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From the Ground Up

Cover of From the Ground Up

From the Ground Up

A Food Grower's Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That's Changing the Nation
Borrow Borrow
An inspiring story for everyone who's ever dreamed of growing the food they eat

When Jeanne Nolan, a teenager in search of a less materialistic, more authentic existence, left Chicago in 1987 to join a communal farm, she had no idea that her decades-long journey would lead her to the heart of a movement that is currently changing our nation's relationship to food. Now a leader in the sustainable food movement, Nolan shares her story in From the Ground Up, helping us understand the benefits of organic gardening—for the environment, our health, our wallets, our families, and our communities. The great news, as Nolan shows us, is that it has never been easier to grow the vegetables we eat, whether on our rooftops, in our backyards, in our school yards, or on our fire escapes.

From the Ground Up chronicles Nolan's journey as she returned seventeen years later, disillusioned with communal life, to her parents' suburban home on the North Shore as a single mother with few marketable skills. Her mother suggested she plant a vegetable garden in their yard, and it grew so abundantly that she established a small business planting organic gardens in suburban yards. She was then asked to create an organic farm for children at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, and she soon began installing gardens around the city—on a restaurant's rooftop, in school yards, and for nonprofit organizations. Not only did she realize that practically anyone anywhere could grow vegetables on a small scale but she learned a greater lesson as well: rather than turn her back on mainstream society, she could make a difference in the world. The answer she was searching for was no further than her own backyard.

In this moving and inspiring account, which combines her fascinating personal journey with the knowledge she gained along the way, Nolan helps us understand the importance of planting and eating organically—both for our health and for the environment—and provides practical tips for growing our food. With the message that we can create utopias in our very own backyards and rooftops, From the Ground Up can inspire each of us to reassess our relationship to the food we eat.
Praise for From the Ground Up

"One of the most intelligent, surprising and impressive garden memoirs I've read in a long time . . . radiant with hope and love."The New York Times Book Review
"The joy of From the Ground Up is not Nolan's own happy ending but rather the illuminating way she applies her vision to practical problems. . . . The hardest memoir to write is the one that is honest but not self-obsessed; Nolan accomplishes this with clarity and poise."—Jane Smiley, Harper's
"[A] rare and improbable thing: a gripping gardening memoir . . . [Nolan's] voice is an honest and reassuring one."Chicago Reader
"[A] refreshing narrative . . . From the Ground Up triumphs the backyard micro-garden as it imparts lessons from Nolan's life about family. . . . The book is a good read for foodies and lovers of a good story alike, and an inspiration to garden wherever you can find space."—Fredericksburg Free Lance–Star
"From the Ground Up resonates powerfully with me, as a gardener, and inspires me to 'double dig' my garden bed. But even readers who keep their fingernails clean will benefit from this beautiful story and powerful message."—Sophia Siskel, president and CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden
From the Hardcover edition.
An inspiring story for everyone who's ever dreamed of growing the food they eat

When Jeanne Nolan, a teenager in search of a less materialistic, more authentic existence, left Chicago in 1987 to join a communal farm, she had no idea that her decades-long journey would lead her to the heart of a movement that is currently changing our nation's relationship to food. Now a leader in the sustainable food movement, Nolan shares her story in From the Ground Up, helping us understand the benefits of organic gardening—for the environment, our health, our wallets, our families, and our communities. The great news, as Nolan shows us, is that it has never been easier to grow the vegetables we eat, whether on our rooftops, in our backyards, in our school yards, or on our fire escapes.

From the Ground Up chronicles Nolan's journey as she returned seventeen years later, disillusioned with communal life, to her parents' suburban home on the North Shore as a single mother with few marketable skills. Her mother suggested she plant a vegetable garden in their yard, and it grew so abundantly that she established a small business planting organic gardens in suburban yards. She was then asked to create an organic farm for children at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, and she soon began installing gardens around the city—on a restaurant's rooftop, in school yards, and for nonprofit organizations. Not only did she realize that practically anyone anywhere could grow vegetables on a small scale but she learned a greater lesson as well: rather than turn her back on mainstream society, she could make a difference in the world. The answer she was searching for was no further than her own backyard.

In this moving and inspiring account, which combines her fascinating personal journey with the knowledge she gained along the way, Nolan helps us understand the importance of planting and eating organically—both for our health and for the environment—and provides practical tips for growing our food. With the message that we can create utopias in our very own backyards and rooftops, From the Ground Up can inspire each of us to reassess our relationship to the food we eat.
Praise for From the Ground Up

"One of the most intelligent, surprising and impressive garden memoirs I've read in a long time . . . radiant with hope and love."The New York Times Book Review
"The joy of From the Ground Up is not Nolan's own happy ending but rather the illuminating way she applies her vision to practical problems. . . . The hardest memoir to write is the one that is honest but not self-obsessed; Nolan accomplishes this with clarity and poise."—Jane Smiley, Harper's
"[A] rare and improbable thing: a gripping gardening memoir . . . [Nolan's] voice is an honest and reassuring one."Chicago Reader
"[A] refreshing narrative . . . From the Ground Up triumphs the backyard micro-garden as it imparts lessons from Nolan's life about family. . . . The book is a good read for foodies and lovers of a good story alike, and an inspiration to garden wherever you can find space."—Fredericksburg Free Lance–Star
"From the Ground Up resonates powerfully with me, as a gardener, and inspires me to 'double dig' my garden bed. But even readers who keep their fingernails clean will benefit from this beautiful story and powerful message."—Sophia Siskel, president and CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden
From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter 1

    When my father picked me up at the airport in 2004, the sum total of my personal belongings was a faded dark green duffel bag containing most of Theas and my clothing; an oversize backpack containing a decades worth of journals; and a suitcase filled with a few of Theas favorite toys, along with photographs, letters, and other odds and ends. My father insisted on carrying all of the luggage while I carried Thea on my hip, her arms clasped around my neck. Shed picked up on my anxious mood and was withdrawn, surveying the strange surroundings as she had all day but not asking her usual piping round of Why? questions in response to my ongoing monologue about airplanes and airports.

    This is your Papa Les, remember him? I said as we trailed my father on the moving sidewalk through the glittering corridor toward the main parking garage. Were going to his house.

    As soon as I strapped Thea into the toddlers car seat that my parentsin the day and a half since Id called to say I was cominghad already purchased and prepared, she began to drift off. She was fast asleep by the time my father slid the car into gear.

    We have food, he said, keeping his voice hushed as we drove through the days gray drizzle. Your mother stopped at Whole Foods. Milk, eggs, bananas, vegetables. He meant the organic versions; my parents never bothered with organic for themselves, but since Id joined the commune Id been vocal about eating only organically. We can stop on the way, though, if theres anything else you need. I shook my head; my parents lived just thirty minutes north of the airport, and after my hectic departure from Asheville, North Carolina, that morning and the numbing buzz of travel, I was eager for someplace, anyplace, to sit still.

    We have a crib set up for Thea, he continued. We can put it in whichever room you want. And your mom got a head start on making dinner. I was relieved that he wasnt asking any of the questions I knew were on his mindwhy had I left the commune after all this time, why hadnt I given them more noticeuntil I realized, from his quick sidelong glances, that he was determined not to say anything that might upset me and prompt me to leave again. What he didnt knowwhat he had no way of knowingwas that I had no intention of leaving, because I had nowhere else to go.

    Wed lapsed into silence by the time we turned into my parents neighborhood, a narrow, curving stretch of widely spaced Colonials, Georgians, and Tudors sheltered by just-budding maple, dogwood, and cherry trees. I reflexively pulled down the visor to check myself in the lighted overhead mirror, suddenly self-conscious at the thought of greeting my waiting mother. My hair was frizzy, unevenly flattened on one side from the airplane headrest; my fingers got tangled in my bangs when I tried to smooth them out. My clothes hung too loosely; Id shed almost fifteen pounds in the past few months. My eyes had dark circles under themcircles so pronounced they startled meand my face was angular, gaunt. A strangers face.

    The final turn on the way to my parents house took us alongside the Indian Hill golf courseone of the most upscale areas in Winnetkaa vast, rolling expanse of green dotted with the occasional beige of sand traps. Up ahead, through the half acre of trees that provided calm and privacy, I glimpsed the high Jeffersonian brick front of the house. My father slowed the car and glanced across at me, stopping a moment as though giving me a chance to collect myself before turning into the driveway. The tires crunched on the wide stretch of pebbles that served as my parents front yard. Other than the woods in front, there was no grass or landscaping, just those small stones,...

About the Author-
  • Jeanne Nolan has been growing food organically for more than twenty years. She is a well-known educator and consultant and the founder of the Organic Gardener Ltd., which works with families to develop gardens that are beautiful, productive, and uniquely suited to their homes and lifestyles. She also works extensively with schools, restaurants, not-for-profit organizations, and other institutions. In partnership with Green City Market, she designed, installed, and maintains the Edible Gardens, a five-thousand-square-foot vegetable garden for children in Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Glencoe, Illinois.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 6, 2013
    Following a restless childhood and adolescence in the affluent Chicago suburb of Winnetka, Nolan and her boyfriend set off for the Southwest as soon as she graduated from high school in 1987, ultimately landing at the Zendik Farm, a hippie commune. Nolan spent over a decade in this idiosyncratically controlled environment in which free love was encouraged, but close relationships weren’t. She and her young daughter (whom she had with a friend at the commune) ultimately left the nomadic commune, returning home to live with her parents and to nurse her wounds and figure out her next steps. Realizing that her organic gardening skills could be useful, Nolan established the Organic Gardner, a company whose aim is to teach clients how to grow organic vegetables in their own gardens. The concept caught on, and she soon found herself with a rapidly growing company. The narrative thread about her experiences as an organic entrepreneur is told in conjunction with the stories of her courtship with a fellow Zendik resident whom she eventually married, her creation of the 5,000 sq. ft. Edible Gardens at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, and her efforts to repair her fractured relationship with her immediate family. These episodes, along with flashbacks to the commune, make for a disjointed read, but Nolan’s enthusiasm for bettering the world is charming and infectious. Agent: Kimberly Witherspoon, InkWell Management.

  • The New York Times Book Review "One of the most intelligent, surprising and impressive garden memoirs I've read in a long time . . . radiant with hope and love."
  • Jane Smiley, Harper's "The joy of From the Ground Up is not Nolan's own happy ending but rather the illuminating way she applies her vision to practical problems. . . . The hardest memoir to write is the one that is honest but not self-obsessed; Nolan accomplishes this with clarity and poise."
  • Chicago Reader "[A] rare and improbable thing: a gripping gardening memoir . . . [Nolan's] voice is an honest and reassuring one."
  • Fredericksburg Free Lance--Star "[A] refreshing narrative . . . From the Ground Up triumphs the backyard micro-garden as it imparts lessons from Nolan's life about family. . . . The book is a good read for foodies and lovers of a good story alike, and an inspiration to garden wherever you can find space."
  • Sophia Siskel, president and CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden "By bravely sharing her personal journey in this remarkable book, Jeanne Nolan gives each of us a gift--one that has the power to motivate us to pursue the values we believe in, to free ourselves from convention, to be better parents, and to accept the love of family and community--however we define those. From the Ground Up resonates powerfully with me, as a gardener, and inspires me to 'double dig' my garden bed. But even readers who keep their fingernails clean will benefit from this beautiful story and powerful message."
  • Rick Bayless, chef and owner of Frontera Grill and host of Mexico: One Plate at a Time "I didn't expect that a book about the food movement would turn out to be a can't-put-it-down page-turner, but that's just what From the Ground Up is. Jeanne Nolan's personal journey is a richly observed saga set against the broad landscape of social and ecological change, and spurred by a reawakened awareness about the food that must sustain us."--Bill Kurtis, television journalist and founder of Tallgrass Beef "To garden well is to question, to wonder, to believe, to hope, and to love. The same is true for living well. All this and more comes through in the story of Jeanne Nolan's quest to find her place in the world. Her book reinforced my beliefs about the power of a garden to heal, and opened my eyes to so much more. There is something to touch everyone along the way of this remarkable journey."--Suzy Bales, author of Down-to-Earth Gardener "We talk of 'farm to table' but not of 'child to garden.' Growing and harvesting your first vegetables stays in your memory and on your palate forever. Jeanne Nolan inspires us all to establish a truer connection to our food. I have never been more excited to get my hands dirty!"--Art Smith, author of Art Smith's Healthy Comfort "Sometimes a garden is just a garden, but not for Jeanne Nolan. In From the Ground Up, she gives us a deeply personal account of finding her path in life through building urban gardens--and in Chicago, no less. Anyone with an interest, from casual to professional, in creating urban food systems and communities--or eating homegrown fresh vegetables--will be moved and inspired by her story."--Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and author of Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics "Jeanne Nolan's story is not only about how seeds sprout, but about how our own lives can blossom in the most unanticipated and beautiful ways. Although I've been thinking about the importance of food my entire professional life, Jeanne Nolan's captivating book has helped me think about its role in our lives in an entirely new way, one that gives me hope we may someday solve the problems of hunger and scarcity. If there's ever been a book about how to change the world while changing your own life, From the Ground Up is it."--Bill Shore, founder and CEO of Share Our Strength "The earth--particularly the garden as our portal to it--is our wisest teacher. And Jeanne Nolan's captivating, beautifully written memoir--cum--gardening guide overflows with lessons learned and stories of honesty, ins
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A Food Grower's Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That's Changing the Nation
Jeanne Nolan
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