Growing up, I endured my occasional gardening chores like a punishment. I don’t think my mom even knew how much I dreaded being hunched over on that kneepad on the concrete sidewalk to our front porch, pulling weeds from the flowerbeds. I hated the hot summer sunshine of oppressively muggy Wisconsin summers, scorching through my t-shirt. I hated the ache in my back, the dirt, the bugs, the sweat. I felt there was absolutely no point to the effort when the weeds were just going to come right back overnight anyhow. And I suspected my parents made it one of my chores because they secretly hated it as much as I did.
|Heirloom Gardens rhubarb.|
I also remember being sternly warned that the rhubarb was poisonous. Was it the leaves or the roots?—I could never remember which, so I just avoided the garden entirely, imagining the whole thing full of poison ivy. A scary, scary place. And the deer sure didn’t help. As soon as the beans and tomatoes started to ripen, the hungry local deer population would make a beeline for our house and munch away till the patch was in ruins. Then, one year, my mom heard that deer mark their territory with urine and avoid places marked by another animal’s urine. After that, my father and my kindergarten-age brother were forced to trudge outside each evening before dinner and dutifully pee all over the garden. Now it was not only poisonous, but also...urinous.
A few years later, my parents gave up on the vegetables entirely, a decision so anti-climactic that I don’t even remember it being made. As far as I was concerned, food came from the supermarket, and as long as that was still standing, that’s all I needed to know. Furthermore, in my opinion, real food came in packages, with clear instructions of how long to microwave it before eating. The supermarket had a produce section, sure, but those big bins of unidentifiable raw stuff were just as intimidating as our old poisonous, pee-doused garden patch. For years, I steered clear.
As this gardening season (my second as a grateful working member of Heirloom Gardens, where we do not pee on the plants, I promise) draws to a close, the mere fact that I find myself sad about the impending end of this summer’s vegetable bounty is sort of amazing to me. Spending time as one of Heirloom’s farmers brings me such joy. I love feeling the weather (whatever it may be). I love getting that gratifying stretch in my hamstrings as I reach for a partially hidden squash. I love the dirt, the bugs, the sweat. It has been a long, very gradual journey from one end of the spectrum to the other—from the negative gardening impressions of my childhood to the pleasure I now take in helping to grow my own meals and rarely stepping foot in the grocery store for months at a time. The process of that change is, like so many other aspects of life, a good fit with a gardening metaphor: the fertilizer of education, the blooming of knowledge, slow growth,
transformation, and—in the end—rich, ripe rewards.
While I don’t hope that any of you put as much processed “food” into your bodies for as long as I did before seeing the light and becoming interested in urban—or windowsill, rooftop, suburban, or rural—farming, I know I’m not the only one who has experienced such a shift. (Anyone else out there tormented by rhubarb as a child?) And in any case, I think that there are many valuable conversations to be had around such a profound morphing of perspective, values, and priorities…not to mention around gardening as a daily activity in a hectic lifestyle, and any number of other random gardening-life tangents. I’m grateful to Sundari for having invited me to be an occasional guest contributor to the Heirloom Gardens blog, and I look forward to checking in with you all again soon.