 years old and has been growing a huge garden and writing about nutrition for over 20 years. She wrote This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader over ten years ago, and has been called the matriarch of the organic movement. In fact, if you read some of her essays, you’ll see that she coined some phrases that other people have coopted for themselves, like “our national eating disorder.”
About asparagus Gussow talks about losing her beds from chronic flooding of her river-front property. Instead of giving up, she decided, in her eighties, that she would start again by planting some asparagus from seed–now that will take a long time to produce! She writes, “…if Nature is willing, I might have, one day, short of my nineties, an actual bed of asparagus.” If an eighty-year old is planting asparagus, you should too. Don’t delay, plant some asparagus today.
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Joan Gussow looks at life and loss
Los Angeles Times - January 1, 2011
The naturalist's memoir offers food for thought on grief and growth in marriage as well as in the garden.
Joan Gussow has long had a reputation for speaking her mind as an early advocate of local food and as a professor warning about how our eating habits will affect the environment and our health.
As she begins her ninth decade, Gussow has written a memoir, "Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables," in which she cries for the future of the planet but finds herself disturbingly not in mourning over the death of her husband of 40 years, just five months after his cancer diagnosis.
In fact, the book was inspired in part by her struggle to cope with her discovery that she did not miss her husband, artist Alan Gussow.
She was 68 when he died, and she writes: "For most of those 40 years, I lived a truly happy life. The surprise was that so little of my happiness had depended on Alan."
"Growing, Older" is partly about survival — of her garden and of herself, as a widow, a mother of two grown sons and a mostly retired professor at Teachers College, the graduate school of education at Columbia University, making her way into what she calls "the third trimester" of life.
In some circles, Gussow, 82, is an icon who has inspired the likes of Michael Pollan and Alice Waters. The author of "This Organic Life," she was a member of the National Organic Standards Board. The Alhambra native has gardened along the Hudson River for decades, and the only vegetables she eats are those she grows.
Her book is an honest accounting that roams from her husband's death to her aging and mortality, to her relationship with the natural world, especially that part of it outside her Piermont, N.Y., home.
Joan Dye and Alan Gussow had plenty in common. They began a community garden next to their home. They shared political beliefs and a strong connection to the Earth. In an interview, Joan Gussow described her husband's ink drawing called "The Carrots Are Up."
"It was just perfect," she said. "It's just how it was. He was very closely observing nature. He wrote a book called 'A Sense of Place,' about how artists have a responsibility to the landscape."
But for all that, they had fundamentally different world views. She saw a world in peril that demanded environmental action, she said, and ultimately her husband did not.
Friends encouraged her to write about her feelings — the embarrassment and bewilderment she felt over not having a profound sense of loss after his death — and her journey to understand the striking philosophical differences between her and her husband.
"It was extraordinarily hard to write because I didn't want to trash him. I didn't want to say he was the villain," Gussow said by phone from her home.
At a reading to about 100 people at a garden club event, Gussow said, when she read about her reaction to her husband's death, the audience burst out laughing — in recognition.
"I wasn't at all sure how people were going to react. It's quite stunning," she said.
"I've tapped into something larger than me."
And all of this — Gussow's insistence on living an examined life included — goes hand in hand with her gardening. One reason her home didn't seem empty after her husband's death: "As a gardener, I had life all around me. It's just that most of it was not human."
Gardening, she said, is healing.
Her life sounds appealing but not easy. Sometimes — like the effort to rid her garden of a persistent woodchuck, an effort that required trapping and freeing skunks, reinforcing chicken wire and more — Gussow's labors seem enormous. But she always finds that nature pays her back, if not in food, then in knowledge gained.
Gussow has railed against industrial food and depressed her students by "telling them about human-induced threats to the biosphere," she writes. Still, for years she didn't fully accept "the fact that we might wipe out the remembered round of seasons."
Then something she read changed her. "After 10 years as a teacher, I had suddenly internalized the implications of what I had been saying in the classroom," she writes.
"I cried for a couple of days. It was very hard. It is very hard to accept it," she said. But after she accepted reality, she felt liberated to "face it and try to live your life as best you can."
So she tries to live slowly and carefully, attending to nature.
But Gussow is no garden pushover: She does battle floods, muskrats and harlequin beetles. Yet her love of her garden remains steadfast: "For working in the garden produces more than exercise; it produces strength, joy, hope, a tan, natural beauty, vegetables, and, in Frances Hodgson Burnett's words, a future."
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Book: Growing, Older by Joan Dye Gussow
AlamosaForward Blog - December 27, 2010
Joan lives on the Hudson River in Piermont, New York. She is Professor Emerita of Nutrition and Education at Columbia University's Teacher's College. (Have you even seen the word 'Emerita' before?)
She has written and continues to write, now in her "ninth decade" about local farming, over-consumption, materialism, global crises and global footprints, growing one's own food, her battles with the tides, the rain and the several floodings of her gardens. She writes of woodchucks, skunks, rabbits, muskrats and bees. She is refreshingly candid about growing older and how she continues living after the death of her husband.
She reminded me of my sister Maria, in many ways..smart, honest, principled about her global footprint but also generous and one who delights in the intricacies of the natural world.
Interestingly, she reveals that her mother was born in Orange City, Iowa, and was Dutch Reformed!. This revelation comes soon in the chapter titled, "If My Parents Had Danced in the Supermarket." (Of course, they hadn't, being Dutch Reformed.) She tells of making a visit back to Orange City with her parents when she was a little girl. It was hot and a Sunday. Her Mother, who had moved to California, dressed her daughters in shorts but "Aunt Cora sniffed in shock, 'Joyce, it's Sunday! We were taken back upstairs to be properly dressed. For us it was a novelty; for my mother it was her upbringing." This will be familiar to my cousins and older sisters. In my early years we were not allowed to change from Sunday church dresses to shorts, even while at Big Star Lake on our summer vacations.
Joan also writes of butterflies, of books that have influenced her, of zucchini (the only chapter with recipes) and of trying to plant rice, as her garden is underwater so often.
So, if you like Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan, Dan Barber or Alice Waters, all of whom praise Joan for her writings, then you will almost certainly like this book.
PS. I do have to admit that I don't yet understand the comma in the title.
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Resolve this year: Plant a garden and help save the planet
The Providence Journal - December 25, 2010
By Henry Homeyer
Here we are at the holidays: rushing here, bustling there, visiting Grandma (or the grandkids, in my case), buying presents, going to parties. It seems like a necessary part of the winter season — after all, days are at their shortest now and the skies are often gray and gloomy. But, for me, it is also a time for reflection and remembrance. Remembering loved ones who have gone to the great garden in the sky, and reflecting on how I lead my life.
I recently got a copy of Joan Dye Gussow’s new book, “Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables,”(Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010, $17.95 in paper). It is a series of reflections on life, mortality and gardening that is well written, honest and thought-provoking. And although this book includes much about her garden, I most loved the book for its ability to make me look at my own lifestyle and choices.
She makes a good case for traveling less — a hard pill for this vagabond to swallow. She presents travel in the context of global warming, and what all our car trips and air trips add to the problem of carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere. Her alternative: stay home this summer, every summer, and garden. I generally do that — I generally take long trips off season; but it also made me think about limiting the number of trips I take.
Although Gussow did not talk about carbon sequestration, it is something we can all think about this winter as we gaze out over our landscapes. By that I mean we can plant trees and shrubs (and to a lesser degree perennial flowers) that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, turning that carbon dioxide into plant matter. We can’t plant trees now, but we can decide where to plant them — and for that matter, buy gift certificates at our favorite plant nurseries to give away, hoping that the money will be converted into trees.
And while I’m thinking about reducing our carbon footprint, I must mention my personal pet peeve: folks who leave their engines running while they “dash” into the post office or corner store, then get engaged in conversations while leaving their motors (and heaters) running. Yes, it’s cold out. You chose to live here, so “Cowboy up” or wear warmer gloves and hats. Long johns are my friends in winter. I’ve read that if you stop for longer than eight seconds it is more efficient to turn off the car engine. Sometimes I even do that in traffic snarls. Please think about changing your ways!
Another thing we can all do is to eat locally and seasonally. That’s gardening again — my freezers are packed with garden goodness, and the pantry shelves proudly display canned and dehydrated garden produce. If yours don’t, now is the time to plan a garden — and make a commitment to grow and store — more food next year. But even if you didn’t put up produce for the winter, go to stores that are selling local carrots, beets, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, squash and more.
My local food coops make me proud with all that they do to promote local food and farmers. If you go to a chain supermarket, take a minute to talk to the produce manager. Tell him or her you want more local and organic food. And then buy it, even if it is a tad more expensive. Cut back on processed foods and frozen dinners. Buy local — it’s healthy and it’s the right thing to do. (Please excuse me for preaching. I have strong feelings about all this.)
So let’s say you want to eat better, and with local ingredients. For many people that means learning new ways of making dinner. Ta-da! Enter a lovely new cookbook titled, “Cooking Close to Home: A Year of Seasonal Recipes,” by Diane Imrie and Richard Jarmusz (self-published, 2009: to order, go to www.CookingClosetoHome.
com; $24.95 in paper). If you wish, you can ask your local independent bookstore to order it for you.
Their basic premise is that we can make fabulous meals relatively easily with local, seasonal ingredients: things like Cheddar Scalloped Potatoes with Horseradish, or Pumpkin Bread Pudding, or Pork Roast with Vermont Cider Sauce. The directions are straightforward, the photographs excellent.
The other side of the coin is that the authors stress using local farmers’ markets (another of my causes). Even now, in winter, there are winter markets — most summer markets have monthly winter markets selling a variety of local foods, from syrup and cider to potatoes and squash. And why not try celeriac or rutabagas? “Cooking Close to Home” will provide you with tasty, easy recipes.
I’ve read that, on average, each item of food in the supermarket has traveled 1,500 miles. That’s a lot of fuel and electricity for refrigeration. I measure much of my food’s travel in yards, not miles. It tastes good, it’s less expensive, and it really is a joyful experience — free, seed to table. Of course, I also enjoy ginger and coffee and red wine — so I’m not a purist. My best to you for the holidays!
Read the original review at Providence Journal.
Library Journal (11/15/2010):
Gussow (Mary Swartz Rose Professor Emerita & former chair, nutrition dept., Columbia Univ. Teachers Coll.; "This Organic Life" invites readers into her life as a widow through journal entries spanning almost ten years. What's fascinating is that she found herself not lonely but content and fulfilled through her extensive garden and the animals that visited. She shares lessons of self-reliance and self-control in potatoes' tendency to stay put, bees' role in the food chain, and her own tenacity to cherish nature. Her compilation of life experiences would primarily interest gardeners or environmentalists. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
Gussow has written and taught extensively on food and politics (This Organic Life, 2001), but here she turns to a more personal subject, the period following the death of her husband of 40 years. She assumed (as did others) that she would be grief-stricken, yet she found herself able to move into the next period of life with grace and anticipation. This is due in no small part to long-term differences the two experienced (although they seem minor), and to her rededication to gardening. It would be incorrect to classify this as a guide to plant care or landscape design, however, as Gussows view on life and living is far too broad. She writes about removing pests from the yard and then shifts gears to discuss national food policy, share recipes for zucchini, and reminisce about her son and butterflies. She rails against humanitys interest only in itself, yet expresses pride in her ability to still heft bags of soil and rocks. Gussow is an octogenarian who will not go gently in any direction, and certainly won't be ignored.
(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2010, American Library Association.)
Richard's Rants and Raves
November 15, 2010
By Richard Skipper
It's Monday! Imagine the possibilities. I had a whole day planned with errands that I needed to get done to plan ahead. The day was going to end with us going to see Jane Scheckter this eve at The Metropolitan Room. More about Jane in a moment. Last night, we went to a book warming party for our friend Joan Gussow. If you could wrap up all the elements of the Nanny Culture in one person, it would be Gussow.
Joan has been able to wield considerable influence in academia (as a nutrition and education professor at Columbia University), in government (as a member of the National Organic Standards Board), and in the foundation world (as a board member at the Jessie Noyes Smith Foundation). Gussow has also been embraced by the nonprofit sector, sitting on the Center for Food Safety’s Advisory Board and the Board of Overseers of the Chefs Collaborative. To top it off, she’s been something of a media darling for over ten years. She is also a friend of mine and Danny's. She may not know this, but Joan is a huge inspiration to me. I cannot wait to read this book...for a lot of reasons.
Shortly after Alan Gussow, Joan's husband of forty years, died, Danny and I had dinner with Joan. She told us of this "seed" she had for this book dealing with his passing and what she was feeling...and what she was not feeling. Because of the delicate subject matter and how others would perceive it,she had to be very careful with what she wrote. That dinner was in 1997. 13 years later, Joan, who is now 82, has this incredible book (I'm relishing what I have read so far!) called GROWING, OLDER: A CHRONICLE OF DEATH, LIFE AND VEGETABLES. She has a previous book called THE ORGANIC LIFE.
Michael Pollan, bestselling author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma wrote, " Once in a while, when I have an original thought, I look around and realize Joan said it first."
"In Growing, Older Joan Dye Gussow once again proves herself the consummate writer, gardener, cook, professor, and-it turns out-philosopher, too. This is a memoir about death, but much like Joan herself, it's brimming with life. A vivid, unflinching, and unexpected self-portrait."- Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns
LEARN, LIVE, GROW
Barbara Kingsolver credits Joan Gussow with shaping the history and politics of food in the United States. Now 82, she is passing along some surprising and inspiring wisdom.
Weeks after Alan Gussow had passed on, Joan told Danny and me (in 1997) that she found herself skipping down the street. With humor and wit, in this latest book, she explains how she stopped worrying about what everyone else might think is appropriate-instead focusing on what is important: the ever-changing world and her own place in it.
Gussow's garden is teacher, child, therapist, confidant, and friend.
Growing, Older is a literary gem-one that people of any age, gardeners, envirionmentalists, or those, like me, who wish to never stop growing will cherish.
Read the entire review on RichardSkipper.Blogspot.com.