Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why do I grow food?

Melinda, over at One Green Generation asked the people participating in the Growing Challenge this question this morning:

I’m curious, and I think it might be helpful to others: how and why you decide to grow from seed to seed this year? Are you growing food for the first time? Are you feeling more of an economic crunch, or want to take the next step in living a simple/sustainable life? Are you doing it for the joy of slowing down? Why, why, why?

And secondly, are you noticing a shift in your neighborhood to a greater interest in growing food? I feel like more people are looking for gardening classes, I see online seed stores are really going through their inventories, and in general a lot more information about gardening. Do you see this, too?

Chuck and I have been married 32 years, and of those, I can remember only 2 that we didn't grow a portion of our own food. His father kept a garden at church, and fed family, priests and parishioners; my father and grandparents grew tomatoes for pleasure. I garden for a variety of reasons- better taste, food safety, and better variety. Most of all, though, I grow my own because I can. It's the same reason I make my own bread and sausages, yogurt and cheese- I love that I know how to do these things. It ties me to the past. Perhaps not my SPECIFIC past since I don't come from a family of sausage-making cheese artisans, but to our shared past- the past of people who knew how to do more than drive to the mall and shop. It makes me feel less helpless in the face of a world that increasingly does things TO me rather than for me.

I haven't seen a shift in the growing of food in my neighborhood. Despite our rural setting, few families close to me have gardens. I suspect it has to do with time- many people here have a long commute to work- the cost of living here is the time it takes to go to where jobs are.

I have seen a shift in the attitudes of people my kid's age. My oldest son lives in the inner city of St. Louis. I remember the year he realized exactly what it was that was fertilizing the vegetables, he refused to eat anything grown in our garden. But now he wants his own. We are working out a system for him to grow tomatoes and peppers in pots on his balcony. I am heartened when I realize the authors of the blogs I read are not my age, but a generation younger.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Out of bed and under the lights!

The tomato, squash and basil seedlings are up, off the waterbed and under the plant light. They will get 14-16 hours of light a day, under a flourescent fixture approximately 1 inch above the seedlings.
No peppers have shown their faces yet- they must be the kind who sleep late!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The People's Garden

The organic/sustainable agriculture communities were not pleased when President Obama appointed Iowa Governor Thomas Vilsak Secretary of Agriculture. His ties to agribusiness giant Monsanto and his support for bio-tech, bio-fuels and genetically engineered crops were the focus of their ire, and calls went out to block his appointment. Many felt author Michael Pollan, with his focus on food rather than production would have been a better choice. You can read more about their objections here and here.

However, it appears that he may not be the devil after all. In a recent speech to the National Association of Wheat Growers, he "called on farmers to accept the political reality that U.S. farm program direct payments are under fire both at home and abroad and therefore farmers should develop other sources of income. In his remarks to the groups he said he intends to promote a far more diversified income base for the farm sector, saying that windmills and biofuels should definitely be part of the income mix and that organic agriculture will also play an increasing role." (Farm Futures)

And on Lincoln's birthday, he "broke pavement" on a new project, the People's Garden, which removes 12,00+ feet of pavement from an area next to the USDA Farmer's market. The area, just across the street from the Washington Memorial on the National Mall, will be returned to native grasses, with demonstration areas for to help visitors understand how to apply conservation practices and attract pollinators. Read more about it here.

According to Vilsack's remarks at the pavement breaking ceremony (see parts of the ceremony below), waste from the cafeteria will be composted for use in the garden, which will be organic.
It's not a Victory Garden on the White House lawn, but it seems like a good beginning.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Waiting for the seedlings

I started 56 pots, with 4 seedlings each on Saturday- 4 pots each of 2 different eggplants, 4 pots each of 5 different peppers, 4 pots cherry tomatoes, 6 pots each of purple and striped tomatoes, 4 pots of greek basil, 4 pots of purple basil, and 4 pots of Red Kuri Squash. It's a little early for the squash. Yes, the seedlings are sitting on a waterbed- it provides nice bottom heat, and no one is sleeping on that bed right now. I thought it was better to turn the bed back on for a while than to purchase a warming mat.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Seed starting time

The last of the seeds I ordered this year arrived today. This was a last minute order brought about when Baker Creek was out of the Black Cherry tomatoes. A Googlesearch led me to Trade Winds Fruit, in Chula Vista CA. They had a terrific offering of things I can't grow here in Pennsylvania and I daydreamed and drooled for a while, then ordered Georgia Southern Collard Greens, Ancho and Anaheim peppers, and Cumin, along with the tomatoes.

I'm participating in One Green Generation's Growing Challenge: from seed to seed, and I am very excited. We've almost always had a garden, but I have only started from seed once-in 2005 or 2006. (I can't believe I don't remember!) Most of my starts were successful. In fact, I had a veritable sea of leeks that year. Sadly, since I couldn't bring myself to thin them out, none were larger than pencil sized at harvest, but they tasted great. I had planned to continue starting from seeds, (and of course had bought supplies to do so!) but job pressure strangled me.

Besides starting so many seeds, there's another thing I am very excited about: I will be "co-gardening" with a friend here in town, and also starting some plants for my son in St. Louis. He lives in an urban area, and will be trying some rooftop gardening in pots. Because of the location of his rooftop garden there is a greater than normal potential for the plants to dry out in the containers, so he will be using an irrigation system based on an aquarium pump and some plastic tubing.

My co-gardening friend and I had split a CSA share a year or so ago, but since we have both been separated from the same organization, and money is tight, we decided that we would just grow our own. I'm looking forward to this!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I hope that I am never too old to learn new things about myself, even if they are uncomfortable to think about.

Had you asked me, 5 or 6 years ago, if I was actively protecting the environment, I would have assured you that yes, indeed, I was. We gardened, we composted, we didn't litter. No fur, no ivory, no teak or mahogany. When we bought new appliances, we got energy saving ones. In the summer we mostly grilled, so as not to turn on the oven, and in the winter we kept the thermostat turned down. I mean, we were old hippies, with subscriptions to Mother Earth News! Of course we were environmental. We were part of the solution.

Then I was introduced to Colin Beavan's blog, No Impact Man, and from that I found Riot 4 Austerity. I began to realize that we were, indeed, part of the problem. Granted, these blogs represent extreme examples of environmentalism, but they gave me a lot to think about. Things that were uncomfortable. I realized that while I was environmental in theory, laziness and ignorance were keeping me from practice. Once I realized I was faking it, I was able to change things so we were making a real difference. I realigned my activism with my core values.

This morning I read a post at The Green Phone Booth that caused me to think about those core values regarding environmentalism The author, known as the Green Raven, ends her post by saying "How about you? How much has "religious" thinking—be it God-centered or non-theistic ethical thought—inspired you to feel responsible for the earth and its inhabitants? Does your spiritual practice reinforce your commitments? How much has it motivated you to act"

Raven's post reminded me of a couple of books that were fundamental in helping me crystallize a plan about how I wanted to live on this earth. Both are cookbooks, commissioned by the Mennonite Central Committee.

Years ago, probably 25 or more, I bought a cookbook from a food coop where we chopped. It was called More With Less, and focused on frugal living and whole foods. My copy is battered and worn- I have used it a lot. I bought copies to give to at least two of my sisters.

Even the rabbit enjoyed the cookbook, as evidenced by the missing corners. When we moved here to Central Pennsylvania, I was amused to find contributed recipes from women with familiar names- we live in the midst of a large Plain community and many of the recipes came from towns close by.

More With Less was a good cookbook, but not life changing. However, the sister publications Extending the Table and Simply in Season ARE life changing books. The recipes are good, but for me, the most important part are the comments from recipe contributors. Read for pleasure, these glimpses into other lives illuminate and inform.

For example, on page 166 of Simply In Season, under a recipe for Vegetable Pizza Bites, you find this:
"A crop of healthy children. For us as CSA farmers, having direct contact with our customers is incredibly meaningful and rewarding. We learn so to know many of their favorite vegetables and often have specific people in mind when we are planting or tending a crop.
"It's a pleasant surprise to find that many people, especially those with young children, will spend hours at the farm when they come to pick up their produce. They'll sit in the shade, swing on the rope swing and pick basil until their fingers are pungent.
"From year to year we get to see the children of our returning customers grow up and we have a sense of privilege in knowing that our vegetables are helping their bodies grow strong and healthy. This feeling is especially keen as we watch expectant mothers select their vegetables and know that we are contributing to the health of their growing babies."
Jon and Beth Weaver-Kreider, Goldfinch Farm CSA, York, PA

I was wary at first about Extending The Table- I don't have much use for missionaries. In my mind, missionaries are always dressed in clothing inappropriate to the climate, frowning and insisting that the poor pagans need to adopt modern Western ways. I was so humbled by the stories and descriptions included in this book- it was so respectful of the people and their lives. On page 94, I read this "Mbodangaaku, the tradition of the Wodaabe, is the way we hold hands with one another. This is the way we feel attached to each other.

is the only wealth of the Wodaabe. It is their true wealth. When we go to the villages of the sedantary people, we are hungry and thirsty because no one gives us anything without money. But when we travel in the bush, wherever there is a Wodaabe camp, we are at home.

"When someone comes to your camp, it is because of the tradition of Mbodangaaku that you welcome him. You take a mat for him to the west of your camp. You take him water to drink. You light a fire for him even if it is not cold. You take him food.

"Even if you yourself do not like your guest, when his foot comes to your camp, you go to welcome him as if he were your God. The proverb says "Your guest is your God!" Bodaado man of the nomadic Wodaabe tribe of Niger.

As much as that subscription to Mother Earth News, these cookbooks affected the way I see and interact with the world. This time, instead of buying copies for my sisters, I bought them for my children and their families. I hope they find as much benefit as I did.