As a child I would watch my mother in the garden. Neat little rows of carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes. She learnt it from my grandfather, also an avid gardener – so proud of his work, he would often shoo deer away with his Cadillac when they came too close to his crops. I come from a family of growers and canners, a family who invested time in the food that they put into their bodies. Somewhere along the line, this beautiful, wholesome skill became lost on my siblings and I.
Until recently, I had only devoured books that spoke of local eating movements. I had read countless posts on the internet about “organic gardening”, and watched from the sidelines as the movement swept through my friends and family. As a student, shopping organic was expensive and gardening was time consuming and out of reach as I rented small apartments or basement suites one after the other. Also, I was skeptical. After reading Locavore by Sarah Elton, I thought to myself “if food is being sent in from countries to my little island then how can it be considered organic? Doesn’t it get fumes and dust and bugs on it from travelling the 1000 miles or more it takes to put it on my grocery shelves? What about the cost of fuel, isn’t this counterproductive for the environment?”. I was not convinced organic was better, because to truly be organic and authentic food, it needed to come from seeds that you’ve planted yourself or at least a farm in your community.
Last year I had two major events in my life. I fell in love twice. In February, with Michael Pollan. In August, with Jim.
As I said previously, I was addicted to reading books on local food movements. It was something I desperately wanted in my life, but didn’t know how to get. Locavore made me depressed. How could we stop having our food imported from other countries when we continuously sell off land and sell out farmers? The 100 Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mckinnon was extreme and clearly really hard. I loved the idea of the Urban Homesteading Cookbook by Michelle Nelson, but I lived in an apartment with no patio, and in all honest I don’t really know if I could ever bring myself to eat quail or rabbits. Plus, I didn’t know enough about plants or herbs to start going on foraging adventures without potentially eating something poisonous. Lastly, like most people I really like the convenience of fast food and eating whatever I want from the grocery store. I had my own dilemma. I wanted to change without really changing. Until I met Michael Pollan.
If you are interested in food and you do not know who Michael Pollan is, I demand you stop reading this blog post and google him. Fall in love as I did.
Michael Pollan is many things, but mostly he is an author. He writes about the places where nature and culture intersect: on our plates, in our farms and gardens, and in the built environment. He has published numerous articles and books about food and its relationship to human history and our future, he is an advocate for bees, and he is now also on Netflix which is how I found him.
Cooked, a four part docuseries is explored through the lenses of the four natural elements – fire, water, air and earth – an enlightening and compelling look at the evolution of what food means to us through the history of food preparation and its universal ability to connect us. Highlighting our primal human need to cook, the series urges a return to the kitchen to reclaim our lost traditions and to forge a deeper, more meaningful connection to the ingredients and cooking techniques that we use to nourish ourselves. (Netflix).
Unlike those before him, Michael Pollan inspired me. I began to devour his books which finally sparked an evolution of change. It wasn’t hard. It was really quite simple. Our relationship to food is important and something to be valued. It is something worth seeking and not compromising. I fell in love and decided to change for a boy.
Later that year I met Jim. After our first date I was enamored. I’m not going to try to describe him here for fear of embarrassment, but I will tell you that he is bright and shiny and optimistic. He is also a chef and I am so thankful he loves to eat as much as I do. Somewhere in the first bit of dating Jim told me about his garden plot. In February we went to see it and I offered to help weed it and clean it up, desperate to get my hands in the dirt and try out gardening for myself. After a long and gross winter, we didn’t get back to the community garden until early April. All the work we had done was basically pointless as the large box was now filled with weeds again. Also, all of our indoor starters we crafted in old egg cartons, elementary school style, had molded and died. Looking at this garden was dismal and seemed like it was going to be a lot of work. Did I really want to help? Did I really want this? Then, excitedly, Jim pointed out some of his perennial herbs in the garden. Smell this he says, it’s lemon balm. Eat this he says, it’s spearmint and this one is apple mint. As we started to weed a little more we found potatoes which had also come up again from the previous year. We took them home with us along with some of the herbs. Jim made me a lemonade cocktail and we used the potatoes for our dinner. It was exhilarating to say the least. Maybe it would be easier than I thought. As I have since found out it’s not.
As my 29th birthday approached in mid April, Jim asked me what I would like. I asked him for a garden. Like myself, Jim can be pretty lazy. Bright, shiny and optimistic, but also lazy. He told me in previous years he was good at getting the garden started but because of life and work, it often fell through pretty quickly. However, for my birthday he came through. He had bags of dirt delivered, we bought seeds and starts from Mason Street, a local urban farm. We built a hoop house and a potato box. We planted rainbow carrots, bok choy, radishes, mezuna, mustard greens and beets to start. As well as different varieties of tomatoes, pumpkins, eggplants and cucumbers. Since starting more perennials have shown up. Arugula grows like wildfire. So does comfrey, which I have a love-hate relationship with.
As of this moment, it is still going and I have been on a mission to learn more and see it cultivate into what I hope continues to be additions to future dinners we cook together. Sometimes we don’t get down everyday to water it, and not everything has turned out – slugs really loved our bok choy. As a gardening rookie, I’ve pulled a few things I thought were weeds that were just really the beginning stages of growth for some of our vegetables. Overall though, I have loved every minute of this experience.
So here we are now, hardly an urban farmer and barely a gardener, but a small step closer to the life I want to create for myself. I decided to blog my experience, mainly because I am forgetful and need constant reminders of what to do, how things should look and am desperate for help from anyone with experience or who is trying to learn like I am. The most important thing I have learned about our relationship with food and the earth, is that it should be shared. It is a community thing. It is something we all need to work towards together. So here is my beginning.