It’s New Year’s Eve and the frost of morning overlays the green world gone dormant. In Mid-Missouri, now is the time we avoid weather forecasts and instead look outside to see what Mother Nature has in mind for the day. Though we are tempted to dream of spring, it is best to stay present in the natural state of hibernation.
Our (human) version of this season of survival largely involves catching up with ourselves before forging headlong into a new cycle of dreaming-turned-doing. Blades need oil and sharpening, sheds need cleaning and sorting, books need to be read by the fire, seed stocks need assessment before succumbing to the promise of seed catalogs. It’s time to reflect and take stock as much as time to dream.
A jaunt to the basement is an easy way to see the year in review: Potatoes, squash, garlic, onions, basil and shelves lined with canned zucchini, tomato, ratatouille, vegetable soup and dried beans provide a quick glimpse at the growing season that started with seeds sown in the greenhouse early last spring. Such is cause for celebration! For on these shelves lies the culmination of planning, tending, sheer grit and the ongoing toil necessary to grow and put up food.
The freezer offers further testament to the bounty of the land: pesto, elderberries, eggplant cutlets, and blanched zucchini. All of this amounts to evidence of triumph over insects and other pests, extreme weather, molds, mildews, fungi and other assaults on precious plants that must be tended and protected in order to achieve an edible yield.
Gardening is an experience unto itself. It amounts to a committed relationship and one of consequence when the result is feeding yourself. They say that when you cut your own firewood, you warm yourself twice. Eating what you’ve grown takes this idea to a new level of interrelationship.
As I haul in bushels of produce at harvest time, muscles grown strong from months of garden tending, there is a satisfaction in my body and mind.
As I soak up the golden rays of Indian summer sun shelling dry beans for hours, my appreciation grows for the value of this labor. Processing tomatoes and zucchini for days and weeks on end, I dream of meals to come and how they will taste of summer and equally of harvest.
It strikes me how mindless we’ve become about the sources of our food. I marvel at the extraordinarily low grocery store price we pay for, say tomato paste or frozen peas, thinking of all that goes into such products. When I estimate the monetary value of a single jar of homegrown spaghetti sauce, my figure comes in somewhere around $35, factoring in seeding, watering, weeding, fertilizing (and repeat), harvesting, processing and preserving.
We wander “supermarket” aisles, plucking cans and packages from overstocked shelves of food priced proportionate to our global industrial food supply and distribution channels, not thinking of the land or the farmers and producers and oblivious to the extraordinary feats necessary to manifest such bounty.
Thus, when we consume the goods from our homegrown pantry, each meal embodies intrinsic value. Not only has great effort gone into dreaming, growing, harvesting and preserving the food, but a relationship has been forged between the land and its stewards. If good stewardship practices are employed, a symbiosis exists between the land and its people. This inter-dynamic is consummated at the table and such a dining experience could not be further from eating out or even eating store-bought food. While eating what you grow requires an extraordinary amount of work, it is equally a privilege; eating what you’ve grown brings the life cycle full circle.
Sarah Joplin is a mid-Missouri farmer at Redbud Farm. Though she enjoys travel, speaks French and is involved in an art business in California, Sarah is equally happy homemaking and getting her hands in the dirt. Read all of her The Yellow Barn blog on GRIT.