Nolan inspires people to grow healthy food in unique places



Margaret Atwood opens her novel The Year of the Flood with a hymn — the first stanza of which asks, “Who is it tends the Garden, The Garden oh so green?”

Jeanne Nolan could answer, “I do.”

At 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy, Nolan will talk about her role in the seed-to-table movement within the United States as the first installment of the Chautauqua Women’s Club’s 2014 Contemporary Issues Forum.

Nolan will also share stories from her memoir and gardening guide, From the Ground Up: A Food Grower’s Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That’s Changing a Nation. The memoir depicts her transformation from a teenager searching for a meaningful life on a communal farm far from Nolan’s home in the Chicago area, to a successful entrepreneur who has planted more than 800 gardens close to home. Nolan also teaches workshops and classes on growing organic food to children and adults.

“I meet people where they are,” she said.

Chez Panisse founder and chef Alice Waters, one of the first advocates for organic and locally grown food, first met Nolan at Chicago’s Farm-in-the-Zoo in 2007. There, Nolan had planted an organic garden that spanned 5,000 square feet.

“What Jeanne shows so effectively is that virtually anyone, anywhere, can grow his or her own food — not just on rural farmland, but in settled suburban neighborhoods, in public parks, on high-rise rooftops, and in abandoned inner-city lots,” Waters wrote in her foreword to From the Ground Up.

The founder of The Organic Gardener, Nolan uses good quality, well-aerated soil and certified organic fertilizer. She is intimately familiar with the underground gardening and tilling habits of the nocturnal creatures glorified in Atwood’s hymn, which the author sang on the Amphitheater stage Tuesday morning. The composition began with: “We praise the tiny perfect Moles that garden underground; the Ant, the Worm, the Nematode, wherever they are found.”

“I can get down and dirty about gardening details,” Nolan said. “No question is stupid. People can grow food just about anywhere.”

Some of the projects she has taken on are non-traditional, including creating a vegetable garden as an amenity for a development comprised of LEED-certified buildings. Twice a week, Nolan gardens with children at an organic garden she designed and planted in an outdoor shopping mall. She has conversations with people of all ages, including sixth-graders who are learning about the perils of the planet. She talks to them about the relation between food and climate and how they can make a difference.

“I generally seek to inspire, to energize people, to give them hope,” she said. “Certainly, I’d love to inspire people to grow food or grow more food or grow it organically. Sharing my personal story is an attempt to connect with people who are parents, with young people who are searching for themselves and finding their own way to their potential. My own story was off the path. There’s a lot in that story that people can take their own inspiration from.”