From the Ground Up: A Food Grower's Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That's Changing the Nation [NOOK Book]

Overview

An inspiring story for everyone who’s ever dreamed of growing the food they eat
 
When Jeanne Nolan, a teenager in search of a less materialistic, more authentic existence, left Chicago in 1987 to join a communal farm, she had no idea that her decades-long journey would lead her to the heart of a movement that is currently changing our nation’s relationship to food. Now a leader in the sustainable food movement, Nolan shares her story in ...
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From the Ground Up: A Food Grower's Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That's Changing the Nation

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Overview

An inspiring story for everyone who’s ever dreamed of growing the food they eat
 
When Jeanne Nolan, a teenager in search of a less materialistic, more authentic existence, left Chicago in 1987 to join a communal farm, she had no idea that her decades-long journey would lead her to the heart of a movement that is currently changing our nation’s relationship to food. Now a leader in the sustainable food movement, Nolan shares her story in From the Ground Up, helping us understand the benefits of organic gardening—for the environment, our health, our wallets, our families, and our communities. The great news, as Nolan shows us, is that it has never been easier to grow the vegetables we eat, whether on our rooftops, in our backyards, in our school yards, or on our fire escapes.
 
From the Ground Up chronicles Nolan’s journey as she returned seventeen years later, disillusioned with communal life, to her parents’ suburban home on the North Shore as a single mother with few marketable skills. Her mother suggested she plant a vegetable garden in their yard, and it grew so abundantly that she established a small business planting organic gardens in suburban yards. She was then asked to create an organic farm for children at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, and she soon began installing gardens around the city—on a restaurant’s rooftop, in school yards, and for nonprofit organizations. Not only did she realize that practically anyone anywhere could grow vegetables on a small scale but she learned a greater lesson as well: rather than turn her back on mainstream society, she could make a difference in the world. The answer she was searching for was no further than her own backyard.  
 
In this moving and inspiring account, which combines her fascinating personal journey with the knowledge she gained along the way, Nolan helps us understand the importance of planting and eating organically—both for our health and for the environment—and provides practical tips for growing our food. With the message that we can create utopias in our very own backyards and rooftops, From the Ground Up can inspire each of us to reassess our relationship to the food we eat.

Praise for From the Ground Up
 
“One of the most intelligent, surprising and impressive garden memoirs I’ve read in a long time . . . radiant with hope and love.”The New York Times Book Review

“The joy of From the Ground Up is not Nolan’s own happy ending but rather the illuminating way she applies her vision to practical problems. . . . The hardest memoir to write is the one that is honest but not self-obsessed; Nolan accomplishes this with clarity and poise.”—Jane Smiley, Harper’s

“[A] rare and improbable thing: a gripping gardening memoir . . . [Nolan’s] voice is an honest and reassuring one.”Chicago Reader

“[A] refreshing narrative . . . From the Ground Up triumphs the backyard micro-garden as it imparts lessons from Nolan’s life about family. . . . The book is a good read for foodies and lovers of a good story alike, and an inspiration to garden wherever you can find space.”—Fredericksburg Free Lance–Star

From the Ground Up resonates powerfully with me, as a gardener, and inspires me to ‘double dig’ my garden bed. But even readers who keep their fingernails clean will benefit from this beautiful story and powerful message.”—Sophia Siskel, president and CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Jeanne Nolan's education in food growing began in 1987, when she left home and joined a communal farm. That stint ended seventeen years later when she, now a single mother, returned to her parents' North Shore Chicago home. What began for Nolan as an urban retreat became a recommitment to the sustainable food movement. Starting with a small backyard vegetable garden, she expanded her efforts to an organic planting business and then ambitious outreach projects. Her "memoir plus" mixes reminiscences, ideas, and inspiration for homegrown food growers.

The New York Times Book Review - Dominique Browning
…one of the most intelligent, surprising and impressive garden memoirs I've read in a long time…Nolan's memoir is radiant with hope and love.
Publishers Weekly
Following a restless childhood and adolescence in the affluent Chicago suburb of Winnetka, Nolan and her boyfriend set off for the Southwest as soon as she graduated from high school in 1987, ultimately landing at the Zendik Farm, a hippie commune. Nolan spent over a decade in this idiosyncratically controlled environment in which free love was encouraged, but close relationships weren’t. She and her young daughter (whom she had with a friend at the commune) ultimately left the nomadic commune, returning home to live with her parents and to nurse her wounds and figure out her next steps. Realizing that her organic gardening skills could be useful, Nolan established the Organic Gardner, a company whose aim is to teach clients how to grow organic vegetables in their own gardens. The concept caught on, and she soon found herself with a rapidly growing company. The narrative thread about her experiences as an organic entrepreneur is told in conjunction with the stories of her courtship with a fellow Zendik resident whom she eventually married, her creation of the 5,000 sq. ft. Edible Gardens at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, and her efforts to repair her fractured relationship with her immediate family. These episodes, along with flashbacks to the commune, make for a disjointed read, but Nolan’s enthusiasm for bettering the world is charming and infectious. Agent: Kimberly Witherspoon, InkWell Management. (July)
From the Publisher
“One of the most intelligent, surprising and impressive garden memoirs I’ve read in a long time . . . radiant with hope and love.”The New York Times Book Review

“The joy of From the Ground Up is not Nolan’s own happy ending but rather the illuminating way she applies her vision to practical problems. . . . The hardest memoir to write is the one that is honest but not self-obsessed; Nolan accomplishes this with clarity and poise.”—Jane Smiley, Harper’s

“[A] rare and improbable thing: a gripping gardening memoir . . . [Nolan’s] voice is an honest and reassuring one.”Chicago Reader

“[A] refreshing narrative . . . From the Ground Up triumphs the backyard micro-garden as it imparts lessons from Nolan’s life about family. . . . The book is a good read for foodies and lovers of a good story alike, and an inspiration to garden wherever you can find space.”—Fredericksburg Free Lance–Star

“By bravely sharing her personal journey in this remarkable book, Jeanne Nolan gives each of us a gift—one that has the power to motivate us to pursue the values we believe in, to free ourselves from convention, to be better parents, and to accept the love of family and community—however we define those. From the Ground Up resonates powerfully with me, as a gardener, and inspires me to ‘double dig’ my garden bed. But even readers who keep their fingernails clean will benefit from this beautiful story and powerful message.”—Sophia Siskel, president and CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden

“I didn’t expect that a book about the food movement would turn out to be a can’t-put-it-down page-turner, but that’s just what From the Ground Up is. Jeanne Nolan’s personal journey is a richly observed saga set against the broad landscape of social and ecological change, and spurred by a reawakened awareness about the food that must sustain us.”—Bill Kurtis, television journalist and founder of Tallgrass Beef
 
“To garden well is to question, to wonder, to believe, to hope, and to love. The same is true for living well. All this and more comes through in the story of Jeanne Nolan’s quest to find her place in the world. Her book reinforced my beliefs about the power of a garden to heal, and opened my eyes to so much more. There is something to touch everyone along the way of this remarkable journey.”—Suzy Bales, author of Down-to-Earth Gardener
 
“We talk of ‘farm to table’ but not of ‘child to garden.’ Growing and harvesting your first vegetables stays in your memory and on your palate forever. Jeanne Nolan inspires us all to establish a truer connection to our food. I have never been more excited to get my hands dirty!”—Art Smith, author of Art Smith’s Healthy Comfort
 
“Sometimes a garden is just a garden, but not for Jeanne Nolan. In From the Ground Up, she gives us a deeply personal account of finding her path in life through building urban gardens—and in Chicago, no less. Anyone with an interest, from casual to professional, in creating urban food systems and communities—or eating homegrown fresh vegetables—will be moved and inspired by her story.”—Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and author of Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics
 
“Jeanne Nolan’s story is not only about how seeds sprout, but about how our own lives can blossom in the most unanticipated and beautiful ways. Although I’ve been thinking about the importance of food my entire professional life, Jeanne Nolan’s captivating book has helped me think about its role in our lives in an entirely new way, one that gives me hope we may someday solve the problems of hunger and scarcity. If there’s ever been a book about how to change the world while changing your own life, From the Ground Up is it.”—Bill Shore, founder and CEO of Share Our Strength
 
“The earth—particularly the garden as our portal to it—is our wisest teacher. And Jeanne Nolan’s captivating, beautifully written memoir–cum–gardening guide overflows with lessons learned and stories of honesty, insight, healing, and hope. Plus, the appendix unexpectedly, concisely, and brilliantly summarizes the essentials we all need to know for successfully growing our own organic vegetables.”—Rick Bayless, chef and owner of Frontera Grill and host of Mexico: One Plate at a Time

“Nolan’s enthusiasm for bettering the world is charming and infectious.”Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679644477
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/16/2013
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 265,545
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

Jeanne Nolan has been growing food organically for more than twenty years. She is a well-known educator and consultant and the founder of the Organic Gardener Ltd., which works with families to develop gardens that are beautiful, productive, and uniquely suited to their homes and lifestyles. She also works extensively with schools, restaurants, not-for-profit organizations, and other institutions. In partnership with Green City Market, she designed, installed, and maintains the Edible Gardens, a five-thousand-square-foot vegetable garden for children in Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Glencoe, Illinois.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

When my father picked me up at the airport in 2004, the sum total of my personal belongings was a faded dark green duffel bag containing most of Theas and my clothing; an oversize backpack containing a decades worth of journals; and a suitcase filled with a few of Theas favorite toys, along with photographs, letters, and other odds and ends. My father insisted on carrying all of the luggage while I carried Thea on my hip, her arms clasped around my neck. Shed picked up on my anxious mood and was withdrawn, surveying the strange surroundings as she had all day but not asking her usual piping round of Why? questions in response to my ongoing monologue about airplanes and airports.

This is your Papa Les, remember him? I said as we trailed my father on the moving sidewalk through the glittering corridor toward the main parking garage. Were going to his house.

As soon as I strapped Thea into the toddlers car seat that my parentsin the day and a half since Id called to say I was cominghad already purchased and prepared, she began to drift off. She was fast asleep by the time my father slid the car into gear.

We have food, he said, keeping his voice hushed as we drove through the days gray drizzle. Your mother stopped at Whole Foods. Milk, eggs, bananas, vegetables. He meant the organic versions; my parents never bothered with organic for themselves, but since Id joined the commune Id been vocal about eating only organically. We can stop on the way, though, if theres anything else you need. I shook my head; my parents lived just thirty minutes north of the airport, and after my hectic departure from Asheville, North Carolina, that morning and the numbing buzz of travel, I was eager for someplace, anyplace, to sit still.

We have a crib set up for Thea, he continued. We can put it in whichever room you want. And your mom got a head start on making dinner. I was relieved that he wasnt asking any of the questions I knew were on his mindwhy had I left the commune after all this time, why hadnt I given them more noticeuntil I realized, from his quick sidelong glances, that he was determined not to say anything that might upset me and prompt me to leave again. What he didnt knowwhat he had no way of knowingwas that I had no intention of leaving, because I had nowhere else to go.

Wed lapsed into silence by the time we turned into my parents neighborhood, a narrow, curving stretch of widely spaced Colonials, Georgians, and Tudors sheltered by just-budding maple, dogwood, and cherry trees. I reflexively pulled down the visor to check myself in the lighted overhead mirror, suddenly self-conscious at the thought of greeting my waiting mother. My hair was frizzy, unevenly flattened on one side from the airplane headrest; my fingers got tangled in my bangs when I tried to smooth them out. My clothes hung too loosely; Id shed almost fifteen pounds in the past few months. My eyes had dark circles under themcircles so pronounced they startled meand my face was angular, gaunt. A strangers face.

The final turn on the way to my parents house took us alongside the Indian Hill golf courseone of the most upscale areas in Winnetkaa vast, rolling expanse of green dotted with the occasional beige of sand traps. Up ahead, through the half acre of trees that provided calm and privacy, I glimpsed the high Jeffersonian brick front of the house. My father slowed the car and glanced across at me, stopping a moment as though giving me a chance to collect myself before turning into the driveway. The tires crunched on the wide stretch of pebbles that served as my parents front yard. Other than the woods in front, there was no grass or landscaping, just those small stones, making the house itself, with its oversize entrance door and wide portico, appear even more imposing.

Since Id left home in 1987, Id visited numerous times, but on those trips Id always felt myself to be at a remove, sealed inside the protective bubble of the real life I believed lay back at the commune. There, Id lived in cabins and in shared rooms in old rehabbed farmhouses surrounded by acres of fields and wilderness. Id viewed everything at that time in terms of stark opposition: real versus phony, authentic versus false and materialistic; Id dismissed the relatively grand scale of the materialism of my parents lifestyle out of hand. Now that I had nowhere else to go, I found this houseand everything about their way of lifenewly overwhelming.

My mother appeared so quickly on the front steps that I knew she must have been watching by the door. She was trim and elegant as always, in a pair of loafers, pressed khakis, a button-down blouse, and cream-colored cardigan. Her welcoming smile froze for just a moment too long as I stepped out of the carI wondered if I looked even worse than Id thoughtbut she hugged me tightly, enveloping me with a whiff of the perfume Id known all my life, then turned toward Thea.

Maybe we should let her sleep. . . . I started to say. But my mom was already unbuckling her, picking her up with a fluid, practiced motion, kissing the top of her head, smoothing out her hair, and quietly hushing Theas vaguely murmured protests as she carried her inside.

Theas mouth gaped when my mom gently set her down in the entrance hallas she took in the vaulted ceilings, the elegant wallpaper, the gleaming polished floors, and the thickly carpeted stairs. She had been off the commune only rarely since her birth, and had never experienced anything like these lavish surroundings. Rather than finding this environment claustrophobic, as I had when Id left home, I now found its orderliness and deep-pile softness comforting. Id left civilization in 1987 feeling betrayed by suburbia, but now I was returning feeling betrayed by wilderness. I tried to fill in the gaps between these two extremes for Thea. This is Grandma Dino, remember her? She stared up at my mother. Though it had been some time since shed seen my parents, on their last visit to the commune, Id shown her pictures as I packed up, in an effort to ease the transition. This is the dining room where were going to eat, I said as I took Theas hand and led her through the house, which was filling with the smell of the cottage-fried potatoes my mom was making on the stove, a childhood favorite of mine. This is the kitchen where were going to cook, thats the backyard where you can play. . . .

This is home. For now, I finished as we entered the upstairs bedroom where we were staying. Though I managed to keep my tone bright, I was thinking, How can I possibly make this work? On my own, I would have curled up in a fetal position on the bed, shell-shocked and disoriented, but Thea was watching me, looking for cues. I also could not bear to disappoint my parents after the obvious care they had taken to make Thea and me feel comfortable and cared for.

There was enough time for me to give Thea a bath before dinner. Though she looked around wide-eyed at the gleaming white bathroom, she relaxed in the tub. Wed had running water on the commune, but we were also sticklers for conservation and would share bathwater. By the time it was your turn to bathe, the water was generally somewhere between lukewarm and cool, depending on where in the order of things your bath fell. Thea looked around in wonder at the clouds of steam rising around her, and when I splashed her, she giggledthe first smile Id seen from her all day.

I struggled to find an outfit for her in the bags my father had carried upstairs. Every six months or so, my mother had mailed large care packages of Gap Kids clothing for Thea, who would insist on trying on everything at once, layering three shirts, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks (she was a tomboy, and my mother knew enough not to try sending skirts or dresses). But the last round of clothes had gotten stained and torn from the largely outdoor life we lived at the farm, where the dirt constantly blew in from the fields. I settled on the least stained pair of jeans I could find and a long-sleeved top with two buttons at the front. I told Thea, as I rubbed her blond shoulder-length hair dry with the towel, Grandma Dinos made a special dinner for you. Id asked my mom, before we came upstairs, to make Theas favorite comfort food, poached eggs and brown ricenormally a breakfast food, but I wanted her to experience at least one familiar thing today.

As she followed me through the downstairs hall to the kitchen, Thea looked around inquisitively. Hi, Thea! my mother said. Thea looked past her toward the kitchen and then at the empty den, summing up all the questions that must have been running through her mind all day with one so focused and observant it stunned me: Where are all the people?

After dinner, I worried that Thea might have trouble falling asleep in the new place, but she dropped off almost instantly when I clicked off the light. I pulled the white quilt up to her chin and settled quietly into the bed beside her. I was exhausted, too, but my mind was racing. The question that kept recurring, what I couldnt understand, was how the hell I had reached this point in timehow Id fallen so far from my initial, idealistic hopes for a better life.

In September 1987, in a moment that was in almost every way the opposite of my homecoming experience, my father had walked me to the gate at OHare for my departure to California and the commune, known at that time as Zendik Farm Arts Cooperative. Id worn a tank top, a long cotton Indian-print skirt, and Birkenstocks with two different-colored kneesocks, and I had winnowed the contents of my life down to the bare essentials (Simplify!): my cat, Louie; sixteen books, including Thoreaus Walden, Carlos Castanedas The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, and J. D. Salingers The Catcher in the Rye; a toothbrush; and a backpack full of clothes. My dad had hugged me at OHare with tears in his eyesmy mom had been too upset to go to the airportand I knew he was scared for me. But as Id walked through the departure gate I wasnt scared: I was breaking from everything I knew, parting with the past, exhilarated by what I thought lay ahead. It wasnt until I got to Zendik Farm that I felt some trepidation.

Looking out the window of the cab from the airport as Id first approached the farm in the high desert seventy miles east of San DiegoLouie, travel-weary and disgruntled, perched in my lapI scanned the arid landscape uneasily: Surely nothing could grow here, least of all organically. The surroundings were starkly beautifulhigh boulders, sparse scrub, the looming shape of the aptly named Rattlesnake Mountain rising in the near distance (rattlesnakes, I would soon learn, had infested the farmhouse before it was rehabbed). The landscape looked like a scene from a John Ford Western. But then I spotted the acres of cultivated vegetable gardens at the edge of the propertylushly, lavishly green with late summer and early fall crops: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, spinach, kale, and chard, most of them growing in three-foot-wide rows.

Soon after I arrived, when Id finished settling my bags in the brightly painted Quonset hut that Id be sharing with three other women, I was handed a dog-eared copy of Rodales Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Id mentioned my interest in learning to grow organic food when Id first called after reading the communes ad in a local Chicago newspaperthis was, in fact, one of the main reasons Id wanted to joinand I was almost immediately led out into the fields for a tour and to harvest sugar snap peas. We like to learn by doing here, Arol, the fit, charismatic cofounder and leader of the commune told me, fixing me with her intense blue eyes. (Exactly the kind of person Ive been looking for, was my first impression as I noted her handmade ankle-length denim skirt and fossilized shark tooth necklace. Exactly the kind of person I want to be.)

This was, I thought, exactly what Id been searching for in life and had started doubting Id find. A short distance away from where I stood with Arol, down the drive that led to the farmhouse, I could glimpse the arched entrance gate where a hand-painted sign contained a play on the motto inscribed on the entrance to Dantes Inferno: ye who leave here, abandon all hope.

On our first morning at my parents house, Thea woke just before sunrise, startling me with a warm hand placed on my cheek. I reflexively reached to smooth her hair and swung my legs over the edge of the bed, murmuring a string of words that I hoped would help her locate herself and adjust. Were in Dino and Papas house, remember? We flew here in an airplane yesterday. You took a hot hot bath, . . .

Downstairs, I sat at the kitchen table and pulled Thea into my lap, looking out across the terrace to the tree-enclosed backyard. I was comforted to see a few pressed grooves in the newly growing grass where several deer had spent the night, and pointed this out to Thea. Though my parents lived in a decidedly suburban, cultivated area, there was still enough wildlife arounddeer, birds, rabbits, even an occasional coyote (sheltered in part by the nearby golf course)for me to hope that Thea would feel some connection and kinship to the rural landscape in which shed spent all of her nearly three years. I pulled a blanket I had grabbed from the den over her shoulders and carried her out into the yard so that she could hear the birds just wakingrobins, cardinals, redwing blackbirds, and a few mourning doves clumsily hop-stepping around the overflow of seed from my mothers standing feeder.

All throughout that first morning and afternoonin between meals and getting dressedI kept returning to the backyard with Thea, wanting something familiar for her and for me. My mother noted this and over lunchgrilled cheese for Theashe asked if I might like her to find a jogging stroller so that I could take Thea for walks along the golf course and in the nearby area parks where, before Thea was born, Id walked alone for hours. I told her yes and thanked her for the suggestion.
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