A revolution in simplicity
Durango author pens essential ‘Growing Roots’

SideStory: Inaugural Literary Week comes to Durango

by Joe Foster

Years ago, the Navy had a TV commercial depicting what I think was a rescue operation with guys jumping out of a helicopter into choppy gray seas while the voice-over said, “If someone wrote a book about your life, would anyone want to read it?” As a reader, that question has always offended me or at least offended my sensibilities. The implication is that the only books worth reading are about soldiers and admirals, spies and assassins, detectives and serial killers. The book market is flush with such books, of course, and they serve their purpose. The question arises, then, of what makes a book worth reading. Action and intrigue have their place, of course, but we’re all a bit more evolved than that, aren’t we? Books about concepts and movements, quiet heroes, people living simply and doing great work, these are books not only worth reading, but arguably vastly more important and potentially more life-changing than books about guys with guns.

Katherine Leiner’s latest is a perfect example of this. Growing Roots is, simply, a book about young farmers. While seemingly simple, this concept is actually somewhat revolutionary. It’s pretty easy to go buy food, assuming you have the funds. It’s easy to rely on others to grow your food, make your soap, pluck and debone your chickens, and brew your beer. But there are people who actually do these things, and this book is about them. In a time of daily technological advancements, wireless everything and a large portion of the population addicted to the idea that cheaper is better, it takes courage to slow things down and do something as archaic as obtaining self-sufficiency or following your passions. There is, of course, a growing movement toward this slower and more meaningful lifestyle, a trend toward neighbor and community, health and peace. While portions of the world surge forward, racing lemming-like toward who-knows-what, a growing percentage of people are simply hopping off the racetrack. They’re your neighbors, they grow good food, and they want to sell it to you. It’s such a simple but profound concept in contrast to how most of the country does it. Monsanto has no place in these pages.

One of the most enjoyable things about Growing Roots is that you know a lot of these people. Chances are, you’re friends with them, or they’ve sold you food or herbs or compost, or you see them downtown or on area trails. The book features young foodies from around the country, from vintners to pig farmers, cooks, writers, herbalists and more. Durango is strongly represented, with seven of the 54 features, the rest spanning from coast to coast and multiple points in between. They include Dan and Becca James, who make that delicious cheese at The James Ranch; Samantha Johnson, a raw food gourmet “assembler;” Jennifer Craig, of the Compost Co.; Joselyn Erica, of Hummingbird Herbals; Nasha Winters, of Namaste Health Center; Emily Capein and Zak Randell, who are touring the Americas in their vegetable oil-fueled Ford F-250; and, of course, Katrina Blair, of Turtle Lake Refuge. It becomes clear that we are surrounded by people who not only care deeply about their food and their communities but are truly helping set new standards and expand this conversation with vigor and passion. It really is inspiring.

I found myself underlining phrases and ideas and have dog-eared recipes I want to try (yes, everyone interviewed shares recipes, and they look fantastic). From chokecherry pudding to coconut jerky, arugula pesto to biscochitos, the recipes are all simple and look delicious. It’s fascinating to read how each of these young people decided to go down the paths they’ve chosen. Most were raised with similar values, as it turns out. Most of their parents cared enough to instill the love of good and natural food, and those lessons take hold. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, I suppose. I’ve only recently started enjoying vegetables since my parents made sure that I hated them as a kid by mostly serving the canned crap. We value what is passed on to us, and it can be difficult to change what we’ve been given. All the more reason to pass good things on to our children, yes?

Katherine Leiner, who you may have seen selling this book at the Durango Farmers Market recently, will be part of the upcoming Literary Festival, as well as signing her book at Maria’s on Tues., Sept. 21, at 6:30 p.m. Rumor has it many of the folks featured in Growing Roots will be there. It should be a fascinating conversation. Katherine is a captivating writer, and Growing Roots is a fantastic and important book. Check it out. •