Book Review: “The Resilient Gardener”
Gardening books interest me, but don’t usually excite me, though I’ve probably enjoyed nearly as many hours reading about gardening as doing it. Recently, though, I came across a book which casts gardening in a whole new perspective. The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times by Carol Deppe (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010) is nothing short of paradigm changing.
Deppe begins by talking about the pleasures of gardening and eating fine food you’ve grown yourself. “However,” she says, “there were plenty of times when my gardening fell apart or overwhelmed me instead of sustaining me.” Illness, injury, family needs, a big project at work–any of these can interfere with your garden tending and cause crops to fail. Or perhaps nature intervenes with unusually cold, hot, dry, or wet weather and plants in your garden don’t produce. Results can range from disappointment to economic disaster depending on how much you and your family were counting on your garden’s food.
“We tend to design our.. gardening for good times, times when everything is going well,” Deppe says. “That isn’t what we need…My garden needed to be designed around the reality that life has its ups and downs…I needed a more resilient garden. And I needed a garden that better enhanced my own resilience, in all kinds of times, both good and bad.”
Deppe’s research and reasoning which she presents in the first half of the book as the basis of her resilient approach was riveting stuff. Drawing from such diverse fields as climatology, anthropology, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, paleontology, health, and medicine, Deppe reviews our food past and paints a large overview of the food production probabilities for the next few decades. It was one of the most logical and unique forecasts I’ve seen yet. As Deppe herself says, “This is a supremely optimistic as well as realistic book about resilient gardeners and resilient gardens surviving and thriving and helping their communities to survive and thrive through everything that comes their way–from tomorrow through the next thousand years.” Deppe sees gardening as an enjoyable pasttime, yes, but she also sees it as a calling.
In the second half of the book, Deppe gets “down and dirty” and applies her ideas about resilience with detailed hands-on information about growing a garden that can actually feed you and your family–and neighbors and friends, if need be. In particular, she describes how to raise five food staples which can provide resilient, nutritionally balanced, year-round sustenance–potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs. While you might choose different core crops, the rationale Deppe presents can be universally applied.
Throughout the entire book, Deppe focuses on three main goals. The first is what she calls “contemporary personal survival.” This is centered on “achieving greater control of our food supply. It’s about having gourmet-quality, optimally healthful food in spite of agribusiness.” The second goal is about “surviving the kinds of individual, ordinary traumas and minor disasters that happen in the lives of most people and gardens.” It’s about creating “yards and gardens that can thrive with minimal care or even total neglect for substantial periods of time, and that create an oasis of restorative peace, normality, and security.” Finally, she discusses her third focus of gardening in “mega-hard times” –earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, economic disasters, etc. Gardening in this light becomes a skill necessary for community survival. Can you grow your garden without electricity? Imported fertilizer? Irrigation water? Without a rototiller? Without purchasing new seeds every year? Could you teach others what you know?
If this sounds to you like a tall order, rest assured it does to me, too, but Deppe shows how any of us can contribute to actually carrying it out–even if you’ve never gardened before. Deppe has lots of advice to help a beginner start gently, realistically, and easily, with, or even without, a yard or plot of land. We’re all in this together, in Deppe’s view, so even the smallest effort adds to the overall benefits.
She’s quick to remind, too, that “I don’t grow and store staples because I’m expecting civilization to collapse within the next season so that I need the stored staples to keep from starving. I do it primarily because growing and storing these [staples] provides superb food of a quality I can’t buy, personal satisfaction, and greater joy and health for myself.”
Deppe, who lives and gardens in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, crams an incredible amount of first-hand knowledge into the pages of this book. I think every gardener, “wannabe” gardener, or even anyone who eats food will find something intriguing and enlightening between its covers. It is simply an amazing book, and I enthusiastically recommend it.