On personal transformations

And sometimes growing a lot of food happens easily with an active compost pile (all the butternuts you see above are from the pile)

If you had told me 25 years ago that making food for a lot of people was in my future, I’d have, if not laughed in your face, at least told you you had your facts wrong.  Cooking for others would’ve seemed too trad fem for someone raised in a feminist household, and 25 years ago I was on my way to pursuing a butch-enough profession (architecture).  “Nursing and teaching were the only professions open to me, and I didn’t like bedpans,” my mother often said.  “You should do something I could not,” and so I did.

Yet here I am, scurrying about on a Monday morning, assembling four boxes for my CSA customers and sticking 12 loaves of bread into a carrier to take to our daughter’s school for the kids’ mid-morning snack.  Food growing and making IS a large part of my life, at least as big a part as my code books and my drawings.  And like making buildings, making food is terribly enjoyable to me…and I happen to be fairly good at both.

Like most transformations, my shift from either/or to both was gradual.  Certain imperatives hastened my decisions, of course:  our move from our small city lot to five country acres; parenthood; global warming/climate change:  the world is small, and growing more crowded daily.  This is the world I am handing my child, and it’s a world with many problems.

So I can show her that consuming less is a laudable goal…and it’s hard in a culture that only celebrates “more.”  But I can also show her that one can be a producer, too.  Whether it’s just for ourselves or (at this point) six other families, I can demonstrate that quality home-grown food can be made (despite? in addition to?) while someone has a full-time job.  And yes, it might mean that she helps too, and her dad as well.

But what I am also trying hard to demonstrate to her, and to you, is that the world is going to need a lot more people like me who’re willing to produce food for themselves, and eventually for others.  The transformation might be gradual.  But we’ll certainly be eating better food…and better serving our earth and each other.

Viva la revolucion, gardeners!

17 responses to “On personal transformations

  1. I think I’m going to start the transition from subsistence producer, to (very) small production for market this year. I planted way too much garlic last year. And there are indications that the “pop” some gardeners allude to after several years of gardening is going to happen here this year, or soon after. I have mixed feelings about producing for others. I see it as a good thing, providing for those near me. But I also see it as giving away the fertility of my soil, which I’ve worked so hard to improve. And the amount of our soil is very limited. I know very few others will recognize that and understand what it means that I might be willing to even consider parting with it. We’ve been working to close loops here, and selling (or even giving) to market would be opening up one that hasn’t existed before. But I applaud your move to the CSA model.

    • That’s a transformation, too, Kate, the value you place on what you produce. And as you well state, it takes time to get to the condition of surplus. Yes, at first, that input-output cycle was tough for me. How do you charge for something that takes you so much effort and can be gotten cheaper elsewhere? Frankly it’s taken me years to make my soil workable (a trip well documented here) and the “pop” I experienced started with chicken poop. Am I going to say again that poop answers most problems, why yes, I am! If you’re worried about your soil’s fertility, and think your crops sap it of its strength, then hie thee to the nearest manure pile.

  2. Its funny how the progression goes: At first you are just figuring the food growing thing out, it’s just a novelty. Then you have a ton of food and don’t know what to do with it–hence, you give a lot away. Next, you get the idea of preserving, and you start hoarding every last tomato for yourself. Finally, after getting the hang of what you actually use/need for the year, you proceed to either grow just enough, or you know what you can sell/give away.

    I do find it ironic the disparity between “women’s work” traditionally, and the $$ model of careerdom. Chefs and farmers professionally are nearly always imagined as male jobs, which is so strange to me as traditional female roles of food producer and cook are the standard for non-professional life (both stereotypes for sure, but based in reality much of the time). Is it just because one version is done for money?

    I have to admit I often wonder how you do it all, but this post makes me think about all the full-time farmers who have to work off site to support their families, and it’s really no different, it just perhaps evolved from a different direction. Looking forward to everyone’s thoughts on this too.

  3. Love it, sharing it. A nation of farmers just might start off as a nation of mom-farmers.

  4. Such a good post. I think we are on the verge of a cultural awakening. I really love that we are teaching our kids to consume less, value more, share and understand food. Our kids were eating spinach straight from the garden the other day and the neighbor kids yelled, “Eew! You can’t eat food that’s been on the ground!” The husband was out there and wanted to say something smart, but refrained. 😉 The food revolution is upon us. And depends on upon us. I think Sara and Kate are right too. There is a progression. And I’m loving being a part of it. Yay farmers – mom farmers, neighbor farmers, all of us. 😉

  5. I will admit I have been stalking your blog for a few years and find it so interesting and useful. We live on a measly 1/5 acre in suburbs around Philadelphia, so not that much to work with. However, a little at a time…last year I grew over 200 pounds of produce, which isn’t a ton, but good for me. We also got chickens recently so I am looking forward to eggs and manure! 🙂

  6. I’m of the opinion that the dollar will eventually fail, maybe sooner than later, and when it does, backyard gardens will be all that keeps the wolf from the door. It’s a good thing that intelligent people are teaching their children the idea of less consumption because it will be easier on them when the lifestyle (if you can call it that) is foisted upon us all. Times are going to be tough in the future. I’m still on the front side of the bell curve of farming at home- I’m still learning how to feed us from the garden, figuring out what varieties of things to grow, still digging new beds. No one in my little neighborhood is doing it on the scale that I am, but somewhere in the future I expect I’ll be the resident expert, maybe growing veggie starts for them. We’ll see. In any case, I hope that someday I’m good enough at it to grow all we need, with surplus to help out others.

  7. El to the millionth power…if only most parents of little ones thought to do a fraction of what you’ve managed over the last few years the world would change tomorrow. The only other option will be to have ‘it’ thrust upon them sooner or later. Better to send the next crop forward with these skills than to have them crippled with ignorance and ineptitude. Keep fighting the good fight kiddo!

  8. Hey El – This post was a pleasure to read. Inspiring, up lifting, and realistic. I too am hoping to become a food producer and be able to sell the excess produce from our garden. A world full of urban farmers and small rural homesteads are going to feed the mouths of the near future. Thanks for sharing your successes and failures with all of us through your blog – I look forward to it every Monday!!

  9. Hi! After gleaning courage from your blogs, I tried one last time to start tomato plants from seeds. A few mishaps later, I have 12 viable young Cherokee Purple and Black Sea Man plants to put outside in the cold frame this weekend before I put them in their beds mid-May. I also started heirloom melons, greens, cukes, and other root plants from seeds this year that are thriving and ready to be planted. Last year, I would’ve waited until a limited variety appeared at my local garden supply store. Last year, I would’ve saved up money to buy a compost tumbler instead of building side-by-side bins on the ground. I just bought canning jars and tools this past winter to preserve some of my future produce outside of just freezing it. I’ve also discovered smoked jowl as a great seasoning meat addition to soups, and veggies so that we’re eating less meat in my house. This weekend will be the start of lasagna beds alongside the front walkway to change most of the lawn into a mix of flowering annuals and perennial edible plants. Thanks for the inspiration.

  10. It’s all so cool, (hate to use that word but it fits and I’m too tired after two days of gardening, thanks in large part to your inspiration, to come up with a more mature sounding word).

    What is it that I think is so cool, El? The learning, the sharing, the growing.

    and how one person can touch so many lives.

    Thank you. For the sharing and the inspiration.

  11. Good stuff and it brought to mind the lyrics from the Thunderclap Newman song Something in the Air from The Strawberry Statement flick.Call out the instigator/Because there’s something in the air/We’ve got to get together sooner or later/Because the revolution’s here. PS I could eat mashed butternut squash every day of the week.

  12. I’m so glad to hear that the csa is working out for you and agree 100% that the more people that have the means to grow their own food and also sell to the community around them the better off we will all be in the long run.

  13. Gardening is indeed a revolution on all sorts of levels….start with an open mind and heart and see where it leads you! Growing, making and sharing food really are the most basic and yet also profound acts. Nurturing, hospitable, generous, creative and full of hope and love. These are indeed to teach and share with one’s children…..Oh my! I’m gushing.
    Let me tell you why!
    My 13month old son pulls cherry tomatoes from our plants and munches them with such aplomb. Plus one of his first words was ‘garden’! I almost cried. Fingers crossed these form the basis for future interest.

    Glad the CSA is working out and that more people get to share your good food and passion.

  14. You wrote my heart in this post. I read it to my 14 year old, she is hard to impress, but agreed that it is me, and what I have tried to do, and why.

    I have so little land, smack in the middle of suburbia, but I sqeeze a few more pounds out of it each year. We have chickens, and rabbits, veggies, fruits, a “lawn” the size of a large area rug. Going to put squash in the parking strip this year…considering sweet potatoes too, and where can I fit a beehive?

    So good to find others doing the same.

  15. El: I love your writing, and what you do. Teaching your kid ‘alternative’ values – anything other than the consumerist ‘more, more, more’ is a fantastic thing to do. Keep it up! hoping to one day have more land and do at least some of what you do. At the moment I’m working on getting some salad and veg in our tiny urban back yard.

  16. I really appreciate your perspective!

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