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Update on "Grace from the Garden" Author Engle

  • Subject: [cg] Update on "Grace from the Garden" Author Engle
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Mon, 3 Jan 2005 19:55:16 EST


You may remember the Rodale Book, "Grace from the Garden," that had chapters 
on many of our community gardens.

Here's more on the what the author Debbie Engle is up to. 


Adam Honigman, 
Clinton Community Garden

"Making the Earth a kinder place"
By Brenda Fullick January 02, 2005 
 Email to a friend     Voice your opinion    
      Ask yourself, seriously, this one question: Do you want something 
bigger in your life?
      Do you want to feel more connected - to your neighbors, your community, 
to All That Is? Do you have a longing to make a real difference in this 
world, for however long you're here?
      Well, Debra Landwehr Engle knows a secret: You can do exactly that. And 
she would like to show you how.
      One way she'd like to show you is through the examples shared in her 
book, "Grace From the Garden: Changing the World One Garden at a Time." She'll 
be discussing the book on Saturday, Jan. 8, at the Adel Public Library, with a 
book-signing at 10:30 a.m. and then a program at 11. For each book sold that 
day, $5 will be donated to the library.
      "Grace From the Garden" chronicles the personal stories of people 
throughout the country who have used gardens to give their communities something 
      Some people, for instance, use gardening programs to connect with 
angry, lost kids, or to teach convicted felons what it means to care for a plant 
and help it grow.
      Some people plant vegetable gardens for older neighbors who just can't 
get around so well anymore. Some people use their gardens to raise low-cost, 
healthful food for inner city people, or to organize their urban neighborhoods 
politically and personally around a common interest: In hot, noisy concrete 
cities, strangers can come together to plant flowers and establish communal 
oases of peace.
      One couple in the book created a garden sanctuary in their backyard, 
where they now invite busloads of nursing home residents to come visit - some of 
those residents getting outside to see a pond and smell some flowers for 
maybe one last time before they leave this Earth.
      So, think for a moment: What does your community need? What could you 
      Each story in Engle's book tells how ordinary people did extraordinary 
things by paying attention to the quiet voice inside, following up on whatever 
ideas inspired them personally.
      "It always starts with listening to your own passion and asking, 'How 
can that be used in service to the world?'" says Engle, who lives just south of 
DeSoto in rural Madison County. "I think the book has a message for everyone 
in that way."
      On the surface, "Grace From the Garden" is obviously a gardening book. 
It's published by Rodale, that holy grail of publishing houses for people who 
want to walk lightly on the Earth while cooperating with nature and living 
      Gardeners know that nature adds a magical something extra that makes 
everything somehow bigger and turns the rough edges smooth. Engle has a huge 
appreciation for gardeners, people who understand beauty and interconnectedness. 
But Engle's book isn't just about gardening. In fact, some of the people she 
profiles didn't even start out as gardeners.
      On her own spiritual path, Engle has come to believe that every action 
we take, every emotion we have, boils down to either love or fear. That's all 
there really is in life. Do you hate somebody? Well, that's based in fear. Do 
you worry about the future? Well, that's fear, too.
      Engle says that all of the people she wrote about got their starts by 
facing difficult situations.
      "They were confronted with fear versus love, fear versus passion," she 
says. The people she included in her book are people who consciously chose to 
act from a place of love. "They are people who are healing and educating and 
inspiring in incredible ways."



      The seed of "Grace From the Garden" sprouted from a column Engle used 
to write for Meredith's "Country Gardens" magazine, where in each issue she had 
just 200 words - barely enough space to clear her throat, really - to profile 
gardeners from around the country who are making a difference.
      "They had these wonderful stories," Engle says. As a writer suffering 
from a special fascination with what makes people tick, she wanted to dig 
deeper into those personal stories. And then she wanted to tell everybody. "If you 
have a friend you think other people would enjoy, you want to introduce other 
people to them."
      So Engle made a list of about 20 people she'd like to include in a 
book, then she sent her proposal off to a New York agent, who in turn queried 15 
different publishers. She was notified in April 2002 that Rodale wanted to have 
her manuscript by September 2002 so they could market her book as a Mother's 
Day gift in 2003.
      That gave Engle just five and a half months to drive around the 
country, conduct her interviews, then write an entire book. During her travels, she 
jotted little reminder notes to herself about the feel of the places, and she 
took photos that would help refresh her memory when she finally got the chance 
to sit down and write. She cranked out "Grace" during an intense, six-week 
marathon of 12-hour-a-day writing sessions so she could meet her deadline.
      Although she had to write quickly, Engle still throws in some writerly 
moves. For instance, she talks about her trip to visit a young woman in 
Toledo, Iowa:
      "The Juvenile Home sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood 
canopied by big shady trees, not far from the Maid-Rite, Dollar General, and 
Dairy Queen. The whole town is surrounded by cornfields, and in some places the 
cornstalks act like they're taking over, standing tall and still so maybe you 
won't notice."
      She also describes life in intensely urban worlds that most Iowans 
would be hard-pressed to imagine.
      "The soil on which we're raised holds memories and cultural beliefs, 
heritage, and ancestry. When you dig in the dirt, you touch things that are part 
of you, like the fragrance of the grass after your dad mowed the backyard, or 
the blackness of the dirt where you went hunting for worms on your uncle's 
farm. For some new Americans, they have to reach back further, before napalm, 
before famine, before a plane picked them up and brought them to a high-rise 
apartment building where a highway cinches them in."
      As far as Engle can tell, "Grace" has sold about 10,000 copies so far - 
which isn't bad in the book world, especially for a first-time author. It's 
now in its second printing.
      Meanwhile, a Putnam editor has invited Engle to contribute to "My 
Mother's Garden: A Literary Companion," a collection of essays that will reach 
bookstores this May.


      Engle is looking for a publisher for her second book, "Barn Dance," 
which is about meeting her husband at a barn dance at Living History Farms in 
Urbandale. It's also about her Midwestern upbringing, her own search for 
spiritual truth, and the process of overcoming her personal issues so she could become 
a true partner to somebody else.
      It's about being an Iowa mystic.
      "It was basically a process of finding happiness in everyday life," 
Engle says. People tend to have this romantic ideal that there's one perfect 
person out there for them to marry. "One of the things I learned along the way is 
that love is love, and it can show up in your life in all of your 
      Engle believes there's magic in letting go of barriers, the illusion 
that we're separate from other people, the so-called rules about the way people 
ought to behave or what they can't possibly do. "When we let that go," she 
says, "the true self emerges."
      She also believes that living in rural Iowa gives people a 
connectedness to the land, a willingness to work for what matters and an ability to find 
Divinity in each moment, if we'll only just pay attention.
      Engle continues to write freelance stories for Meredith, now at 
"Country Home" magazine. But she's also finding new ways to mentor people - 
particularly Iowa women at this point -who are on their own spiritual journeys.
      Engle leads writing groups. She teaches "A Course in Miracles" with 
Rita Henry, owner of Inner Prosperity in Des Moines. She also joined up with 
Diane Glass, who realized through a bout with breast cancer, that the Des Moines 
corporate world wasn't the healthiest place for her to be, and together they 
offer "Tending Your Inner Garden," a year-long seminar with quarterly workshops 
and monthly meetings to help women create new visions for their lives.
      "Essentially, people are looking inside themselves for the answers," 
Engle says. Regardless of people's religious traditions, she hopes to help them 
connect with their personal ideas of what God looks like. And then she wants 
to help people act from love, which she believes is more powerful than fear. 
"Always, in every moment, we have a choice."
      Engle believes that by sitting quietly on their porch swings, sending 
their roots down into the black soil, Iowans can find their most authentic 
      And she believes we can take our clues from nature itself.
      For instance, part of "Tending Your Inner Garden" encourages people to 
value the winter season. Although many Iowans feel guilty about accomplishing 
less during the coldest months, Engle suggests that a period of dormancy is 
important for both humans and the rest of nature.
      It's good to have a period of quiet introspection, Engle insists. 
"Maybe that is being productive, because out of that, I can produce something 
creative in my life."

To learn more about Engle's projects, call (515) 462-4004, or visit 

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