The Hungry Gardener

The Hungry Gardener

By Sandy Wieber

Had you asked me what a locavore was when I was growing up, I would have guessed it was something that we set traps for in the garden…or something that the cats caught and drug up onto the porch to show off.

We didn’t think about eating local. Back then, it was just called “eating.” I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I didn’t get excited about eating a fresh tomato with nothing but some salt, or potatoes that we had just dug up, or strawberries that were still warm from the sun. I was more excited by anything that we didn’t grow—a couple boxes of Wheaties a month (the breakfast of champions and the Moser family), pizza twice a year (my husband still laughs at the family story that my pappy, seeing a pizza box in our trash one morning, asked me what it was like and then declared “I don’t think I like foreign food.”)

One year, my grandmother bought some kiwis at Thanksgiving, and perched them on top of our fruit salads. You would have thought that she had boiled a toad and put it on there, for as appetizing as it looked. My brother and I asked questions like junior botanists. Where did these things come from? What did the plant look like that they grew on? Who was the first brave caveman who said “It’s been fun throwing these hairy things around, and batting at them with a stegosaurus bone, but I wonder how they taste?” We giggled as we gingerly ate them, holding our lips away so they wouldn’t touch the bright green fruit.

Eating local was a way of life. We didn’t even think about it.

What makes this a gardening article

How far was our field to fork journey? About 100 feet, by my childhood memory. My pappy had a huge garden; it was, ironically, roughly the size of a super Wal-Mart, but much cleaner and better organized. Every spring, he’d get out the rototiller and make long straight rows in the crumbly soil (while the field to fork measurement was small, I’m guessing that the spinning, smoking rototiller—the loudest piece of equipment on the farm—had a pretty large carbon footprint all things considered).

Once the ground was worked down, pappy would mark off the rows with two sticks and a piece of string (and I’m willing to bet that he used the same piece of string every year). He planted his produce very carefully too…carrots in a thick row that he then thinned out a few weeks later; tomatoes tucked in underneath the metal cages so that they would stand up even when they were heavy with produce; pumpkins on top of carefully patted-in-place mounds of dirt.

Go for the Gold

Pappy was a competitive gardener like me (remember the breakfast of champions…we Mosers couldn’t run like Bruce Jenner but I’m sure we could grow a nicer cucumber). Every Sunday, pappy compared his yields with the other retired dairymen after church. If he didn’t beat them this year, he could always refer back to past glories: he kept a small notebook in the house that listed just a few items every day: the high temperature of the day, the amount of rainfall that he measured in the gauge on the dog house, and his daily takes from the garden: 1 bushel of beans (some rust), 2 quarts ground cherries (I have a Farm Credit pen for anyone out there who knows what ground cherries are…and a Farm Credit hat for anyone who will send me a pie made out of them!), 6 ripe tomatoes. (Note to self: start keeping a notebook; if your roses aren’t spectacular this year, I can always look back!)

All of this is to say that being a locavore, in addition to being an obsessive gardener, seems to be in my genes. I think I’m going to stop by a farmer’s market on my way home from work tonight. I’ll buy some peaches (there have to be a few late varieties left), some tomatoes and some corn for my husband. And while I now enjoy the great, just-picked taste, I’ll also feel good about supporting my local farmers.

Before you ask…once the gardens are curled up with frost, it’s back to the super Wal Mart for me. I don’t see myself sweating in a hot kitchen this summer, canning all this great fresh produce. That’s one part of my childhood that I don’t relish (pun completely intended). But that’s another story, for another month.