book review

Grocery Gardening

By Kate Bryant March 3, 2010

I recently received a review copy of Grocery Gardening, a hands-on guide to growing and enjoying fresh garden produce.

Portland author Jean Ann Van Krevelen wrote the book to help readers get started growing and preparing their own food. I liked the book and wanted to meet her so we went out for lunch after the Yard, Garden & Patio Show. I wanted to know what she feels is the "hook" that inspires people – especially young people – to garden – and eat from the garden. For both of us, gardening came to us through parents and grandparents who were avid gardeners. But not everyone has a family member who gardens and can model how simple it can be to grow your own food. That’s where an accessible how-to book like this comes in.

Think of Grocery Gardening like a substitute gardening grandma. An extra hip, fun-loving grandma who shows you how to start an organic food garden but never gets mad at you for not wiping your muddy shoes. And while the book doesn’t actually make delicious, home-cooked meals for you, it does offer inspiring recipes that will make you want to run to the kitchen yourself.

Grocery Gardening starts with "Gardening 101," detailing the basic information needed to plan your food garden, amend your soil, start your seeds and deal with potential pests. Since part of the goal of growing vegetables and fruit is to eat all this delicious, organic produce, there’s a section on purchasing quality produce at the grocery store or farmers market. After all, you probably won’t be growing everything you eat the first year. I appreciate the list of the most and least contaminated foods – it’s worth growing your own or paying more for organics when buying peaches or bell peppers, for example.

The book then covers how to start and nurture 25 herbs, fruits and vegetables, with guidance on canning, freezing, dehydrating, and storing the produce. Several valuable recipes are provided for each herb, fruit and vegetable.

Now Jean Ann isn’t just a book author: she a veritable bundle of energy, writing blogs on food, on edible gardening, and on technology for entrepreneurs. The back-story to this book is that it was written in collaboration with three co-authors – none of whom had met in person. Instead, they were Facebook and Twitter friends and decided to see if they could put together a book about food and gardening in 60 days using recipes and ideas culled from their voluminous lists of social media contacts. This collaborative venture produced a lively, fresh book full of practical details that will help a total beginner get started – and inspire any food gardener with fun ideas and great recipes. A note to the computer-savvy – the authors are all still tapping away, writing informative gardening and cooking blogs – so the opportunities are there for continued interaction.

I was impressed by something Jean Ann said that afternoon when we plonked ourselves down for lunch (we hit one of my favorite quickie meal spots, Ole Ole on E. Burnside). When I asked her what really gets non-gardeners into gardening, particularly edible gardening, she said, "What it doesn’t take is an overblown idea of perfectionism. Gardening and cooking can be more relaxed, more accessible," she said. "Gardening is too often presented as if it were an Olympic sport. It’s not that hard. We’re putting things in dirt, people!"

So let’s get past that all-or-nothing thinking. Don’t have the time or the space to dig a vegetable garden in your back yard this spring? Then plant some lettuce in a pot. Planting a seed is a metaphor for starting afresh, creating new life. It’s the easiest thing in the world and humans have been doing it for aeons. You can do it, too.


One pot with organic potting soil and a packet of seeds is all you need to start a vegetable garden. This pot’s big but you can start with almost any kind of container that has a hole in the bottom.

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