Words by John Lee
It always seems to me that whenever there is an emergency, none of us is ever actually prepared. This seems to be an almost universal truth, sad to say. There are any number of reasons for this lack of readiness – procrastination, storage space, ‘it won’t happen here’, and other ‘reasons.’ I think the fact of the matter is that we live in an era of instant gratification that pervades our lives more gravely than we might like to think. Due to busy work schedules and consumer demand (many of us work weekends, odd hours or nights), many of our shopping venues are open sometimes all night, many have extended hours, and the perception becomes that whatever we want or need is always available when we want or need it. We pick up dinner on the way home or stop for what will pass for dinner. Thus our reality becomes distorted by convenience.
Those who grew up in rural America, during the Depression or other troubled economic times, are sometimes more prepared for some types of emergencies. If one lives where one works and the so-called ‘mod cons’ (modern conveniences) exist at some distance from one’s home, one tends to be a bit more of a pack-rat than our urban, suburban, and younger friends might be. To have a garden is by definition to plan ahead. But more than that, to garden is to be purposeful and purposeful responsibility is something that many of us need.
Vegetable gardening is highly under-rated in our communities, having passed from being a requirement for daily nutriment to a sometimes effete habit of those with time on their hands and a hankering for color. Everyone wants a bit of ephemeral beauty in their lives, but few want to put food by, as we used to say, for a long, cold winter or other emergency. Nonetheless, whether for effete satisfaction or for survival, gardening has much more to do with how we organize our lives than we might like to admit. Gardening is about commitment to an inanimate source of vitality; it is about understanding and caring for something that does not immediately return the favor; it is an art form, a palette upon which we can create and develop ideas that will provide imminent and marvelous satisfaction. Gardening brings patience, perspective, and persistence as those who are practicioners will attest. Gardening gives a lie to the TV news anchors who smilingly announce that it is another beautiful day because it has not rained in three weeks!
A good garden carefully tended will surely improve one’s diet, expand one’s palette, and bring conversation to the dinner table. The family will have ample opportunities talk about what they like and don’t appreciate, discuss food preparation (was it the kale or the kale recipe?), and comment on pest control, weeding, and fertility. And the best part of all is that garden produce is low in salt, sugar, and GMOs.
On the other hand, if what one might consider in-the-ground conventional gardening an impossibility, and a window box garden does not suit your lifestyle, get to know your local growers at the farmers market or farm. There you will find what you would have wished to grow for yourself and the pleasure is only slightly diminished. Gather family and friends to explore new culinary territory. Join a local CSA and learn to love the weekly mystery that comes your way. Pretend you grew it and know that you just did something novel or creative by way of preparation. After all, when push comes to shove, your kitchen is but a metaphor for your garden and, carefully tended, will produce similar results! If art and artifice are prerequisite for the gardener, they are no less so for the cook who will take what nature or provender provides and create a colorful, nutritious, and tasty repast. If you are lucky, you can have it both ways. If less so, than take what is available and make the most of it.
John Lee is the manager of Allandale Farm (Boston’s last working farm), which specializes in naturally grown local produce. Each summer, John manages an outdoor children’s program on the farm. He writes for local news outlets and is deeply involved with farming and locally grown issues in Massachusetts.