Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book Review: Growing, Older

I think Joan Gussow has a lot to offer to those trying to grow their own food. Her experience and personal stories promise to inspire!
Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have a complicated reader relationship with Joan Gussow. I want to say that I love her writing all the way to the end of the earth, but I do recognize some of her quirks that many might find irritating. In some ways, she seems to be a nit-picking old lady, the type you don't want to be neighbors with, for fear that she'll make your life hell. She is very opinionated, a right we all have but especially at the ripe age of 80-something, and there are many times while reading that I get the distinct impression that whatever she says, GOES in the lives of anyone around her.

BUT. That is all the negative I will say. Because, darnit, I can't help it. I really, really love her stories.

She writes with pure heart, holds nothing back, and openly shares everything she's ever learned about food, gardening, our food system, our environment. She is full of facts and important knowledge, and she's not afraid to stick her neck out with unpopular ideas (she wrote and researched many facets of our current agricultural systems long before the topic became mainstream, often facing tough critics). She also shares very personal stories about her sons and late husband, and shows time and again her humanness.

Growing, Older, is a book I will read often. Gussow ponders many of the issues a human being faces as they grow past 'old' into 'elderly', yet maintains her fierce independence and continues to grow most of her food in her (granted, huge) backyard. The Hudson River lies directly behind her, and throughout her insightful chapters there is the constant background threat of her garden being flooded.

Flood, it does. More than once Gussow's gardens have been utterly destroyed by the river's rising banks. The work she must do to repair the damage is exhausting to read about, and yet she's had to do it more than once, and she willingly does it. The answers to the question "Why don't you just MOVE?" emerges in her reflections. For one, she respects what nature has to dish out, and feels she needs to work with the forces around her. Two, the view of the river is so beautiful to her that she's willing to do what she must to live with such a gorgeous natural presence that fills her soul, even if at times it wreaks incredible damage on her livelihood. Many people wouldn't even have the option to move, so to see her succeeding in raising lots of food in a not-always-very-ideal environment is encouraging.

This 'old lady' has a lot of good knowledge to offer, and I feel her words on a personal level. There is so much focus on the negative aspects of growing old that it's no wonder everyone's so terrified of it. Joan Gussow is not terrified of age, but ecstatic about what the years have given her. I've adopted her as one of my role models, hoping I have the wonderful opportunity to also grow old, along with my gardens.

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