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From the Ground Up: A Food Grower's Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That's Changing the Nation

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  205 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
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 l
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published July 16th 2013 by Spiegel & Grau (first published January 1st 2013)
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Aug 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I think of this book as One-Part-memoir, One-Mixed-Part-foodie/gardener/environmental - with both portions mesmerizing in their own ways.

Jeanne Nolan grew up in a fairly well-to-do neighborhood in Illinois in a caring, mostly conservative family. Along the way, she began to long for a more authentic life- so at 18 she joined a commune. I know this sounds like the 60s/early 70s, but it wasn't. It was late 1980s and the attraction for Jeanne wasn't an ideal of "free love" or feminist/equality com
Jul 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Part memoir of reclaiming life after living in a cult-like commune, part organic gardening primer, part locavore/slow food treatise, I loved and was deeply moved by every aspect of From the Ground Up. Jeanne Nolan fled her suburban Chicago home for Zendik Farm as a teenager, hoping for a life filled with meaning and connection to the Earth. When she returned to “mainstream society” with her young daughter seventeen years later she was broke, unemployed, disillusioned, and disoriented. All she kn ...more
Jill Blackstone
Jun 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
So far the literary treat of the year for me. I can't even remember how I heard about this book but I found it at my local library on a day I happened to find 4 other books. On a whim I chose this one first, having no expectations. What a surprise! This book told a great story (and by the way the author's parents sound like saints) and was incredibly informative and persuasive without being lecturing. My 5 stars is relative to my experience in reading this book... I came in as a fairly captive a ...more
Feb 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I picked this book up because there were few choices at the library, but didn't expect to be very interested. I thought it would be a book guiltling me into the organic food movement and technical, maybe ever a bit dull. I was very wrong! I loved this book and literally could not put it down. Jeanne is a wonderful narrator and shares so much about her life, being in a commune and how it affects her now, in the most beautiful way. The Project she created in Chicago is amazing. This books was trul ...more
Jen Johnson
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Adore this book! Cannot believe what a compelling story with such deep implications for personal story and environmental social justice. Gardening, they say is a metaphor for life-- but from the Ground Up is a metaphor for coming full circle.
Jun 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013, first-reads
I won this in a Goodreads first reads giveaway. I was really excited about this book and even though it wasn't exactly what I expected I did enjoy it immensely. The book is a memoir that includes considerable discussion about the winding path the author took to become a leader in the small scale organic gardening movement in Chicago. The author moved from suburbia to a commune as a young adult, which is where she learned the nuts and bolts of organic gardening. This was also where she got caught ...more
I admire Jeanne Nolan as a gardener. She taught our Openlands BUGs (Building Urban Gardens) class on growing organic veggies and I loved her insightful, accessible, and practical approach and advice. Her book is just the same – and more. That knowledge was gained through some difficult and unusual life experiences. She had the best of intentions and still ended up with some questionable people in a cultish community. Fortunately for her, her experiences, despite her fears of being a failure, rea ...more
Nov 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
I didn't want to just give it a 3, but it for me it is a pretty weak 4. Very plain language in a just the facts fashion. She describes being controlled, manipulated and emotionally abused in a cult like communal farm, but describes it as if it happened to someone else. We don't get much sense of what it felt like to go through that. We also get very little sense of all the good things in that community that kept her there for seventeen years.

I would love to be doing some of all the things she h
Melanie Ullrich
Mar 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I honestly did not want this book to end! Definitely not your typical garden memoir. Jeanne feels suffocated and flees from suburbia to find a more meaningful life, which leads her to a cult-like commune, leaving her uncertain and unprepared for a regular life. When she has no other choice but to go home, she uses her unconventional skills to promote a green revolution in Chicago. This book was very inspirational for me and gave me the boost to come up with some better ways to engage my communit ...more
Jan 30, 2014 rated it liked it
This book is straight-forward, not particularly literary in language. The writing is well done. And the title perfectly sums up the story. The author is sharing her education, and detail, about life (especially her relationship with her parents), about love, and especially about organic food growing. The story of her life is also sufficiently interesting to make me like this book.

I'd recommend this book primarily to people who are passionate about learning organic gardening. If that's not impor
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book was a birthday gift from my best friend, Maggie. I read it over Christmas break and loved it. It's written in memoir style so is a completely engaging, can't-put-it-down kind of book, while at the same time weaving in lots of information on the sustainable foods movement--organic gardening through urban and suburban farming, rooftop gardens, school gardens, etc. It's also chock full of practical gardening info. I've been a gardener for many years, but am new to vegetable gardening. The ...more
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful memoir about making mistakes and finding your way through. Also an excellent book about gardening, organic foods, and how to treasure things that really matter by making better choices. Well, ok, so that makes it sound either dry and boring or preachy in some fashion, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Jeanne Nolan walked a hard path and manages to tell us about it with humor, compassion and pretty excellent tips on soil.
Feb 25, 2016 rated it liked it
A young girl leaves her home, disillusioned, and finds a "commune" where she stays for 17 years, learning organic gardening methods. After her return home, she is disillusioned once again, unsure how she will survive back in her old environment. She manages to start up an organic business, reignite a romance, and realize her potential.

Her book concludes with an appendix full of information for those further interested in organic gardening.
Aug 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 13-14-adult
Jeanne Nolan's seventeen years of living on a communal farm allow her to sow the seeds of organic gardening in her own community when she returns to suburban living seventeen years later. She is able to teach others about the benefits of organic gardening - benefits that transcend nutritional supplication to include environmental gains, infusion of meaning into one's life and an overall greater sense of community among city dwellers.
Daniel P.
Sep 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
what a surprise. I've been picking up a few books from the library recently on gardening. So when this book sprung up in front of me at the book store, I was intrigued & drawn to it. So I bought the kindle version when I got home & started reading... what a journey. Jeanne's journey is amazing & inspiring. You learn about her and her life add you also learn a thing or two about organic gardening.
Daniel P.
Nov 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a random pick of mine and I'm glad I read it. It a personal journey for the author, it's an insight into being environmentally responsible, and it kept my attention the entire time. I picked it up because of the "growers movement" angle, but it has as many life lessons as it does environmental ones.
Oct 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An inspiring book which tells an incredible story (true story) about coming to term with who you are and not shamed of confronting with one self. It is book about not only about gardening (as the book title suggests) and environmental awareness, but also about parenting, love, self-identity searching, and always looking forward. Love this book!
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars, 2017
This is the story of the life of a woman as she rejects her upper middle class Chicago suburb life, joins a commune, leaves the commune on philosophical grounds, and restarts her life back in her old neighborhood immeasurably changing the face of urban gardening. Excellent story of resilience and adaptation.
Jun 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Great book that gives you insight into starting a garden design business. I really enjoyed the read with Jeanne sharing personal ups and downs along with her business growing. Really inspired me to go for my dreams.
Sep 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
well written, interesting...wonder who ghost wrote it ...the author didnt attend college...she must have had a great editor. this book was interesting about her life on a cult/commune and after. she really landed on her feet...
Mar 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
I live in Chicagoland area, however, I discovered this book while on vacation in San Francisco (found in a bookstore in the Haight). Enjoyable read for any one interested in reading about social movements, organic gardening and Chicago area movements and local players in the food movement.
Cathy Presper
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! I really enjoy biographies but this book was more than just a biography. Her story is inspiring and encouraging but I also enjoyed learning about the various efforts being made to encourage people to grow their own food.
Mr Bill
Jun 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Jul 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant topics and a good mind builder.
Jan 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is as much a love story and profound memoir as it is a garderner's companion. A wonderful story. Looking forward to meeting the author someday.
Sep 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food-lit, women, memoir
Inspiring read. Great if you love gardening vegetables, as I do. I need to work more on the soil, evidently.
Aug 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Well written, interesting, with a local twist to boot!
Dec 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Inspiring and flowed nicely between a personal story and a story about the sustainable food movement. Well written and engaging.
Apr 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book, a mixture of memoir and gardening, life on the "North Shore" and how gardening impacts the lives of both wealthy and impoverished.
May 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Inspiring story.
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Jeanne Nolan has been growing food organically for over 20 years. She is a well-known educator and consultant and is 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-profits organizations, and other institutions. In p ...more
More about Jeanne Nolan...