Just outside the window where I am sitting, I can see the top of one of my tomato plants, gradually taking over the nearby wooden fence with its strong, sticky branches. Some of the leafy stems must have snuck through the slats of the fence weeks ago when they were small, because now, after a couple of warm, wet weeks, the branch has grown too large to pull back through. I have two more tomato plants around the perimeter of my patio, and they are filled with about 50 small, green roma tomatoes among them. In a couple more weeks, I'll have my first ripe fruit, and the rest will ripen in turn throughout the summer, keeping me stocked with tomatoes until September.
In addition to the tomato plants, my garden is filled with various colors of wave petunias, geraniums, pansies and impatiens, along with a few green and red pepper plants and an assortment of herbs -- chives, basil, rosemary and thyme. Last weekend, I took my first cutting of chives and thyme to make homemade focaccia bread.
I live in an apartment and my "garden" is actually an 8-inch strip of ground along the perimeter of my patio, plus a few pots. When I was younger and lived on a farm with a huge garden filled with green beans, zucchini, sweet corn, and onions, I wasn't into gardening too much. Mostly, I think it was the "work" I had a problem with. I certainly enjoyed eating the products of the garden. But now, I am realizing the value of digging in the dirt, of waiting for seeds to emerge, of taking the time to wash and cook the produce. Now I see that gardening is about a lot more than pulling weeds.
My step-dad always said I'm really a city girl at heart (I think he actually said I have concrete in my veins), even though my rural upbringing might suggest otherwise. And my dreams of the pastoral life of horticulture and husbandry would probably be very surprising to him -- especially after I recently suggested that if he sold all his farmland to developers he could rake in a load of cash! I certainly do admit that my fondness for the "good life" is way more romantic than the realities of farming actually allow for.
For instance, even in my own little garden, as soon as the earth was warm enough to turn over in late March, I decided to plant my first crop of lettuce. I imagined all the delicate spring greens I could use to impress dinner guests as they munched on woody salads topped with my homemade vinaigrette dressing. Shortly after the first stems poked through the dirt, I began to notice signs of a pest in my garden -- a leaf or two laying on their sides, the dirt kind of scratched at. As I watched the lettuce grow, it wasn't long before I realized I was in an all out war with a chipmunk family. And just when I finally found the time to head to the hardware store for some natural pest repellant, the landscapers, mistaking my lettuce crop for some wayward weeds, finished what the chipmunks had started. Total annihilation. And days later, the same fate befell my strawberry plants in their prime of life. I nearly gave up.
But even if my agricultural aspirations never take me beyond a small garden plot in the back of my urban home, I am realizing that having a connection to the ground where my food is grown, and the time it takes to grow it, changes how I live life. It even changes me. There's wisdom in submitting to the seasons and the cycles of the earth, because God made them. And it wasn't just a good idea for the earth, he repeated the seasons and cycles in the way he made us too. When I submit to the Lord's design of creation and rest, of growth and aging, of life and death, I acknowledge again that He is creator and I am just a part of the creation. I consent to the goodness of His ways.
Growing my own food also resets how I value the work involved in producing food, the importance of relying on God's provision for it, and the acknowledgment that many, many people don't have enough of it. Food in America is so undervalued. It's also grossly undernourished because of it.
For some reason, it's always amazes me that I can actually eat something that grows, at least partially, through the work of my own hands. I also love meeting other people whose hands God used to grow what I eat. That's a large part of the appeal of farmer's markets. During the summer, I try to shop more at these small outdoor markets, where I buy lettuce and zucchini and onions and peaches straight from the farmers who faithfully planted, tended, watered, and harvested. If it costs a little more, I pay. I know that the costs are actually much greater to the farmer than what he charges.
In the past month, I've started going to a Friday evening market at a local dairy where all the vendors farm organically (or at least naturally). And every time I go, I always buy something from one farmer in particular because in addition to having really nice produce, he also really loves the food he raises. He knows all about each variety of zucchini. He can tell you the best way to cook each type of potato he grows. And I hear his garlic is out of this world (I just bought my first clove on Friday). Last week he was so exuberant about his vegetables, I just wanted to hug him.
I know not everyone likes to have dirt under her fingernails. But this week, at least think about what you're eating and where it came from. Maybe you could visit a farmer's market and hug a farmer. Or at the very least, stop by my place and I'll show you my tomato plants. Heck, you can even hug me, if you want (even though I do have concrete in my veins).