Jeanne Nolan was a typical suburban Chicago girl growing up in the ’80s until she met a morose boy who set her down a questioning path that eventually led her to an organic farming commune. After 17 years of communal living, she felt she’d lost her identity and returned to her parents’ house to rebuild her life.
At home, Nolan discovered a burgeoning sustainable food movement that embodied the ideals that led her to the commune in the first place. Inspired, she put her passion for growing food to work building the Edible Gardens, a vegetable garden for children at the Lincoln Park Zoo, and hundreds of other gardens for families, schools, restaurants, and other institutions.
Nolan’s forthcoming book From the Ground Up — our book of the month for July — follows her journey from living on the fringes of society to becoming a leader in bringing the sustainable food movement to all walks of life. Her story offers a wealth of inspiring advice about gardening and shows how it can help strengthen not only our food system, but also our communities and our souls.
Here are Nolan’s suggestions for taking part in the movement:
1. Plant: Grow your own garden at home or at an allotment or community garden. If you don’t have a front yard, a backyard, or a rooftop, plant in containers on your fire escape or even in window boxes. Virtually everyone, everywhere can grow their own food.
2. Compost: Turn your kitchen waste into fertilizer. Some of my favorite plastic-tumbler compost units include the Tumbleweed, the ComposT-Twin, and the Evnirocycle. For the apartment dweller, consider a worm bin or tower.
3. Cook: Fresh, ripe homegrown fruits and vegetables can make a master chef of anyone. Alice Waters has said that the perfect dessert is a bowl of ripe peaches. Homegrown food is the tastiest food on earth and makes cooking incredibly simple.
4. Connect: Use social media to connect with your community: Create and publicize events on Facebook and “like” sustainable agriculture pages. Use Meetup.com to create and attend events such as local-food potluck dinners, sustainable agriculture book clubs, or outings to farmers markets. Use Twitter to circulate recipes featuring local products; follow the tweets and blogs of activists such as Bill McKibben, Mark Bittman, Jamie Oliver, and Tom Philpott. Create a blog about your garden, your lifestyle, and your recipes.
5. CSA: Community supported agriculture has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Through a CSA, a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” of the harvest to the public, and regularly delivers boxes of seasonal fruits and veggies to the homes of its members. Find a CSA in your area through localharvest.org.
6. Farmers Market: Your local farmers market is a great place to meet like-minded people in your community and also connect to local farmers. Don’t hesitate to introduce yourself to the farmers, learn from them, and ask if they have organic seedlings you can purchase for your own garden.
7. Meatless Mondays: The quickest way to reduce the carbon footprint of your diet is to eat less red meat and more local vegetables. Give up meat one day a week and challenge yourself to try a new vegetarian recipe instead. (Go to meatlessmonday.com.)
8. Food Deserts: Volunteer to help create an allotment or community garden in a food desert. Or create a “giving garden” in your local community where you can grow fruits and vegetables that can be donated to a local food pantry.
9. Restaurants: The green-restaurant movement is growing fast. Support local restaurants that feature local and organic foods, and encourage your favorite restaurant to expand their sustainable offerings.
10. Get Political: Exhort your senators and representatives to support federal legislation that can reform the American food system—removing subsidies from industrial farms and incentivizing small and midsize farms. Ask your local elected officials to support legislation that helps remediate food deserts and fund school gardens.