By Suzanne Simpson
Those of us who grew up in the last half of the 20th Century have known more abundance than at any other time in history. From a cornucopia of plenty, we consumed without a thought to where the food came from, the living conditions of the people who grew it, the treatment of the animals we ate, or the costs of our excesses to our planet.
For me the process started when I was a very young schoolteacher. My best friend called to tell me about the opening of a new, fabulously large discount store, the Price Club. It was unbelievable, the excess of cheap things that were available. Although I had little money, I came out of the store carrying large packages of things I could never use up, like ten dozen cookies and a giant ham. Like most Americans, I was mesmerized by the aisles of plenty in these big-box stores, and tantalized by their cheap conveniences. I was hooked.
As big-box stores and shopping malls sprung up in our towns like mushrooms, and massive agri-businesses took over family farms, we succumbed to the siren call of plenty, like children in a candy store. “By God, we are Americans and this is our due. If I can have one, why not two? If my best friend has it, I want it also.”
In the late 1980s, my husband and I bought and cleared five acres of blackberries just east of Willow Creek on the Trinity River, and I planted my first garden.
In those early days of gardening, I think Mother Earth must have sprinkled some fairy dust on me. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, I awakened to a new and wondrous world. Enthralled, I loved the texture, feel and aroma of the rich, loamy earth. I held a tomato seed the size of a pinhead in my hand and felt such awe, knowing that it could grow and produce 40 pounds of fruit. I gave up manicures and panty hose and roamed the garden barefoot, drunk on nature. Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening magazines became my bibles. I was insatiable. There was no end to what could be learned about seeds, soil, bugs, weather and harvesting.
My first garden, which was over 3,000 square feet in size, was a disaster. It had been an exceptionally wet year with the rains continuing into May. Excited and impatient, I planted rows of corn, eggplant, tomatoes, squash and basil into soggy soil, leaving my neighbors snickering and shaking their heads over the dumb city slicker. A week later when I returned, the plants were limp, yellow and more or less drowned.
The next year, determined, I planted more corn with a better knowledge of Mother Nature’s timetable. With a humbled sense of accomplishment, I watched the green shoots spring up and develop into full, ripe tasseled ears of corn.
Alas, my hubris suffered another blow one evening while sitting with my husband in the garden, watching the full moon rise over nearby Ironside Mountain. As we watched incredulously, in marched a marauding horde of raccoons, rattling the corn stalks as they took advantage of my garden’s largess. Armed with an arsenal of green tomatoes, we furiously lobbed missiles at the nasty beasts, only to be met with hisses and snarls as they stripped the corn off the cobs.
Our neighbor, a retired professor, patted me on the back the next day, told me not to despair, and said with wisdom, “The only life worth living is the experimental life. Life is a grand experiment.” A good lesson to take to heart.
After that first year, my mission was to restore our five-acre patch of blackberries into a place where Mother Earth could sing and dance. I studied the plants that grew best in the Trinity River area, talked with locals and exchanged seeds. I learned patience. Drawn to that tiny piece of earth, I became rooted and found a profound sense of belonging to the land.
Over the past 20 years of growing food, I have learned the importance of sustainable living in all aspects of our lives. It was an incremental process of patience and learning. As my gardening experience grew, I began to question and change my lifestyle and habits of consumption. It has been a challenge, as well as an exhilarating process.
We now eat less meat, and only that which is local and organic. I read the labels on packaged goods to check for nutritional value, and I won’t buy canned goods since many cans are lined with bisphenol A, with its several negative health effects. We support local farmers, and eat fruit and vegetables in season when the taste is much better.
We now produce well over 75 percent of the fruit and vegetables that we consume. In our temperate climate we are able to grow healthy vegetables all year long. By canning, dehydrating and freezing our harvest, almost all of our food is home grown. It feels good to give something back to our Mother Earth and to participate in a community that is on its way to becoming sustainable.
From my own experience as a woman working 40-plus hour weeks for many years while maintaining a large garden, it took serious budgeting of my time. For families who are crunched for time and want to plant a garden, I suggest that you sit down as a family and talk about the importance of growing a garden. Come to an agreement as to how much time each family member can contribute. For young kids and even for teenagers, it can be rewarding to take a small amount of time each day, to give up their computer games for a little while and go outside, dig in the dirt and discover the joys of gardening. There is something magical about planting beans or squash at any age, watching them grow, and harvesting the fruits (literally) of their labors.
The only big boxes I use now are for carrying the vegetables and fruits that we grow, and those are recycled from the North Coast Co-op.
For me, all of these wonderful changes started with the planting of one tomato seed in a little pot. This simple act became a defining moment in my life.
References[edit | edit source]
- National Institute of Health