Good reads
Holiday gift suggestions from The Rodale Institute staff.

Posted December 13, 2007


Good Wood: Growth, Loss, And Renewal
By Steven R. Radosevich
Oregon State University Press (2005)

Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables
By John Peterson
Gibbs Smith Publishers (2006)

From Asparagus to Zucchhini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce
By Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition
Jones Books (2004)

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
By Barbara Kingsolver
HarperCollins (2007)

An Inconvenient Truth
By Al Gore
Rodale Books (2006)

Life is like pruning a tree
Matt Ryan, Rodale Institute Agroecologist

A friend of mine sent me a copy of Good Wood: Growth, Loss, And Renewal (Oregon State University Press, 2005) as a gift after defending my master’s thesis this past spring. On the inside flap it reads: “Matt, I have found this short read to be inspirational and thought provoking. I glance at it now and again to keep myself centered on the right path. I hope you may find it useful during those times when you, like all of us, struggle to find meaning in your work.” After reading through this collection of essays, I couldn’t agree more with my friend.

The author, Steve Radosevich, PhD, articulately describes the important influences on his own life, through various tales of growth, loss and renewal. He reflects on tough decisions people face in life and the legacy they leave behind through stories about the struggles of farming and the mismanagement of forests. The title is gleaned from a conversation with the author’s grandfather while learning how to prune apple trees. Just as an orchardist chooses to remove healthy branches from an apple tree (i.e. “good wood”), people make choices in their life to turn down good opportunities for the sake of a greater goal. These underlying messages are what makes this book special and worth the read.

Eat these books
Dan Sullivan, New Farm Senior Editor

We have a culinary herb garden planted right outside our kitchen door because we like to keep what we use most often close at hand. For this very reason, two cookbooks have recently earned the coveted, limited counter space between our refrigerator and stovetop. Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables (Gibbs Smith, 2006) dishes out historical and behind-the-scenes tidbits by and about the quirky, inventive and inspiring Farmer John Peterson even is it serves up delicious and creative recipes. Peterson, founding farmer of Angelic Organics, one of the largest and most successful CSA farms in the United States, was catapulted to icon status with his poignant, self-effacing documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John, from which the cookbook adopts its title.

CSAs will often share, through their newsletters or websites, information about preparing certain vegetables with which some customers might not have familiarity. Peppered with recipes like “arugula pesto” and “sweet-and-sour-glazed parsnips,” Farmer John’s cookbook shares a collaborative effort between the chefs who inhabit Angelic Organic’s farm kitchen and many of the 1,200-plus CSA customers who enjoy a weekly box of vegetables during the Illinois growing season. Anyone who reads this celebration of seasonal, local food will be a better farmer and a more conscious eater for their effort.

From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce, Third Edition (Jones Books, 2004) comes from the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition, a nonprofit that’s been using iterations of the cookbook as a fundraiser since its first printing in 1996. The latest edition contains hundreds of new recipes by the “growers, farm members, home cooks, and chefs passionate about fresh food and seasonal cooking,” according to an acknowledgement to the contributors. What we like best about this “cookbook” at my house—besides the fact that, like Farmer John’s cookbook, it sheds ample light on to eat locally and seasonally, and on how doing so benefits the individual and the community—is the way that it’s organized. Here the name says it all. Your favorite vegetables, and perhaps some you’ve never heard of, are laid out from A to Z, with general cooking and storage tips followed by a handful of simple-yet-amazing recipes for each. All this is followed by an excellent resource section.

While the meandering Farmer John’s Cookbook feels more like a scrapbook with yummy recipes tucked in between, From Asparagus to Zucchini—though not dry by any means—reads more like a no-nonsense reference manual. I’d actually hate to have to choose between the two; they’re both that good, making for excellent kitchen companions as well as good armchair reading.

Discover the miracle of eating locally
Laura Sayre, Rodale Institute Government Grants Manager

I put off reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (Harper Collins, 2007), I confess, because I figured I’d heard it all before. After Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Peter Singer’s The Way We Eat, and Marion Nestle’s What to Eat, what more is there to be said about how to fill our bellies? Plenty, as it turns out. There are as many reflections on food as there are meals to be eaten and humans to digest them. Kingsolver’s voice—intelligent, well-informed, witty, tender, humane—is a delicious addition to our collective instruction manual for good eating.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle stands in contrast to its peers in several respects. First, it’s a family story, featuring contributions by Kingsolver’s husband, Steven Hopp, and eldest daughter Camille as well as episodes starring her younger daughter (and number-one chicken keeper) Lily, age 8. Second, the book is unique in offering a rural American’s perspective on the pleasures and challenges of eating local. To begin their experiment, the Hoppsolvers give up their dual-home lifestyle split between the desert Southwest and the mountains of Appalachia and settle down permanently on their farm in southwestern Virginia. The existential dilemmas posed by shopping at Whole Foods do not feature prominently, probably because the nearest Whole Foods is more than an hour’s drive away. As a result, the story is structured not around the layout of a supermarket but around something more fundamental: the growing season.

At its heart, this book is a gardener’s journal. For Kingsolver, eating local means simply this: Grow as much food of your own as you can, buy as much of the rest as possible directly from local farmers, and get cooking (and baking, freezing, canning and root-cellaring). As Kingsolver points out—and in fact calculates, based on her own family’s budget and receipts— eating this way is not expensive. Even if you grow nothing of your own, shopping at farmers’ markets for what’s in season and putting it by in the form of frozen basil pesto, roasted tomatoes or peach chutney will almost certainly save you money over buying those same products out of season at the supermarket. As a bonus, it will give you delicious food, healthy exercise, quality time with your family and fond memories of seasonal work and the celebrations that crown it. Far from being a story of privation, Kingsolver reveals eating local is about enjoying life’s pleasures to their fullest.

A book to warm your sensibilities
Paul Reed Hepperly, Rodale Institute Director of Research

As we approach the end of the fossil-fuel era, it becomes ever more important to reflect on what we can do individually and collectively to leave our planet in better shape for our children and grandchildren. Farmers can have a dramatic and positive effect on our greenhouse-gas issues by weaning their farms off of synthetic chemicals and by producing food for local markets. Our work here at The Rodale Institute has shown how working with nature using biologically based no-till planting, compost amendments and cover crops helps trap greenhouse gases in the soil for use by crop plants. These practices can help reverse the phenomenon of global warming while improving our natural soil, water and air resources.

An Inconvenient Truth (Rodale, 2006), written by Al Gore, is a tour de force of the science surrounding the issue of greenhouse gases and climate change. Gore’s book is full of dramatic illustrations and is written in an easy-to-understand lexicon, making the technical information digestible for the layperson. Last year, I gave this book to close family members and received rave reviews for my selection. I think your friends and family will find it a better gift than socks or underwear.

The year’s ending and the winter holiday season provides us all with the opportunity to reflect on our goals for the new year. An Inconvenient Truth offers an excellent launching pad for such reflection and a shining example of how each and every one of us can make a positive difference, right here right now, on the planet we share.