Grow, by Stephen Grace (2015)

Grow: Stories from the Urban Food MovementFood security is kind of like an elevator – you don’t give much thought to it until it fails. But once you learn just how delicate the system is, you find yourself obsessed with it. (From a recent podcast on how elevators work I learned that the risk is virtually nonexistent, but it is unquestionably highest when you are stepping on/off the car.) Grace is a noted Colorado writer, probably best known for Dam Nation, made into a documentary. In this effort, subtitled “Stories From the Urban Food Movement,” he takes direct aim at the assumption “there are cities and there are farms, and never the twain shall meet” (51), introducing readers to various characters, all in Denver, and all devoted to the urban food movement. Using an autobiographical writing style, Grace takes the reader along as he interviews a wide range of dedicated food growers, from teens to 70-somethings, each one determined to reduce our collective reliance on the global food network that delivers cheap avocados and corn, but at great expense to the planet. These are fanatics who are pushing the boundaries of normal, from picking weeds to planting in organic non-rows to visions of massive vertical planters. Many of these devotees found their passion after witnessing poverty, inequality, and hunger in other parts of the world; for others, their enthusiasm is rooted in a desire for healthier living. In all cases, Grace uses a conversational style to introduce his readers to the many stories of urban food activists in Denver. We learn of the SAME Cafe, So All May Eat, where diners pay what they can afford, eating tasty and healthy food made with local produce. Waste Farmers collects the organic detritus discarded by restaurants and turns it into a compost that enriches urban farms. Sprout City Farms builds community farms on publicly owned property such as schools and parks. Oz Osborn organizes crop mobs – volunteers who provide free labour to build community gardens, in the vein of barn-raising parties. Kate Armstrong leads foraging walks, teaching people to find food in parks, empty lots and in long-forgotten abandoned gardens of shrubs and fruit trees. Grace intersperses his storytelling with plenty of facts, backed by an extensive appendix of sources though lacking in footnote accuracy, supporting his overall assertion that urban farming is not a mere fad; it’s not even something we can do; rather, it’s something we must do. Food security aside, understanding where our food comes from and being a part of the process can lead us to take better care of ourselves and our planet, all the while building better communities. I could do with a little less of the personal information, but all in all an interesting book that will get you thinking about your food and, quite likely, how to start growing some of it. My thanks to NetGalley for an advance reading copy in exchange for my honest review.
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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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