I have never felt a huge connection to gardening. I can remember a time when my mother and step-dad had a small garden on land owned by a relative but the memories are somewhat vague. I do, however, remember picking beans and peas in that garden and since they say that memories that stick with you had some kind of emotional impact, I can only assume I really enjoyed (or possibly really hated *wink*) working in that garden.
Off and on over the years, I have tried to grow plants and flowers in my various homes but with very little success. A big reason for that is my schedule. I am busy; not home for long periods, sometimes not for days at a time. When I am home, I completely forget about the little jade on the windowsill that may need some tender, loving care…until it is too late.
So, under my supervision, plants die.
Sad fact, but true.
Changing gears for moment…over the past year or so, I have begun reading a variety of books about food. Not just food but more specifically nutrition, sustainable eating, local eating, urban agriculture, not to mention the globalization of our food industry, and one of my favourite topics, the psychology behind our supermarkets. (I hope to review many of these books on this blog eventually. I am also interested in any title suggestions from readers!)
Anyway, most of the books I’ve read have slowly but surely begun changing my perspective on food. In the past few months, I have begun looking for books focused on Canada and I have found a number of titles. The first one on my list?
From Farmers’ Fields to Rooftop Gardens-How Canadians are Changing the Way We Eat
By Sarah Elton
I had a lot of fun reading this book. Sarah Elton’s approach to the often complex discussion regarding the globalization of our food and the ever-growing grassroots movements against it was straightforward and easy to follow. It felt as though I were listening to a conversation between neighbours in my livingroom and I was able to follow her explanations and theories. I also found her book to be a lovely introduction to urban agriculture, how it is growing in Canada and how it could potentially be our future as our petroleum resources dry up and costs to ship food start to climb.
It was due to her consideration of urban agriculture that got me thinking. Thinking about a garden. A garden tended to and cared for by me. What a concept! Was I crazy? I’d kill a chia pet and yet, there I was considering preparing soil and attempting to grow my own food this spring!
When I finished the book, I bit the bullet and called my landlord to ask his permission to start a small garden in our backyard. We have a lovely piece of land behind the house where I rent my apartment, with stone steps, a Japanese maple, dozens of lovely flowers and creeping English ivy everywhere. A brick walkway divides the main garden from a smaller square patch of land surrounding the base of our fire escape and it is here that I hope to try creating a small garden of vegetables. (SideNote: I would love to provide a picture of the space…but that will have to wait. We are presently experiencing a cold snap and at -22 or lower…I figure any shot of the back yard I wish to take, can wait. *wink*)
I figured, I’ll ask first. If he says no, then I go with “yep I’m crazy” and continue shopping at the farmer’s market.
He said yes. And so, now here I am, on the cusp of what I consider to be a huge endeavour. Definitely huge to me, the person who has no gardening, hoeing, digging, fertilizing experience to speak of.
There were so many chapters and descriptions in Locavore that got me thinking, dreaming, planning.
But one section…three small paragraphs to be exact…has had a lasting impact on me. I can only hope that Sarah Elton won’t mind if I share them here. I have read and re-read the following entry and it has truly stuck with me.
“At first, it might sound a little far-fetched to think that relationships between farmers and consumers can build a new foodshed, but if you stop to think about it, relationships are exactly what’s missing from today’s industrial food system. I have no idea who grew the food at my supermarket – not even the oranges that are sold under the Fair Trade banner featuring a generic photo of some peasant somewhere in an attempt to evoke a story and create the illusion of exactly this relationship (marketers know the value of this connection). Even the origins of the chicken I roasted recently for dinner are a complete mystery to me, despite its being labelled a “naturally raised” bird. I don’t know who tended it, let alone where it lived, what it ate or how it was butchered – or even when it was butchered.
Conversely, I have a relationship with the potatoes I popped into the pan to sizzle in the fat. They were grown by my dad, so I obviously know where they came from, how they were grown and that they were free from chemicals. I even know that the manure used for the compost comes from grass-fed cows that are free of antibiotics. And when I run out of my dad’s spuds, I buy more from a farmer named Ted Thorpe, whose thirty-two-acre periurban farm is less than an hour’s drive away. He’s a friendly guy, with curly red hair and freckles, who is usually barefoot at the farmer’s market where I’ve bought his produce for years……Not only are (his potatoes) certified organic, but Thorpe has told me about his farm and how he works there and I trust this living and breathing person with whom I chat every week. This connection to the source of my potatoes is satisfying. I take more pleasure in eating them. I feel better knowing the farmer who grew them; I feel like I am part of something bigger. The potato isn’t just a potato; it is a piece of culture and tradition.
Let’s take this one step further. If I don’t know who grew the potato or how it was grown, then the potato becomes just a thing, a commodity, an object to roast and to eat. But if I have a connection to how my potato is grown, then I am more likely to be aware that this potato started in the soil, that earthworms slinked by its underground home, fertilizing the earth, that the plant’s leaves collected nutrients from the sun’s energy and sent this food down to the potato that the farmer dug and then sold to me. When I am aware of this series of events that produced my food, then I am suddenly aware of my place in the natural cycle. I am part of a larger ecosystem instead of simply being a consumer.”
Reading this entry brought to mind incredibly vivid memories of picking berries as a child. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries. I can remember popping berries in my mouth when my mother wasn’t looking. Tasting that awesome sweetness on my tongue, equivalent to any sweet, sugar-laden treat I could buy at a corner store, is a memory I can’t forget.
Seeing a strawberry shortcake being served after dinner that night and knowing that I helped to pick those berries that very day…knowing that I worked in the hot sun, sneaking berries when mom wasn’t looking and sweating like crazy (complaining like crazy too, I’m sure! lol)…I had a deeper connection to that food…I was proud to see them on the dinner table, to serve them to company, eat them…often extra slow because they were just that good.
I want to feel that way again. I want to be proud of the food I cook and serve to my family and friends, while feeling a deeper connection to the earth that helps it grow.
This small garden I’m planning may help me do just that!