GROWING BEAUTIFUL FOOD -Book Review
A Gardener’s Guide to Cultivating Extraordinary Vegetables and Fruit by Matthew Benson.
Rodale Press, New York, New York, 2015. 252 pages. Hardcover: $32.50.
It is said that eating involves all the senses, yet the first bite is taken with the eyes, notes organic farmer Matthew Benson in, Growing Beautiful Food. His luscious photographs certainly attest to that as they transport you into the visual feast of Stonegate Farm, his small farm in New York’s Hudson River Valley. The images perfectly complement his lyrical prose, coaxing you into a fresh way of thinking about growing and eating food.
“If you begin to imagine farming and growing food as an art form,” Benson writes, “where your aspirations move beyond the supply and demand of feeding yourself and others and into the realm of aesthetics, where gorgeous heirloom vegetables, fruit, and flowers fill the canvas between fencerows each season as a kind of delicious landscape painting, then you begin to cultivate beauty as well. And beauty is a fundamental human need, as essential as breath.”
Benson’s own aspiration to live a more balanced, sustainable life began when he met his wife, Heidi, and they tackled the task of restoring the overgrown historic estate where she had grown up. Over the years, this land became Stonegate Farm, shaped by an elevated aesthetic that illustrates how organic gardening can change the culture of agriculture.
After explaining the how and why of his personal entrance into farming, Benson uses the rest of the book to discuss the practical details of raising edibles as well as flowers, bees, and chickens. He weaves in eloquent essays about his farm experiences and views on modern agriculture. Finally, he shares a few favorite recipes for enjoying the harvest.
Growing Beautiful Food is a remarkable love story of a small farm and the richness it yields as well as a field guide for backyard food lovers. Benson writes, “By farming and growing food, we learn to listen to worlds outside of our own, and begin to think and imagine like plants,” he writes. “By thinking like both plant and planet, we tune in to the kind of stewardship that realigns us with the natural world.” If how we eat could change the world, growing your own beautiful food would be a giant step forward to healing the planet.
Adapted from a book review in The American Gardener, written by Ellen Ecker Ogden. She is the author of The Complete Kitchen Garden (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2011) featuring themed designs and recipes for cooks who garden.