By Jane Wendorff-Craps, English Faculty.
I hate to stereotype, but… city people are so funny sometimes. What seems like general, foundational knowledge just isn’t so obvious to others. And as Jerry Seinfeld would say: “There’s nothing wrong with that.” People’s lives and experiences are just different.
It is my experience to eat, what I think is a normal, everyday summer lunch at my desk: red and green leaf lettuce, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, herbs, etc along with some bread and jam. A student (who grew up in the city) comes in and said to me, “That looks colorful and yummy, where’d you get it?”
I replied, “From my garden.” She was silent for a moment, and her hamster wheels were spinning as if she wasn’t sure if “My Garden” was a new restaurant near campus. Note to self, not a bad idea if this teaching gig doesn’t pan out.
Anyway, I further explained that my garden, at my home, was flourishing despite the heat, and I loved to eat from it, raw and undressed (the veggies, not me), sometimes with a fatty piece of cheese, which I do buy at the store.
She again looked puzzled and asked, “You grow food at your house?” “Yep, and I can it too so I can have some things in the winter months.” I should have said “put it in jars” because “can” may have given her a false image.
She stood there befuddled for what seemed like a long time, and I didn’t really know what else to say. I’ve been eating this way my whole life, thanks to my mom who had a garden, thanks to her dad who always gardened after a long day in the locker (butchering animal flesh for a living for those who have never been to a meat locker- grandpa wasn’t an athleteJ).
This experience with my amazed student, who admittedly had never grown anything from a seed before, which thoroughly amazed me, reminded me of a neighbor who had grown up “in town” and had never lived rural before moving to Farmington. She was driving past my house one day, years ago when I had 4 kids under the age of 6. I had a newborn at the time, and I was nursing my baby all the while sitting in my garden picking peas and pulling a few weeds, multi-tasking at its finest.
My friend had to stop, laugh, shake her head, and make a few comments before going back home. Since then, she has called me “Prairie Jane.” At first I was a tad insulted, but I’m not sure why. I had stereotyped the term “prairie” to be disconnected and perhaps uneducated and simple. Yet after a bit of contemplation, I began to like the term. Prairie can also bring thoughts of connection to nature and reliance on self.
This nickname came 15 years ago, BTY (before teen years). While I knew tons of people who had been gardening, canning, and freezing at that time, it has become more popular in recent years—thank goodness! I like the term sustainable better than what I called it then, necessary! After choosing to stay home with my young children rather than work, growing my own food was truly the only way to feed my family healthy food.
It is because of this time in my life that I have such empathy for people who are food unstable, who may have to rely on food banks for healthy food since buying fresh fruits and vegetables for a large family could easily take out of the budget area for the electric bill or a tank of gas. Just think, purchasing a few tomatoes, an avocado, and some lettuce could also buy several boxes of mac and cheese, some Kool Aid, a box of crackers, some cookies, and even a jar of peanut butter. The choice is made price per serving for the mom who has to feed a family on a budget.
Knowing that, and experiencing it myself, I love the trend of communities creating shared space for gardening, especially in urban areas where loose dirt is a minority to cement and blacktop. And I love that people are supporting, out loud, farmers and markets where food is grown locally, where people make a living at “growing food.” What I would love more is if I could eat at my desk and not have any surprised looks at fresh veggies in full color because someone had only seen hot house tomatoes and wilty greens at the local Walmart.