AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day
In the opening chapter of the newly published "To Eat: A Country Life," authors Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd say, "No matter how excellent your local farmstand or how good the produce of your best supermarket may be, there is something deeply rewarding to growing your own food."
The authors back up that claim with an unusual and introspective guide to growing and cooking one's own food filled with anecdotes of their remarkable journey back to the earth.
Co-authors of three other books including "Our Life in Gardens"(2009) and cofounders of the garden design firm North Hill, Eck and Winterrowd moved from Boston to rural Readsboro, Vt., in 1974 where they purchased a 28-acre overgrown property. They learned everything they could about gardening while earning a living teaching English, French and Latin in local schools, and transformed 7 ½ acres of their land into an internationally renowned garden. Winterrowd died in 2010 and Eck continues to live and garden at North Hill.
Eck recently talked about his new book from his home in Vermont before taking off on a national book tour, which will bring him to Stonington on June 26.
Q. You were working on the book when Wayne died. When did you decide you would complete the book and publish it?
A. There was never any question. It was a book we really wanted to write. It was in fact, a great solace, but the actual finish of the book was a real continuation of our life together.
Q. How is this book different from your previous books? It reads like a memoir…. with food often as a metaphor for how we live.
A. This book is about food - a central fact in our lives. The first thing we said in the morning was 'What are we having for dinner?' We're foodies, we love food. Wayne cooked every meal for 42 years. We raise our own food - the animals, the vegetables, I still do it on 7 ½ acres of garden. This book is really focused on edibles and also on the animals we live with - we have about 250 animals on the property - we raise them well. They're terribly well fed and even have lots of time to wander about. One of the boys who works for me takes great joy in taking the pigs out and then wrestling with them. It's a riot to watch.
Q. You say, "Gardening, good gardening is an art." Isn't it both an art and a science?
A. It's not a science but a craft. It's something you learn as a student. My son, Fotios, is a fashion designer for Ralph Lauren. He spends lots of time draping, fashioning, pinning and tucking. He's Ralph's student. Fashion design, like painting, garden design and ceramics, are crafts passed down person to person. In Europe it's very common, whatever you choose to do-you apprentice yourself for years. Filmmakers work with other great filmmakers until they know how to do it. It's immensely important in the garden. We had two great mentors: Marshall Olbrich and Lester Hawkins (who founded California's Western Hills Garden in 1960) and that's how we learned. John Thayer - my head gardener, has worked for me for four years, and is becoming a gardener. I'm mentoring him now.
Another thing is we are emphatically a community (at North Hill). I have lots of employees. We share everything. In a way, I'm very deeply a Communist. Everything this place produces is shared. This is a common enterprise. We work together. They aren't employees, they're colleagues. We've just become a foundation. We're open to the public two days (a week) and it will be five days shortly. And we do lots of community service stuff.
Q. You're an advocate of growing and eating your own produce, but also say you're a confirmed carnivore, but with very clear rules about how you raise - and slaughter - your animals. Can you explain?
A. We respect our animals for the food they provide. We would never frighten them. Carrying them off to an avatar is a terrifying experience. We have a neighbor who does (the slaughtering). The animals are never afraid that they're going to die. Good New England farmers are as gentle and unthreatening as possible to their animals. It's also hugely important to the quality of the food. Meat is ruined - harmful to eat - if hormones (resulting from fear) are pumped into their bodies. That's why you should only buy steak from an organic grower.
Q. You talk about the Puritan ideal of food as being no more than sustenance: "A simple cabbage or broccoli or cauliflower is, however you prepare it, goodness and pleasure-and what else ought we to seek in our lives?" Can you talk about that idea?
A. It's not just food, it goes beyond food. So much of America is focused on consumption, mere consumption … a bigger car, bigger house, another house, an Armani suit. It's just stuff. Joy doesn't lie there. Joy lies in beauty. Wayne and I first met 45 years ago, and made a kind of promise to ourselves … that nothing we shall ever know will be anything less than beautiful. We will have nothing or we will have something beautiful. We lived that our whole lives-absolutely surrounded by beauty.
"To Eat: A Country Life" by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd (Farar, Straus and Giroux, 2013) is $24, hardcover.