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New Book Takes the Scary Out of Gardening: Turns Out Growing Your Own Food Is Really Easy

Gardening newbies, seasoned seedsters and those in between will all find much to enjoy in this eloquent, witty and empowering guide from Michele Owens.

If there's one thing Michelle Obama and Glenn Beck can agree on, it's the notion that growing some of your own food is a good idea (though I suspect the Obamas get their seeds from sources other than Beck's shifty, grifty seed bank sponsor).

You might think that level of bipartisan support would light a fire under our collective (gr)ass. But the much-ballyhooed kitchen garden revival has yet to make a dent in the bentgrass. As NASA reported in 2005, lawns now constitute "the single largest irrigated crop in America," taking up at least three times the acreage we devote to irrigated corn. Has any nation in the history of mankind ever squandered so many resources to cultivate so much vegetation of such dubious value?

Meanwhile, we currently grow less than 2 percent of our own food.

"This," Michele Owens declares in her just-published Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise, "is not yet enough of a revolution to satisfy me."

Owens, who cofounded and contributes regularly to the uber-popular, highly respected GardenRant blog, is a self-taught amateur gardener. And that may be why her book is one of the best manifesto/memoirs so far this century on growing your own veggies.

With nearly two decades of experience under her own backyard greenbelt, Owens makes the case that the simple act of growing food is just that -- simple. "Years of vegetable gardening have turned me into a complete minimalist who uses nothing besides shovel, seeds and mulch."

Finally, a Bittman for the backyard! Owens also manages to distill the essence of vegetable gardening into a breezy precept that carries just a whiff of Owed de Pollan: "...give your crops lots of sun, fertile soil, and sufficient water."

Of course, this kind of admirably concise advice is so simple, Owens admits, that it's "hardly enough to fill a page or two, let alone a book."

But, just as the Minimalist has filled multiple massive tomes with recipes short and sweet (or savory), and Pollan has created an apparently infinite franchise around the seven words, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," Owens has no trouble weaving a compelling read from the thread of her Twitter-length thesis. Grow The Good Life begins with an incisive analysis of why so few Americans garden, then rolls full steam ahead into a cheerful campaign to recruit more of her fellow citizens into the cause of homeland (food) security.

Owens knows a thing or two about how to rally the troops; she's a former speechwriter for, among others, governors William F. Weld and Mario Cuomo. Her day job clearly helped her hone her instincts about what inspires people, as well as what turns them off.

One factor that discourages folks from planting a kitchen garden, Owens believes, is "the incredibly off-putting literature of vegetable gardening," which she credits with "driving so many would-be gardeners into scrapbooking instead."

So many gardening how-to's dwell on all the potential pitfalls a gardener might encounter that "a beginner might reasonably conclude that growing food is nothing but a series of problems." Problems for which plenty of companies want to sell you solutions, as Owens notes. She'd love to overthrow the military-industrial-horticultural complex that promotes gardening as a form of chemical warfare requiring frequent trips to the gardening aisles of Lowes or Home Depot for reinforcements. If guerrilla gardeners needed a general, I'd nominate Owens.

But she's equally underwhelmed by the tree-hugging bat guano boosters at the other end of the spectrum (like me) who stockpile their own artisanal arsenals of finely crafted specialty tools and exotic dung from far-flung places.

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