Eugene Weekly : Gardening : 9.10.2009


Grow Your Way to Health
How to make veggie gardening easy and fun
By Rachel Foster

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that growing food at home is becoming wildly popular. While nurseries reported a slump in sales of  flower starts, vegetable starts sold out fast this year, sending growers back to the greenhouse to make more. Garden tours, at least right here in Eugene, featured vegetable gardens and orchards like never before. It seems that a bruising recession, perhaps combined with concerns about food ethics and safety, has inspired many of us with a taste for self-sufficiency. I even got on the bandwagon myself, in a small way: a succession of salad greens joined the usual basil and parsley in pots on the deck. 

Just in time for this renewed interest in veggie growing, Tricia and Forrest McDowell, owners of Cortesia Sanctuary in Eugene, have published a deceptively simple 68-page booklet with a rather bulky title: Grow your Own Food made Easy — Nutritious Organic Produce from Your Own Garden: a Step by Step Guide. The guide covers all the basics on soil preparation, natural fertilizers, planting, environmentally responsible pest control, and so on. More surprisingly, literally at the heart of their book are 15 pages on nutrition. Besides detailed nutritional data on specific vegetables and fruit, there’s a table listing garden sources of essential minerals and vitamins, and why the body needs them.

If you’ve read Michael Pollen or have seen the movie Food Inc., you probably won’t argue with the authors’ contention that food policy today is based on creating a “dependent consumer” whose “needs” are dictated by government, large corporations and media marketing. Simultaneously, home food production has diminished radically, and we have lost our connection with the Earth. As a result, too many people eat over processed, nutrient-poor foods. The land suffers, and so does human health. The foundation of a new food policy, the authors say, must be informed choice on the part of the consumer. 

“With the mushrooming interest in gardening,”  Clark-McDowell explained to me, “we felt certain that the time was right to come out with the companion book to Home Composting Made Easy. That book sold over a million copies, all over North America. We know from its success (and hundreds of letters, emails and calls) that many gardeners really appreciate a book that is affordable, thorough but not too long, accurate but light-hearted and graphically rich. 

“In the new guide, we simply distilled the essence of everything we’ve learned as gardeners and educators over the past 25 years. We’ve always had the same ethic: Make it easy and fun and embed a deep philosophy of respect for and cooperation with nature. That’s what wins over new gardeners.” The McDowells hope their low-cost guide supports “those initial steps to the journey of a lifetime: not only to know the joy of co-creating with nature, but to experience a new level of responsibility for your own health, nutrition and food security.”

Grow Your Own Food Made Easy is available from many bookstores and garden centers as well as online at the Cortesia website,

Rachel Foster of Eugene is a writer and garden consultant. She can be reached at