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The Real Dirt on Farmer John
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Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables
I Didn't Kill Anyone Up Here
Glitter & Grease
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Little Songs
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Raves & Reviews on Farmer John's Cookbook
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Biodynamic Magazine
Review by Christy Korrow

John Peterson presents Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables: Seasonal Recipes and Stories from a Community Supported Farm. John Peterson has been farming almost since youth in 1956. His farm, Angelic Organics, outside of Chicago, Illinois now serves over 1200 CSA Shares with a mission of “enlivening the connection between people and their food.” With the help of assistant editor Lesley Littlefield Freeman, Farmer John takes us through gardens of recipes. Scattered about are anecdotes, stories, articles and quotes on food and farming.

Angelic Organics kitchen staff, shareholders and friends of the farm have shared 225 recipes for just about every vegetable one might receive in an Angelic Organics CSA basket. The recipes are organized into six seasonal sections: Spring, Early Season, Mid-Season, Late Season, Extended Season and Winter. Each vegetable has its own chapter.

I have lived on a farm and grown my own food for 18 years, The Real Dirt on Vegetables has given me new, delicious-sounding ideas on how to eat some old favorites. Young Turnip Salad with Apples and Lemon Dressing, Celery Salad with Walnuts and Gruyere and Potato Beet Croquettes are a few recipes I plan to try. Recipes suit vegans, vegetarians and meat lovers.

Then, of course, there are the tales and stories from Farmer John himself – honest, offbeat, often poetic and always insightful. He insures his shareholders in the weekly Farm News, “Long before the first luscious red tomato ripens, you may be twitching with tomato anticipation. Or perhaps you are one of those sweet corn anticipation kind of people. Rest assured that we have row after row of vigorous young tomato plants reaching toward the sky and thousands of corn spears pointing toward the heavens.” And his cosmic description of Kohlrabi growing on the farm captures Farmer John’s artistic view of farming, “Midsummer we notice the fleet of alien space craft that has lined up in our fields–green and purple orbs growing lightly on the soil, antennas splayed in all directions. If we left them there long enough, they might actually levitate.”

I don’t remember the last time I laughed out loud while reading a cook book, but I did when I read about the time in the early 80s when John and a friend pitched a marketing idea to Nabisco – pig-shaped Fig Netwons, called Pig Newtons. Then there are Farmer John’s musings about the time, dressed in style wearing a “shabby straw hat,” he found himself in Bloomingdales department store in NYC.

What stands out is this book’s ability to make accessible the concepts of the spiritual forces in food. Much space is devoted to anthroposophic nutrition and biodynamics. We find gems of wisdom from Rudolf Steiner on nutrition and the forces in food from Nutrition and Stimulants, the Agriculture Course, Symphony of the Creative Word and The Evolution of Earth and Man and the Influence of the Stars. Articles by Thomas Cowan, M.D., Louise Frazier, an anthroposophic nutritionist, and an article on biodynamics by Andrew Lorand present Steiner’s ideas in a non-dogmatic way.

Twenty-four full-color pages of photos show vast stretches of vegetables, fields of farm workers and shareholders, earthy-looking interns, children and all manner of colorful veggies. One photo shows Farmer John in the city driving a tractor dressed as a bee. The six Appendices round this out as a useful kitchen reference book.

The book is a testament to John Peterson’s enthusiasm for providing highest nutritional biodynamic food. He is unique in the way that he combines an artistic approach with the hard work of farming. What he has accomplished is inspiring. He sums up the role of Angelic Organics in a quote from a 2001 editon of Farm News, "This year, especially after the September 11 disaster out east, I have noticed an outpouring of appreciation from shareholders. They are happy to have a farm to which they belong, to have a healthy place to bring their children, and to have a healthy source of food. Many have indicated how important it is to them that they support a place that is bringing good to the world."

And here I find, during the last days of summer, this book has me dreaming of the cool weather crops of fall, when I can whip up some Pumpkin Cheesepie, Sweet Potato Samosas and Baked Squash with Kale and Pear.


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