(Actually written about a month ago)
Someone asked me recently why we garden. I guess that’s actually the whole reason I started writing here, though I have diverged into a slew of posts about life, the universe, and the perils of self employment. Why do we spend all our “spare” time pulling weeds, tilling, and endlessly fighting over what plants go where?
For me, it started with cooking. Many years ago I was a vegetarian, and as a result I bought a lot of vegetables. Farmer’s markets were not a thing where I lived. I went to Kroger. And then I moved and I started working at a very small scale farm and it was like this entire world just opened to me. I touched the vegetables, I picked them, I weeded them, and then I took them home and ate them. It seemed so complete. I don’t even know how to describe the feeling of pure rightness that came with harvesting peas and then going home and eating said peas. It was like a beam shot down from heaven and lit upon my efforts. It was that level of revelation.
Fast forward several years, and my ongoing dream of having a farm. We started growing about a third of an acre of vegetables in our yard, and it has had its ups and downs. Many, many crops have failed. Many things have gone awry. Many hours have gone into trying to make a successful garden. And why? Why have we spent so much time, so many tears, so much effort, for vegetables that realistically we could buy for less at the farmers’ market?
Today I am making a pan of enchiladas for my mom. I’ll take them over to her house for mother’s day. I had to use tomato paste from the store and it almost broke my soul, I kid you not, because the last few years have been bad tomato years for us and I tried to make tomato paste from scratch but the tomatoes were just meh and it didn’t work and I cried my eyes out about it. It doesn’t feel right, buying any kind of tomato at the store. I should have made that. I could have- if things had just been a little better. If I hadn’t been exhausted and trying to make tomato paste at god only knows what hour of the night, maybe I would have succeeded.
Is this crazy? Is it crazy that I am hurting because I had to buy tomato paste at the store, but when I used hot peppers I had dried ages ago and stashed in one of my lovely containers, I felt like I was connected with the world? Is it a strange thing that I only really feel right cooking when I use the food I’ve grown? There is nothing more satisfying to me than taking a jar of tomatoes off the shelf that I grew, that I canned, that I can cook with. I know exactly where they are from. How can I say that about the can of tomatoes I bought from the store? Whose hands touched them? Where were they, before they ended up in a can on my kitchen counter?
I’m not so obsessed with food that I have to grow everything I eat, but I do want to know at least where it came from. I buy my meat and a lot of the vegetables we are terrible at (potatoes) from the farmers’ market. But at least I still know where it’s been, and who had their hands on it. And to me, that matters. I feel like, in this world of epic uncertainty we are living in, knowing where my food has been is a stake in the ground. That’s where I plant my flag. I want to know who grew my food, and how, especially if that person wasn’t me. Knowing that it came from my hands, to our table, is essential to- I don’t know, my core being. It sounds crazy- I know it sounds crazy- but I don’t know how else to live.
I got into another conversation about this the other day. The fella and I had been up half the night stripping oregano leaves off the stalks so I could dry them and put them up. I’ve been meaning to do this for ages- our oregano garden overflows (used to be an herb garden, but so much for that)- but have never gotten around to it. I said something about how we were saving money, because I wouldn’t have to buy oregano from the herbalist anymore. Hahahaha. Yes, the $8 or less I spend on oregano in a year definitely made up for the hour I spent in the garden picking it, followed by several hours of pulling off leaves, and constantly checking the dehydrator to make sure I wasn’t overdoing it. We ended up with three pint jars of oregano (full leaves). I probably do go through about that much in a year, since half the time I’m too lazy to walk outside and pick it fresh. But was it worth it? From a monetary perspective, definitely not. From a quality perspective, probably not either, I don’t buy herbs at the grocery store but from a trusted herbal supplier that grows them locally. So… why did we do it? Why did we sit up watching Doctor Who and picking oregano leaves?
I honestly don’t know. But I know that every time I reach for that jar of oregano, I’m going to feel the sun on my face, and imagine the dog sitting in the shade nearby, and the bees buzzing contentedly around me, and I’m going to be happy.