I am so proud of my gal-pal Lorene Edwards Forkner and her latest book, Growing Your Own Vegetables (Sasquatch Books, 2009, $17.95).
An inspiring and essential compendium of vegetables and herbs to grow in your own backyard, GYOV is the first in Sasquatch’s series of single-topic references inspired by the late Carla Emery’s The Encyclopedia of Country Living.
If you came of age in the 1970s, you’ll remember this huge Yellow Pages-like tome. More than 600,000 copies have (and continue to be) sold over the years, even though Carla passed away in 2005.
It’s a good thing that Lorene was a back-to-the-earth gal long before modern-day foodies who are just discovering the joys and benefits of tending to their own edible plants.
She writes confidently and lovingly about all the great veggie and herb crops that have grown in her potager over the years. In GYOV‘s 180 pages, Lorene’s lively, conversational tone makes the idea of planting and tending one’s own food sources sound easy and achievable. There’s no right or wrong here, just an enthusiasm that says, “Come on, you can do it, just try!”
Lorene hints at an early obsession with urban farming in her introduction to GYOV, in which she thanks her parents “who allowed me to dig up our backyard, plant corn, and walk away.”
That curious opening prompted me to request the “back story” when Lorene and I spoke by telephone last week. Here’s her true confession:
“It was the mid 1970s, I think I was in junior high school. One day, I tore up about one-third of our backyard and planted it with corn. Then I lost interest and walked away. Oh my goodness, it turned into the biggest mess! I was in so much trouble because what I created was everything that ran against my father’s neat-and-tidy instincts. It was total chaos. And that was truly my first garden.”
Not much later Lorene went to college and married her high school sweetheart James (that’s where I met up with them in the late 70s-early 80s in Seattle).
After a successful career in art, garden design and nursery ownership, Lorene joined the writing profession in earnest several years ago. One day last spring, Lorene met with Gary Luke, Sasquatch’s editorial director. He showed up carrying the latest edition of ECL (which was about to celebrate its 35th anniversary of the first printing).
That’s when Lorene proclaimed: “I know this book. I bought it in college. I knew who Carla was and what she was about.”
With one Sasquatch title under her belt, the hilarious and irreverent Hortus Miscellaneous, Lorene agreed to tackle editing and rewriting the first two single-subject adaptations of ECL.
She’s an amazing writer, but this project called for more than good composition skills. It required a dose of literary anthropology and journalistic archaeology to dissect the 900-page, 3.5 pound title (yes, she weighed ECL’s 10th edition to verify this fact) and turn out a very readable, user-friendly Veggie Manual.