Simple, Good and Tasty's May Bookclub Selection: This Organic Life

 The simple act of putting a shovel into the ground and tucking in the first seeds (or seedlings) without doubt means you’ve already decided to do things differently. Feeding yourself – with the efforts of your own two hands and contributions of a mostly organic nature – is an exercise in science, nature, tradition, history, politics and not just a little bit of faith. Not such a simple act, after all. 

This month’s Simple, Good and Tasty book club selection stands out as a love story to vegetable gardening, old homes and eating locally. Though helpful and idea-generating, This Organic Life, Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader by Joan Dye Gussow is not a how-to manual dispensing the in's and out's of organic gardening. Instead it’s an ode to Gussow’s passionate existence with her garden and how it affected every facet of her life.

As Michael Pollan praises on the back cover of the book, “Based on a delicious literary recipe, ‘one part memoir, one part manual, one part manifesto,’ This Organic Life gives flesh to ideas about reforming our food supply that deserves not only to be heard, but to be tried out in the backyard. Yet this book is not only nutritious: Joan Gussow is the best of company on the page, by turns funny, poignant, and wise.”


Here's a sample of what we’ll talk about at Book Club this month:

Gussow starts her original garden out of fiscal necessity and then expands it to live the philosophies she preaches. She also had inspiration from her youth and her family gardens. And, she is supporting her beliefs about the food system by gardening.

  • Why do you garden?

There are certainly paradoxes in Gussow’s story. While she (albeit, mournfully) cuts down a healthy, decades-old tree in order to make way for a bigger and better garden to sustain her family, she also deals with the fall out of flooding on her new property which may be attributable to someone else clearing land. We all make choices when it comes to gardening, eating locally and seasonably, and living more sustainable lives, often at a cost to other things or decisions. 

  • What sacrifices have you made to live and eat the way you do?
  • What moral or ethical issues do you struggle with in terms of your food decisions?

Gardens are full of surprises, and Gussow’s uncoverings, learnings and discoveries are well documented in the book: a mysterious self-pollinating apricot tree; ridiculous soil composition; fresh picked raspberries in November.

  • What surprises have you experienced in your own garden?

Gussow’s gardens sustain her. She writes about their impact on her life, her marriage and her career. Over the course of decades, Gussow continues to nurture and develop her gardens in order to nurture herself.

  • Have you personally felt that kind of connection to the earth, the gardening process, and your homegrown food? 
  • How do you share this bond with others?

Though the weather hasn't been fully cooperative in the Midwest this spring, I hope you'll find some gardening inspiration in this month's Book Club pick. Join us on Thursday May 27, to discuss This Organic Life and share your gardening and local/seasonal eating ideas. We'll be at Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op’s Selby location from 7 to 9:00 p.m. or the Harmony Co-op in Bemidji from 6 to 8:00 p.m. We can't wait to hear your thoughts about this beautifully written book!


Tracy Morgan is a Twin Cities foodie, cookbook hoarder, and owner of all the right kitchen gadgets. Living in downtown St. Paul, she loves to take her green trolley shopping at the Farmer's Market and see how much weight it can handle. When not spotlighting local goodies for Simple Good and Tasty, Tracy runs Segnavia Creative, a business development and marketing firm. She also serves on the board of directors for the Mississippi Market Natural Food Co-op. Her last blog post for Simple, Good and Tasty was A Cider Alternative: Crispin for Summer.