I come from a line of farmers. In itself, that’s not so remarkable. In 1920, farmers accounted for 27% of the labor force in the US, so there’s a good chance that you come from from a line of farmers, too. Having a farm heritage, however, is not nearly the work that being a true farmer is.
I have a love for gardens, but I know where that comes from, and it’s not the farm side of the family. It is specifically from my maternal grandfather. He was a mechanic with his own car repair business. and no slouch at it, either. I grew up thinking that anything I broke, grandpa could fix. As I grew older I discovered that was not quite true, but that’s another story. Grandpa worked hard in his garage and I believe he enjoyed it, but his true passion was his garden.
It was my grandpa that first interested me in organic gardening.
He was a disciple of J.I. Rodale long before the establishment of the Rodale Press publishing conglomerate. He hand-sold Adele Davis’s Eat Right to Keep Fit to acquaintances far and near with the evangelistic fervor of the born-again.
Grandpa taught me the fun of looking through the Burpee’s seed catalog, the wonders of sweet corn delivered straight from stalk to boiling water to the plate, slathered in butter. He instructed me in correct composting. Gardening was in my blood, and by the time I got to college and my friends were talking about the wonders of healthy food made from scratch , I was scratching my head, wondering why they didn’t know this stuff already.
We have fallen so far.
I am reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, a masterful work in which she chronicles her family’s year of eating locally, eating the produce they grew themselves, or buying only what was grown within 100 miles of their farm, for a whole year. Kingsolver makes you feel the sun-soaked warmth of that first red tomato in her hands, see the zucchini dirigibles piled on her counters in July. It takes me back to the smells of that lush garden in tiny Martin, Ohio, and those splendid days with grandpa.
As a culture, we are raising children who have no idea where their carrots come from, other than from Food Lion. They have never seen a lettuce patch struggling up through the cold dirt and into the brisk spring air. Of all the things we have lost in our mad rush toward the supposed efficiency of factory farming, maybe the most tragic loss of all is this—that of a sense of wonder a child has when they eat a green pea straight out of the pod, standing in the middle of their family’s own garden.