Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life and Vegetables
The Wild Blueberry Book
Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life and Vegetables
Joan Dye Gussow
2010, Chelsea Green
256 pages, paperback, $17.95
For more than 40 years, Joan Dye Gussow has grown her own food along the banks of the Hudson River. She also created and teaches the Nutritional Ecology program at Columbia University and, at 81, still lectures nationwide. Her first two books, This Organic Life and The Feeding Web: Issues in Nutritional Ecology, helped pioneer the local-food movement.
In Growing, Older, Gussow writes about growing her life-sustaining garden and the growing maturation of the gardener – herself – who nurtures it. She begins with the discovery that her life has not been devastated by her husband’s sudden death a dozen years ago. Instead, she was surprised by the optimism she felt, surprised that she was not as fragile as people assumed.
The book combines gardening wisdom with reflections on how society views aging and how an elderly, widowed woman “ought” to behave. Gussow urges readers to accept the realities of growing older on a changing planet – we’ll have to learn self reliance, self restraint, how to yield graciously to necessity and, most importantly, how to come to terms with the inconsistencies of the increasingly unnatural world our choices have left us with.
But, she insists, this is a book about hope.
Gussow compares an old refrigerator that continues to work with a new stove that doesn’t. She worries about the future of a world increasingly obsessed with novelty and a culture that leads people to believe that they have to escape to find happiness. In this age of peak oil and global warming, Gussow writes, we need to “stop driving around on weekends looking for a place to be happy. We can’t save the planet if we don’t try harder to make the places we live into places we want to be.” The best thing we can do, says Gussow, is stay put and dig potatoes.
Moving things, Gussow learned, is harder when you’re alone. This leads to a reflection on draft animals, energy, food production and the need for more localized agriculture.
“We need to be willing to pay more for food grown by local farmers,” Gussow writes, “even if it’s not what we planned on eating.”
We also have to, as gardeners, increase the diversity of crops we grow for our own tables, she points out. Her own 22 raised beds, each 3 by 14 feet, and her fruit trees provide most of what she eats through the year.
Gussow writes about aging from a social and personal perspective. She writes about the seductiveness of emerging spring in the Northeast: the increase in day length, the increasing amount of light in our world. Spring is, she writes, “one of the few situations most of us encounter that gets better day after day without our active intervention.” How many springs do we have left, she asks?
The problem of aging, Gussow says, isn’t that we lose our useful skills. It’s that the skills we possess are rendered useless by the passage of time and advancement of technology – except gardening skills, which seem to be coming back into vogue. Neighbors now ask her advice on turning over turf to plant broccoli and tomatoes (don’t bother, she says – just layer mulch and soil over the turf), on transplanting, pruning and pest control.
– Sue Smith-Heavenrich, Candor, N.Y.
by Hugh Raffles
Vintage/Random House, 2010
465 pages, paperback, $16.95
"What does it take ... to become a true insect poet?" Hugh Raffles muses, in one of several profiles of artists and writers who share his own fascination with insect morphology and behavior. Those he most admires are observers with a profound personal attachment to their subjects: the illustrator who documents deformities in leaf bugs around areas devastated by the fallout from Chernobyl, for example – or Japanese insect fanatics, some of whom cherish bugs as pets and write poems from an insect's-eye view of the world. Bugs also swarm and invade, taking full advantage of climate disruption to decimate crops and forests and to infect populations with disease. At the end of a chapter on the damage done to piñon pines by beetles ("The Sound of Global Warming"), Raffles warns, "These [beetles] are not the enemies we ought to choose. The biosecurity state, with its traps, its pesticides, its arborists, … is largely powerless … Repression is futile … Somehow, we will have to cohabit." Elsewhere, in a story set in Niger, plagued by locusts, we read that insects have increased and become pesticide resistant as a result of chemicals killing off predators. In this region of western Africa, "… villages are saturated with pesticides – some of them banned in Europe and the United States – placing in jeopardy both the members of the village brigades who apply the chemicals (often without protective clothing or adequate training) and the community's food and water supply."
Far from encyclopedic, the book is structured as a literary cabinet of curiosities, with chapter titles (A-Z) that hint, sometimes obliquely, at where the author's interests have taken him: "Air," "Beauty," "Chernobyl," "Death," etc. Raffles, an anthropologist and veritably an insect poet himself, sustains throughout a sense of wonder, tying the transcendent to the earthly: "There are other worlds around us. Too often, we pass through them unknowing, seeing but blind, hearing but deaf, touching but not feeling, contained by the limits of our senses, the banality of our imaginations, our Ptolemaic certitudes."
– Jody Spear, Harborside
The Wild Blueberry Book
by Virginia M. Wright
Down East, 2011
Hardcover, 88 pages, color photos; $14.95
Maine has an estimated 6.5 million distinct clones of wild blueberries. Wild blueberries can lower cholesterol and protect against urinary tract infections and macular degeneration. A blueberry smoothie is an excellent way to start the day. The Japanese eat blueberry pizza.
These are just some of the facts noted in The Wild Blueberry Book, which covers the history of the crop, from when Native Americans burned fields to promote its growth, to today’s production practices – both conventional and organic. Wright also entertains the reader with her coverage of blueberry festivals, Maine’s Wild Blueberry Queen competition, and 16 recipes – from pies to chutney and from muffins to salsa.
This little book would make a lovely gift, for the photos and recipes alone. The essays are quick and fun to read, too. Any controversy about the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation in Maine’s “wild” crop is minimized, but a chapter on pollination does relate the concern of Lincoln Sennett (of Swan’s Honey in Albion) about conventional beekeepers who move their hives from one monoculture to another. Those bees, says Sennett, don’t get the variety of pollen they need to be healthy, and this nutritional imbalance may be implicated in colony collapse disorder.
– J E
"Cultivating Maine's Agricultural Future," from Maine Farmland Trust (338-6575, info@maineFarmlandtrust.org) and posted at www.mainefarmlandtrust.org, guides communities in supporting local farms. Ten years ago, Maine had 7,000 farms; now we have more than 8,000 says John Piotti, executive director of the Trust. The guide describes how to protect farmland through, for example, zoning regulations, tax incentives and business and marketing support; and cites successful programs in Maine communities.
A Farm Tour Handbook from Acorn (Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network; www.acornorganic.org) tells how to plan, promote and host an organic farm tour, covering tour activities and themes; hosting school tours; farm liability insurance and more.
The 2011 Directory of Farm Supplies (http://acornorganic.org/pdf/farmsupplies.pdf?utm_source=MadMimi&utm_medium=ema) from the Atlantic Canada Organic Regional Network lists many suppliers of interest to Maine growers.
Designs for two vegetable wash stations, one costing about $1,000 and the other about $20,000, are posted at www.leopold.iastate.edu/research/marketing_files/washstation.html.
Want to get off the grid? The Global Village Construction Set at http://opensourceecology.org/gvcs.php is an open technological platform that allows for fabrication of the 50 industrial machines that it takes to build a small civilization with modern comforts. Find plans for a backhoe, bakery oven, hay baler and more.
Introduction To Organic Lawns and Yards from the Northeast Organic Farming Association's Organic Land Care program is a science-based booklet for homeowners. This beautiful, informative guide with gorgeous photographs focuses on water and energy conservation, soil fertility, natural pest and invasive species control. Available from MOFGA’s online Country Store at www.mofga.org.
Biochar: a closer look is a 5-minute video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=kX7vMAC2cSQ&feature=related) from Woods End Lab about the potential positive and negative effects of this fine charcoal material when added to soil. Potential problems include raising soil pH excessively and using fossil fuels to produce biochar; benefits include its porosity and low bulk density. Will Brinton of Woods End Lab asks why growers wouldn’t use compost rather than biochar.
Meanwhile,: Farmers’ Market Farmers at http://therumpus.net/2011/01/meanwhile-farmers-market-farmers/ is a beautiful and moving series of illustrations with captions by artist Wendy MacNaughton about San Francisco farmers’ market vendors.
Wild Farm Alliance’s Farming With Food Safety and Conservation in Mind at www.wildfarmalliance.org/resources/fdsfty_brochure.htm outlines the low prevalence of foodborne pathogens in wildlife, addresses conservation practices that can improve food safety, and offers a conservation-minded risk assessment strategy. Using cover crops, compost and other quality organic matter encourages diverse soil microbial populations, which help suppress E. coli pathogens in soil. A grass strip just 1 yard wide can remove up to 99 percent of E. coli organisms from overland flow, says Wild Farm Alliance.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s updated Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program – Rewarding farmers for how the grow what they grow, at www.sustainableagriculture.net/publications,
helps family farmers, ranchers and foresters understand the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) enrollment process and conservation activities eligible for CSP payments.
The CSP is a whole farm and comprehensive working lands conservation program administered by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Leading resource concerns currently addressed are water quality, wildlife habitat, soil quality and erosion. The average contract is between $15,000 and $20,000 per year.
The 2012 cut-off date for ranking and awards will likely be early in 2012.