Book review: Grow, by Stephen Grace

By Robyn Kalda

Food systems and how they affect and interact with human and ecosystem health have been a growing area of concern for health promoters in recent years. In Grow, Stephen Grace explores some community-level enterprises, experiments, and ideas in the context of urban Denver.

After the sudden death of his friend Mostafa, Stephen Grace finds himself searching for connection, happiness, and meaning. Strong associations between Mostafa and the social, comforting aspects of food lead him to Denver's local sustainable agriculture scene.

While the theoretical notions here won't be new to anyone already involved in or familiar with community food systems, the specifics of what's happening in Denver are of significant interest. How can you develop a locavore food scene in a cold, dry, mostly urban environment? It's an interesting challenge, and Grace digs deeply to find the people and stories at the root of it. Care for the earth. Care for people. Share the surplus.

While small-scale equity is dealt with sensitively, larger-scale equity issues are skimmed over:

Where will all that food come from if it isn't transported from far-flung places by ship, train, truck and plane? John-Paul answers with one word: "Lawns".

But what about the many people, disadvantaged and otherwise, who don't have lawns? And what about the people living in those "far-flung" places? Perhaps that's another book, but the emphasis on hyper-local solutions in Grow did externalize the rest of the planet. There's also a tendency in the writing style to tell, not show, which adds a proselytizing tone in spots.

Overall: a thoughtful, hopeful primer on a complex issue, complete with an excellent (and extensive) reference list for further reading.