Sunday, May 24, 2009

Growth Curve

The tomato plant that the farmers' market vendor promised would flourish in a pot. We'll see. If it does, I hope the raccoons enjoy its bounty.

From the top: last year's sad basil, curly parsley, sage, rosemary

From the top: basil, thyme, oregano, dill and chives

When Paul and I were growing up, our grandparents (of the vinegar-drinking fame) had a huge garden. It was over an acre in size, and they grew everything I could imagine a Wisconsin garden could grow, including their own popcorn. We benefitted not only from the produce from the garden, but also by learning how food is grown. When we were really young, our grandparents delighted in teaching us how to dig in the dirt, and I remember at least one occasion when Paul was treated to a gigantic carrot straight out of the ground, sans washing. When our grandfather became ill with cancer, we were enlisted to help my grandmother in more than symbolic ways, by weeding, watering, and harvesting. Their garden was organic before it was a popular concept, and they were so proud of the fact that they did not use chemical pesticides.

Unfortunately, neither through nature nor nurture, I did not inherit the gardening gene. I grow some herbs, which usually include enough basil to keep us in pesto through the winter. But my other gardening efforts, even including houseplants, have been bleak. I suppose it's just as well for our current circumstances. Our yard is tiny, and just barely big enough for our two dogs to relieve themselves. We also have a host of hungry raccoons roaming the neighborhood. (A few summers ago, one of them broke into our screened-in porch to steal some tasty dog food out of a sealed container!) I know genius gardeners who have grown whole vegetable gardens in pots, in a smaller space than ours, but the last several years' worth of my efforts have shown that I just don't seem to have what that takes. Sorry, Grandma and Grandpa.

Lucky for us, we seem to live in a hotbed of farmers' markets. We have a small one within walking distance of our house that starts up in July, and two huge markets in nearby Minneapolis that operate all summer. The farmers' markets have everything from freshly-made sheep cheese to Vietnamese dim sum, rabbits and jam, and of course, locally-grown organic vegetables and herbs. I didn't know what we would find when we ventured to the Mill City Farmers' Market yesterday, since it's so early in the growing season. We were delighted to find stands full of vendors and food, but also the crowds to support them. There was even a little stand with animals for children (and adults, of course!) to see, and my son loved meeting a baby goat, ducks, chickens, and rabbits. To find a farmers' market near you, visit:

We also joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program this summer. It's a program by which a family can "subscribe" to a local farm, paying in the late winter or early spring for a share in that growing season's harvest. CSAs are increasing in popularity, and we had no shortage of choices when we picked our farm. This is the first summer that we've joined a CSA, and I hope to blog about it as our produce arrives. We will get a weekly box full of whatever was harvested that week, and it will be delivered to a home in a nearby neighborhood. We're hoping to walk to our pick-up site most weeks. I've been warned by our CSA-experienced friends that the first year can be a challenge - there is often a lot of food in each box, and it can be a challenge for one family to eat it all. We have an extra freezer, so I'm hoping to freeze some of the bounty, and I'm diving head-first into all of our cookbooks and my bookmarked recipe sites to think ahead about how to be creative with a few pounds of arugula. CSA members take a risk by subscribing - if the farmer's broccoli crop fails, then there's no broccoli. But that's a risk we're willing to take. We look forward to trying some new vegetables, and expanding the uses of the vegetables we know and love. And, if we get 17 pounds of zucchini one week, I'll feel like a real gardener when I try to push it off on my friends.

So, even though I can't walk into my backyard to harvest a salad, I'm still keeping my eye on the skies for rain and sun, and I feel involved in the growing process that brings food to our table.

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