My gardening resume is patchy at best (no pun intended)! I remember my parents being really into gardening when I was younger, and I've cut my fair share of chives for salads and picked fresh bell peppers, basil, carrots, tomatoes, and zucchini when the time came. All that time, I never knew how lucky I was to grow up knowing that veggies come from the dirt.
In 2002, the summer after my junior year of high school, I did a 10-day volunteer program with some other students from Sacred Heart schools across the country. We were at Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie, NY and we did our fair share of volunteering at the inner city soup kitchen and helping out with day camps for inner-city kids (who don't always know where food comes from). However, what I remember most is the farm work. I LOVED it! I didn't know what I wanted to do in college, but I thought it sure would be great to go into AmeriCorps like some of the other volunteers and be back on the farm again. We weeded, cleaned barnyards, milked cows and goats, picked produce, made cheese, drank fresh milk with breakfast and made dinner every night with meat/eggs/cheese/veggies from the farm!
It was there that I first started to become interested in local food. So local that you picked it on your way into the dining room (or, in the case of taco salad night, so local that you met the cow a few days prior... thankfully they didn't tell me until dinner was over). Everything tasted so fresh and green. I loved the fresh air every day and nothing to do in the evenings but sit around and talk or play games on the porch as the sun went down!
At Sprout Creek, I learned that happy cows go out to pasture every day and eat grass, get milked twice a day, and don't get hormones or antibiotics. I learned that fresh milk is WONDERFUL. And I learned to recognize a few other veggies that we had never grown at home, like beets.
Two summers later, after my freshman year of college, I worked on a family farm must outside of Omaha. At Wenninghoff's Farm, I learned what kohlrabi and pattipan squash look like. I learned that you NEVER handle a fresh tomato more than necessary, lest you bruise it. I learned what corn tastes like fresh off the cobb and what beets taste like when you bite into them like a carrot. I learned that most veggies I'd previously only eaten cooked, tasted GREAT right out of the ground! I learned that picking okra is prickly business and it leaves my arms covered in rashes. I learned that baby eggplants are really cute. I learned that family farms are a dying breed and the few that are still out there don't make the money they deserve for their backbreaking work.
I learned to drive a truck and get it out of the mud on my own. I learned that it's always a bad idea to hoe barefoot (my toenail never quite recovered). I learned after picking onions, you lay them right next to the row and let them cure in the sun for a day. I learned that it's really satisfying to smash rotten bell peppers by throwing them on the ground! I learned that picking green beans is a never. ending. job. I watched tough boys cry like babies when they bit into the hot peppers we were picking in a field a mile away from any fresh water.
I (re)learned what I seem to learn every summer- that I LOVE fresh air and being outdoors and being barefoot and getting covered in dirt. I had about 5 different farmers tanlines. I learned what it's like to work HARD 5-6 days a week and how good it feels to shower when you're really dirty and sleep when you're really tired.
And there you have it, my short but intense resume. This spring, I'm learning that picking and eating produce is much more my forte compared to growing it. At least starting from seedlings. It's harder than you'd think to get a seed to grow into a big plant on your first try! I have high hopes, though, and pictures to post once my beet seeds decide to sprout. I'm on my second attempt. The first round of beets and cucumbers sprouted a few weeks ago, only to die while Ross and I were partying it up in Omaha. Alas, the peppers weren't meant to be this summer. It's too late to sprout them now (although I finally got the seedling heating pad in the mail) and they probably wouldn't thrive on our shady balcony.
Happy Earth Day! And if you have any gardening tips, please share!