Landrace Gardening by Joseph Lofthouse: A Book Review

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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Corn varieties, photo by Joseph Lofthouse

My heart and soul belong to the hills—in order to escape the civilized shackles of my past, I will focus on listening even more closely to the voices in my garden. This is my new mantra—though many would say it’s merely new wording to my way of being.

Perhaps his sharing of the parable of the hill people very early in Joseph’s book foreshadowed how closely and deeply his dedication to landrace gardening was going to affect me. It’s also very likely to further shift my gardening play. I deeply thank Mr. Lofthouse for lending credence to the wisdom I already sensed and sometimes intuitively followed.

The full title of Mr. Lofthouse’s book is Landrace Gardening—Food Security through Biodiversity and Promiscuous Pollination. As defined in the book, landrace is “A locally-adapted, genetically-diverse, promiscuously-pollinating food crop. Landraces are intimately connected to the land, ecosystem, farmer, and community. Landraces offer food security through their ability to adapt to changing conditions.” In short, by gardening (or farming) extremely locally we are more able to work in tandem with nature and proactively create thriving ecosystems with highly productive plants.

While Lofthouse’s motivation comes from his short, harsh growing cycles, I found plenty of connection with his practices and outcomes. I love the playful nature he displays when wondering if breeding for a fuzzy surface to his vegetables will deter deer or insects. It’s inspiring to read about Joe’s experimentation. Among many other things, he achieved advancement in frost-tolerant beans and garden-clean tomatoes in his gardens.

If you prefer staying with tradition, naming rights, and you hold fast to cultural appropriation, this book may not be your cuppa Joe. However, if you like to dance in nature, sing in your garden, and celebrate the freedom of intimate interaction with more natural surroundings, I’d urge you to add this plane of existence to your bevy of tools. Close observation of the plants, insects, and diseases in the garden along with personalized choices can help build your own sanctuary of productivity.

I have been raising my own landrace tomatoes for years without even knowing it. Thanks to Joseph Lofthouse, I now have a word and definition for something my style does naturally. I also understand that I was merely grazing the surface while straddling the divide of where I intuitively live and where past, more conventional practices had me rooted. I look forward to implementing a more thorough pathway to landrace in the future.

At times I was downright giddy while reading Landrace Gardening. It felt as though I was meeting someone who embraced what I’ve referred to as my lazy side. Here was someone urging me to push that aspect of my gardening even further. He strongly suggests working side-by-side with nature rather than trying to manipulate and tame it in ways that fit other people and places. Nature already has a strong survival-of-the-fittest wildness built in, so why not flow with that strength rather than constantly fight it?

As we become more intimately involved with our land, we discover not only the strengths of the nature around us but also the strength in ourselves. The more closely we look at our own likes and dislikes, the more we are motivated to mirror those in the traits in the plants we choose. We can quickly find a synchronous pathway of biodiversity and food security under our own noses. Can you imagine reclaiming the wisdom of those who gardened before the written word while employing the wealth of information available to us through modern technology and information sharing? I can, and it makes my heart sing.

In the pages of this book, I excitedly discovered that Joseph has the same contract with his Colorado potato beetles as I have with my Japanese bean beetles. Though I didn’t realize I was actively creating it at the time, my dislike of killing things and using poisons led me into the contract. I leave the beetles alone as long as they sup on the Virginia creeper and leave my beans for me. Who knew insects could avoid my soapy vat of death by simply adapting their preference for a safer buffet line? Having lost the taste for beans, subsequent generations have the preference bred in and we’re living much closer to harmony.

My one and only complaint about Lofthouse’s book is the heavy repetition. This might not bother everyone, it’s simply one of my particular bugaboos. The silver lining to repeating definitions and thoughts is that it can definitely serve to teach ideas and practices to those of us who are hands-on learners. I’m certain to return to many parts of Joe’s book and I’m definitely intrigued enough to delve more deeply into others’ reflections on the subject.

Landrace Gardening is a quick read at around 130 pages, including plenty of pictures and charts. As noted in the review above, I found plenty of inspiration in its pages. Joseph Lofthouse has definitely motivated my soul. We’ll have to wait a season or two to see just how creatively motivated and productive I might become as I play with even more plants and insects in my garden.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online atHumings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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