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I was walking around the square in Sonoma about a week ago, doing something I haven’t done in a long time: lazily browsing shops while waiting for our late lunch reservation at the totally recommended The Girl and The Fig (post about that to come soon). When my friend Valerie became entranced by a favorite jewelry store, I quite happily hopped and skipped to the store next door, as I had already eyed potentially interesting props. Not that I don’t already have enough of those.
Upon entering, on the display table by the main door was a book that instantly called my attention: Growing Beautiful Food – A gardener’s Guide to Cultivating Extraordinary Vegetables and Fruit, by Matthew Benson (Rodale Inc. 2015). I gave it a quick browse and was hooked. The beautiful photography alone would have been enough, but then I started reading a few of the titles and bits of text here and there and I knew it for what it was: a treasure that had fallen into my lap at just the right time. I thought I had gone to Sonoma to try a new restaurant, instead I went to Sonoma to find this book. I was inspired. I am inspired.
Matthew Benson is a writer, organic farmer and award-winning photographer, but also a trans-Atlantic sailor and certified alpine ski instructor with ongoing interests in architecture, design and biodynamic organic farming – so it says on the website of his beautiful Stonegate Farm, which is the inspiration for this book. Basically, he is a Renaissance man.
Stonegate Farm, located in New York’s Hudson River Valley, is an 1850’s estate which Benson restored and now operates as a garden-to-table organic farm that is a feast for the eyes, and produces fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers that are also a feast for the eyes. Even the chickens are pretty at Stonegate! In Growing Beautiful Food Benson shares his experiences at Stonegate. The book is both inspiring and full of practical information and detailed growing advice, taking you from the Dream, through the Planting and Growing all the way to the Gathering. It then wraps up with a few simple recipes using the produce grown at Stonegate.
Farming Under the Influence, Work is Love Made Visible, Dreams under our Feet, Heart of Glass are just some of the titles of subsections in the book that begin to give you an idea of what you will find. There is nothing better than an artist with his heart in the right place, the head in the creative cloud, and his feet firmly grounded in good, healthy farming soil. Good stuff comes out of that.
This is another book I intend to savor slowly, allowing it to inspire me all the way to my core. Which is interesting considering all the moving around I have been doing lately, not even a tiny plot at a local community garden to my name. But a seed has been planted, sustainably and organically of course, and I will have to see what grows from it.
And while we are on the subject of organic farming, I would like to open a little sidebar. I recently watched a movie that I think everyone should see: Symphony of the Soil, by Deborah Koons Garcia. Visually stimulating, the movie explores the relationship between soil, water, atmosphere, plants and animals, as well as us humans and the use and misuse we have been making of the soil. We cannot grow beautiful food without healthy soil.
“Healthy soil creates healthy plants, which create healthy humans living on a healthy planet.”
Growing Beautiful Food is Benson’s third book, with two previous ones titled Urban Farms and The Photographic Garden: Mastering the Art of Digital Garden Photography.
You can view more of Matthew Benson’s beautiful photography on his portfolio website, and find out more about him and his beloved Stonegate Farm on the farm’s website, and at growingbeautifulfood.com.
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