Joan Gussow: how does your garden grow?
By Gail Hudson
IF ANYONE CAN BE SAID to be living an organic lifestyle, it's Joan Gussow. As a member of the National Organic Standards Board, Gussow helped determine what foods the USDA certifies as organic. This nutrition and education professor at Columbia University is also one of the nation's most outspoken advocates for eating local and seasonal foods. Her inspirational memoir, This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, tells the story of creating a home and sustainable garden with her husband, Alan, who died of cancer soon after their adventure began. Gussow continues to live the couple's vision, eating almost exclusively from her small domestic garden on a floodplain along the Hudson River valley.
Cockeyed optimist: I've often been told that my vision for a food supply based on local farmers' markets and CSAs [community-sponsored agriculture] is completely unrealistic. But I believe that the current practice of food distribution is even more unrealistic, considering that we're running out of petroleum and will eventually be unable to ship our food all over the place.
Spiritual renewal: My own spiritual practice is my gardening. The fact that I can take a pile of weeds and raspberry cane, grind it up, layer it into compost, and have it return to nourish the garden is inspiring. I never fail to be dazzled by the fecundity of nature.
Daily diet: I make my own granola and live almost entirely from my garden, except for grains and animal products. I don't eat much meat. When I do have animal products, I buy organic eggs and I eat meat only from local farmers' grass-fed animals.
Nature's timing: I used to think I'd feel deprived, but I find I really enjoy eating differently throughout the seasons. It keeps me connected to the richness and bounty of each. I'm so used to it now that it's unpalatable to eat a fresh nectarine out of season.
Getting started: People often ask me how to eat locally. I tell them to have one local, seasonal meal a week. Make it simple, because the natural foods will be delicious without much fuss. Ask the store manager what's in season and if they have anything that's locally grown. Think of it as a culinary adventure.
Living the dream: We were at retirement age when Alan and I decided to gut an old farmhouse and create a homestead. People thought we were crazy to take on so much hard, physical work, but we loved it. In fact, it was so exciting to me, I decided to keep a journal, and that's what eventually became This Organic Life. I had no idea when I started writing that it would also chronicle my husband's death. It was the first time I'd written anything so personal, and I was astounded by how deeply the story touched people.
JOAN'S TIPS FOR GROWING AMAZING TOMATOES
* Buy a couple of really healthy tomato plants at your focal nursery. Start with a sturdy hybrid. I especially recommend Sun Gold cherry tomatoes.
* Dig a hole a foot deep and a foot wide in a sunny spot in the yard. You can also plant tomatoes in a container.
* Break up the soil at the bottom of the hole and add organic fertilizer. I use a mix of bone meal, blood meal, green sand, and eggshells. Then I add my secret for success: a couple handfuls of lime.
* After further breaking up any lumps in the soil, mix in an organic "texturizer," such as peat moss.
* Place the plant down deep, leaving only four or five leaves at the top and pinching off any buried lower leaves to make the stem stronger. Fill in the dirt, add water--and say hello!
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