Michele Owens is in my kitchen today, talking about her love for the all-natural, and her guilty pleasures, gardening catalogs and fashion blogs.
Michele is a gardener, business writer, former political speechwriter, and author of Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy and Wise (2011). She’s a founding partner of Garden Rant, one of the most popular and influential gardening blogs, and writes about gardening for publications including O, The Oprah Magazine, and Organic Gardening.
She lives with her family in Saratoga Springs and Salem, New York. You can follow the progress of her 2011 vegetable garden at Michele-owens.com.
Why is living organic important to you?
It’s the only thing that makes any sense. Using chemicals to grow food crops is completely counterproductive. The science increasingly demonstrates that you only wind up with more pests, less-resilient soil, and lower-quality food.
I find that the more my vegetable garden resembles a natural ecosystem, the better it does. I don’t do anything anymore except mulch once a year—no tilling, no fertilizing, no liming, no fussing. And my garden is gorgeous.
Plus, I’m organic because I’m a total foodie. Conventionally grown food tastes nasty, while homegrown organic vegetables are just sublime.
What was your favorite food growing up?
My mother’s spaghetti and meatballs. Those meatballs were stuffed with garlic and herbs, and her sauce was delicious. My mother is European and made everything from scratch. So while my friends were being fed Ragú and Chef Boyardee, I was getting the good stuff.
What’s your go-to comfort food now?
I’m not really looking for comfort in my food. I want excitement, adventure, sex, spices, revelation….
But if you ask me which quick-cooking meal leaves me aglow on a winter weeknight, it would have to be a wonderful Indian stew out of a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook, or an equally wonderful Italian stew—maybe beef with pickles and capers—from Marcella Hazan.
What’s the one thing in your kitchen you just couldn’t live without?
Oh, I like nice equipment, but the only thing I really couldn’t live without is my vegetable garden. I’m constantly pushing into new frontiers as a cook and an eater, thanks to the garden. I’ll grow anything—I love trying the weird and unfamiliar—and then I have to figure out how to cook it, so I’m always learning something new.
What magazine, website, book, album, or product are you most obsessed with right now?
Is anything in the world more fun than a seed catalog? I adore Fedco Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Seeds from Italy—read every word of them and order profligately from them. Spend $1.50 on a package of seeds of some unfamiliar vegetable or unfamiliar variety, and it can open up a whole new world in the kitchen.
What’s the most important news story today that you think we all need to pay more attention to?
Climate change, the stress it is putting on agriculture around the world, and the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050 without destroying the planet. It drives me crazy that in this land-rich suburban country, we Americans generally produce nothing in our yards but lawn clippings. I wrote my book to make new gardeners. I think everybody should grow a little food in the backyard—and not just to ease the pressure on the world’s limited supply of arable land—but also because gardening makes people happy.
Where do you get your news?
Nature, The New York Times, my husband, journalist Jeff Goodell, my partners at Garden Rant, the food and science writers on Twitter, and the hilarious celebrity fashion blog Go Fug Yourself.
I enjoyed reading this article. My Master Gardener group is planning a garden series free to the public this spring and are planning to help people learn how to plant, grow, cook, eat, preserve organic food for themselves. So many have an interest, but aren’t sure how to start.
My question to you is – would you mind if we used your words “Grow the Good Life” as our title? We will certainly ‘plug’ your book at the sessions. jeanne
I have been thinking about something – wasting seeds. Seed packages tell us how many seeds to put in each hill. It is always too many and then, we are told to thin the plants! How dumb is that?
I just plant fewer seeds and if I still have to thin, I do it carefully and replant the extras in a new spot. I am seldom disappointed.
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