Posts Tagged ‘Gardening’

By Jane Wendorff-Craps, English Faculty.

ImageI 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.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

If you remember my previous post, you know that my wife has created an incredible fruit/vegetable garden in our yard. In a small amount of land, she has peas, beans, carrots, strawberries, beets, and much more.  At this time of year, there are a good number of plants producing; asparagus, chard, lettuces, onions. My two favorite plants producing this time of year are strawberries and peas.  We must have 15 strawberry plants, and 20 pea plants.  We should be able to harvest this, and use it in a fresh culinary innovation, but we never get a chance.  We have two major pests that grab the fruits of the plants before we can.  They are not insects, rodents, or marsupials.  The pests are our children.

Our girls are 5 and 3 years old, and they are pretty adventurous eaters.  Like all parents though, my wife and I have to cater our desires to their tastes.    I would love to make some wonderful Indian dishes, but to our girls, this is “too spicy”.  So, it is a nice homemade Mac and Cheese with three cheeses and broccoli.  They will gobble this up, so I really shouldn’t complain.

As with most children, the girls have their seemingly irrational likes and dislikes.  The oldest will eat raw broccoli all day, but she won’t touch it if it is steamed or sautéed.  She literally turns up her nose.  The younger one enjoys sautéed asparagus, but only the stems, and not the ‘gross’ tops, even though there is no difference in taste between the two.   Though this can be infuriating at dinner time, it is an interesting phenomenon to watch from an unemotional distance.  I wonder why they, and most children, are so seemingly random in their tastes. I can’t say for sure what causes this, but I do have a hypothesis: my girls and other children want the autonomy of making a choice for themselves.

This brings me back to our garden, and the two little girl pests that eat our produce before it can be brought inside to process.  One of the girls’ favorite things to do is picking the veggies and fruit directly from the plant, and popping it right into their mouths.  They don’t want to be told to eat it, because it is good for them; they want to eat it because it is fun. In fact, when I asked my elder daughter why she so voraciously ate all the green and purple peapods right from the plant, she simply replied that “it is fun”.  I think it must be fun for the same reason that it is fun for my wife to work in her garden; it is a wonderful feeling of making your own choice, your own world.

Picking peas “is fun.”

Unfortunately, with the industrial food system, this experience of grabbing your own food by yourself is rare for some, and nonexistent for most.  Food is packaged to an absurd extreme in today’s world. (Del Monte produced an individually wrapped banana last year!)  At the same time, we face a mounting health crisis where the closest children get to a homemade meal is Old Country Buffet, and the closest they come to fresh fruit is Snapple.  Many times parents simply say that children will not experiment, and hence, they give them the easiest mass produced food-stuff for their growing bodies.  However, the garden has proved to me that kids do crave experimentation if it is autonomous.  This was driven home to me when the girls got their hands on arugula, and ate it direct from the pot.  That’s right, I said arugula. I really don’t even really like plain arugula.

Harvesting your own food is fun; cooking your own food is fun; food should be fun. The mass production companies realize this, and take advantage of it by stuffing horribly made toys in cereal, calling their ‘food’ happy meals, and marketing “snap, crackle, and pop.”  What we need to remember is that nature still provides kids with much more fun than any factory in Battle Creek, Michigan ever could.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

As summer nears, my wife is outside in her garden all the time.  I have no idea what she is doing out there.  Well, that is not actually true; I know she is ‘working’ in the garden, but I don’t know what that really entails.  She comes inside with her hands, apron, knees, and shoes a mess.  But, she also walks through the front door with a sense of contentment on her The means of production. face.

Creating a vegetable garden is not my bag and I don’t have much desire to work out there. But, I am excited that the whole of our back and front yard will be used for a productive purpose. Though not as interested as her in urban farming, I do recognize the importance of her motivation.  She loves planting seeds, watering them, watching them grow, pulling weeds, and eventually, harvesting her rewards.  I appreciate that by doing this, she is fomenting rebellion.  By being a producer, she is opposing the ubiquitous life of the American conspicuous consumer.

Think about this for just a minute.  How many Americans today actually produce a physical object?  Unbelievably few.  I think you could perhaps say painters, writers, poets, playwrights and other artists. How many of these people make a living from their production?  Even fewer.  If we think artists are rare, that is nothing compared to the lost class of artisans that once marked the Western world.  Artisans were expert producers of goods for the commonweal. They fashioned an artifact through all the steps of creation. The loss of the artisan is due to our mass-produced society, and modern service economy.  People working in cubicles, both management and employees, ‘produce’ essentially nothing.   America’s biggest employer, Wal-Mart, produces nothing but self-proclaimed low prices. Their employees specialize in our most ‘revered’ trait, customer service.  Even those few Americans who still work in a factory setting produce few goods individually.  Sure, as a team, they may manufacture a product, but as one individual, each man and woman on the line has his/her own specialized role.  Not one person produces an end in itself.  Not one person even knows how to produce something as simple as a graphite pencil. Production as an end in itself is what my wife practices in the garden.

Though there are so few producers in America, there is a glut of consumers.  Actually, there are 300 million consumers in America.  This is unavoidable in today’s economy, but some of us take consumption far too far. Americans have made ‘Consumer’ our personal identity. Self-worth is based upon consumption.   Consumption becomes our spiritual path.  Americans are bombarded by the government, businesses and our peers to buy, buy, buy.  Americans are told we will find the “good life” by consuming.  Inner peace, happiness, wisdom are no longer searched for in work, learning, or meditation; we can simply get these virtues for $14.99 at the local big-box megastore.  Consumption then, affects our mental-health.  As 16th century French essayist Michel de Montaigne so wisely put it, “Poverty of goods is easily cured; poverty of soul, impossible.”

And so, this is why my wife loves to work in the garden. She is producing food, by herself.  A poverty of goods in her life is not her concern; the production of food ensures that her soul is bursting with riches.  Complete production as an end in itself leads her to self- fulfillment.  The question then becomes, what do you produce?