Book Review – Grow the Good Life

Book Review – Grow the Good Life

While I garden for a million fine reasons, underlying them all is the fact that I never feel more optimistic, engaged, productive or peaceful than when I am in my garden. – Michele Owens

Rodale Books February 2011

Grow the Good Life – Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise, by (Rodale Books), is a love story. Not a traditional get-out-the-box-of-Kleenex love story, but a love story none the less. Michele Owens has crafted an ode to a passion developed for vegetable gardening.

The backyard vegetable garden, once a necessity for survival, has seen a revival in recent years as the economy has suffered and stories of contaminated food find their way onto the nightly news. More and more people are turning their recreational spaces into productive gardens, a place where they can feel safe about their food and ease the pressure on their budgets. Owens champions other benefits of gardening as well, such as physical fitness, peace of mind and sense of accomplishment.

With a writing style reminiscent of Michael Pollan (“Omnivore’s Dilemma”, “In Defense of Food”), Owens takes the reader on a journey of the vegetable garden beginning mid twentieth century and the end of the Second World War, and follows its decrease in popularity as America became more concerned with uniformity, ease of life and an obsession with cleanliness. From here, she segues nicely into the economics of food production and the efficiencies and low food cost of factory farming of today, before inviting the reader into her garden, and her own experiences.

Through chapters entitled Flavor, Health, The Soil, Beauty and The Kids, Owens extols the virtues of every aspect of vegetable gardening, and along the way introduces us to the characters and influences of her life. From members of her immediate family, to neighbors and friends in upstate New York, to international figures such as Dr. Elaine Ingham and Paul Stamets, the influences of her garden journey, now become ours. Her chapter on Flavor, is worthy of the purchase price alone, causing one’s mouth to water. I had my seed catalogs on my lap within minutes of finishing it.

An interesting chapter on Survival discusses the inherent efficiencies of a backyard garden and adapting a more self sufficient lifestyle, along with the possibilities of apocalypse, and the ability to survive on what you grow in your yard. It’s poignant and timely in its light-hearted approach.

The final chapter sums up Grow the Good Life’s message in its simple straight forward title, Happiness. The sense of satisfaction one takes from a vegetable garden and the joyful experience of growing one’s own food are best described by the author herself;

There are few things lovelier than a vegetable garden at dusk, and few things more satisfying than going out in the evening to pick the food you’ve grown before dinner with family and friends. To share the fruits of your labor is to give your love to the people you care most about.

Grow the Good Life, is not a how-to book, but rather a wonderfully descriptive tale of vegetable gardening and how it improves the quality of the life. With elegant prose, Owens paints a vivid picture of each story and of her experiences, eliminating any need for photographs. Engaging, witty, and very often funny, she pulls no punches when offering opinions, especially regarding the products and so-called experts of the vegetable gardening world, pointing out in most cases out that “the emperor’s gardener is wearing no clothes!”.

Long time gardeners will enjoy the feeling of camaraderie found within the covers of Grow the Good Life, those new to vegetable gardening will enjoy the inspiration with realistic expectations, and everyone will enjoy the story of one woman and her passion for her vegetable garden. Now that is a love story worth reading!

Disclaimer(s): This book was supplied to me by the publisher for the purpose of review. All thoughts and opinions are mine and remain my intellectual property until such a time that they along with the synapses of my brain are fully composted, at which time they will be added as mulch to the garden, come end of the season.

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