Close Enough

My hope is green, eternally, like my tomatoes.

The first year I grew tomatoes, it was a year of perfect weather. The last of its kind. A unicorn summer of bursting, fleshy sweetness and easy breezes. For the seven years hence, it’s been one Farmer’s Worst Case Scenario after another. Aphids. Surprise frosts. Early blight, late blight, middle blight and Elevensies blight. Locusts. Okay, not that last one, but instead, we’re having a summer with no sun.

And yet, despite no sun, too much wind and barely 20 degree days, I have somehow grown tomatoes. They are glossy, and green, and they come in many different sizes, though their shape is mostly the same: roundish and mottled with water filled veins. They are affixed to their waning stems, who are giving up on summer, like me. They spend the remainder of their energy on the fruit hanging below, sending what energy they can glean from an eternally cloudy sky to their product.

Like the tomatoes I’ve grown in impossible conditions, in spite of all the things that are ‘wrong’ with their spot in the yard, the dirt where their roots spread out, or the timing of their growth, my hope has grown too. So today, I am bringing them inside to ripen in our sunniest windowsill.  To reach their full potential, they must be removed from their crumbling foundation and brought in, where it’s warm.

I am counting these as one of my successes.

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Mindfulness: “When You’re Eating, Eat”

By Catherine Winter

You know someone is worth keeping in your life when they hold a mirror up to your hypocrisy so you can learn from it. Recently, a friend (whom I shall refer to as “Sensei” henceforth) said to me: “If you want to encourage others to consider food as sacred and be mindful of what they’re eating, you should probably start by doing so yourself.” This was in reference to me cramming a sandwich into my mouth one-handed while typing feverishly on my laptop, paying absolutely no attention to what I was eating because, well, I was working. I had more important things to do, right?

As long as I didn’t get mustard onto my keys, I really didn’t care what lunch consisted of. In that moment, I could have been eating rat sphincters doused in Tabasco sauce and it wouldn’t have registered as weird: I was eating to end hunger, not to nourish myself. How many of us do this on a regular basis? Staring at our phones while shovelling some type of food product in our faces, or mindlessly moving hand to mouth as we gawp at the latest Netflix release?

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Mindful, not Mind-Full

I asked Sensei what it is I should be doing to be more mindful while dining, and he just shook his head. “When you’re eating, eat.” That’s it. That when food is being eaten, that is literally the only thing that’s happening in my world; the only thing I’m honouring with my attention. No phone or iPad within reach, no TV or radio on in the background. Preferably not even speaking to others for a few minutes: just. eating.

He suggested that each bite be approached with reverence, with full appreciation of where the food came from, and the effort that went into preparing it. As I eat, attention should be paid to subtle flavours, textures, how each bite makes me feel, what subtle differences exist depending on which morsels came together in that particular forkful. Make each dish as appetizing for all the senses as possible, and then honour it by giving it my full, undivided attention. Chew thoroughly instead of gulping, and imagine the nutrients then flowing through my body, nourishing every cell.

That’s a beautiful way to approach nourishment, isn’t it?

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Mindfulness Begins During Preparation

I’m taking steps to ensure that mindfulness doesn’t just begin when I sit down to eat a meal, but when I begin to prepare it. Since I often gather bits from my garden to incorporate into dishes, I try to step barefoot out into the yard so I can connect properly with the earth beneath my feet.
When I harvest vegetables or snip herbs for seasoning, I take a moment to give thanks to the plant: I attune myself to its energy, and appreciate its growth, and how its form will help to nourish my own body.

As I prepare the ingredients—chopping, grating, slicing, sautéeing—I don’t have music on, nor any shows blaring in the background. I feel the vibration in my knife as it thunks through a carrot or onion, or the “shusshhh” sound that happens when I slice through a head of lettuce. I can tell that my onions are caramelising properly based on the deep, gold-brown scent they release, and I know when to turn the heat down beneath my soup pot when I hear the liquid dance into a rolling boil.

I wipe down the table, set it with beautiful dish ware, maybe some flowers or herbs in a vase. Whether I’m eating alone or with others, I try to set the stage as for a special event, albeit a small, gentle one. The food is plated or ladled with care, and garnished in appreciation. After all, these beautiful ingredients deserve to be showcased.

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Some people have a “no phones at the table” rule, others discuss the food with other diners so everyone has a chance to express what they’re tasting, what they appreciate about the meal, etc. Do you try to cultivate mindfulness with regard to the food you eat? What techniques do you use?

Let us know!

 

 

When Goals Meet Opposition…

By Catherine Winter

Friends and family members from the previous generation (or two) tend to be very attached to their idea of a pristine green lawn. That’s what’s considered “nice” and aesthetically pleasing: a patch of dandelion-free, lush greenery that would fit in perfectly in Stepford.

Anyone who’s read Food Not Lawns, or delved into the history of agriculture in North America and Europe, is aware that lawns have been cultivated for the sake of vanity. People cultivated swathes of empty property to prove their affluence: they had enough money that they didn’t need to lower themselves by growing their own food. They could pay other people to toil for them, and buy their food from them.

This is a very difficult mindset to shake.

Holding-herbs

“Weeds”

One of my family members is a rather wonderful person who is very, very fond of the aforementioned pristine lawns. When I decided to let my land go wild one year instead of diligently hacking the lawns and side areas down with a mower and weed whacker, I was reprimanded quite firmly for letting all those “weeds” grow. I picked five examples of what they were gazing upon with disdain, and asked them to identify said plants.

“They’re weeds”.

Okay, that’s how you’ve been taught to view them, but what species are they? Tell me their names.

“Weeds”.

…okay then.
Those “weeds” were lamb’s quarters, shepherd’s purse, yarrow, St. John’s wort, and evening primrose: five wonderful edible and medicinal plants that are valued the world over. In addition to those were many species of indigenous flowers all around the periphery, from asters and violets to red clover, which is invaluable for replenishing depleted soil with much-needed nitrogen.

Related post: 7 Healing Herbs for Your Garden

I burbled about all of these and talked about how beneficial they all were, but my enthusiasm was merely met with a blank stare, so I brought the cuttings indoors and hung them to dry for later. We just had to agree to disagree on the value of these plants, and cultivate our respective lawns in the ways that we felt were best for us as individuals. Even if we did have contempt for each other’s leanings, we kept that to ourselves, ye know?

This gets a bit tricker when the person who has contempt for your wish to transform your lawn into a lush food garden has equal say in its cultivation, or lack thereof. What happens if you’re living with aging parents who refuse to even consider it? Or if your partner is terrified of what the neighbours will think when yours is the only lawn covered in kale and zucchini instead of grass like everyone else’s? (Or even if your neighbours themselves want to put the kibosh on your gardening dreams?)

Books

Resources to Support Your Stance

A lot of people have difficulty accepting family members’ arguments as being valid, especially if there’s a parent/child dynamic going on. Many parents of adult children still view their offspring as “kids”, and as such don’t take them seriously. Honestly, I know some people with PhDs whose parents insist upon fact-checking whatever they say because well, they’re their kids, right? What do they know?

A similar dynamic can occur if you’re renting a home from someone of the previous generation: they might also see you in a similar light, and you’ll be hard-pressed to convince them of your reasoning to transform what they currently value as a pristine lawn space to a “messy” garden.

You can often encourage more openminded thinking on their part by presenting them with materials that support your goals, especially if they’ve been written or supported by people whom your parent/spouse/landlord respects. Citing examples by scientists like David Suzuki in support of converting lawns into gardens may help to open their minds a little, and if they’re open to reading about the subject, books like Gaia’s Garden and Food Not Lawns may also do a world of good.

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Compromise

If they still flat-out refuse to allow the lawn to be transformed, it might help to create a compromise of some sort. Find out what their reasons are for refusing, and then work together to find a solution that can bridge the gap.

For example, they’re afraid things will look unkempt if the lawn is ripped out in favour of edibles, ask if growing a few vegetables and herbs in pretty planters and hanging baskets would be an acceptable option. Do they find the idea of growing food at home to be “demeaning”? Call up statistics on the nutrient density of organic, homegrown food, and the many science-proven health benefits to growing your own. You can even sweeten the pot by showing them how much money they can save by growing even a few simple vegetables: just about everyone appreciates that aspect of homegrown food. If any of your neighbours already use their lawns for food gardens, chat with them, see how they overcame their own obstacles, and use them as examples of what’s possible. (Note: this is also a great opportunity to start a community seed-sharing network.)

Related post: Start a Community Seed Bank

Just about any situation can be negotiated in a way that can make all parties feel heard, respected, and empowered… and even if you just end up able to grow a single tomato plant in a container, it’s a small victory, and sets a precedent: you’ll be able to grow more next season.

Have you faced difficulty in establishing your own garden? How did you solve the issue? Please let us know!

There’s No Such Thing as a Black Thumb

By Angelina Williamson

There’s no such thing as a black or green thumb. I’ve never met a gardener who said “I have a green thumb”, because they know that success in gardening isn’t some magical ability one is either born with or not. It’s something you learn as you go along, and never stop learning. People who claim to have a “black thumb” are people who gave up too fast to experience the success they were hoping for or they really never cared that much about growing plants to begin with. They think that because they killed a few plants they lack the talent for growing things.

I have killed off thousands of plants in the eighteen years I’ve been a serious gardener. Certainly I killed more plants as a beginner than I do now, and yet at this very moment my garden is host to: a half dead mimulus, the blackened skeleton of a tulsi plant, a crispy brown hollyhock, a sickly Abraham Darby rose, and the ghosts of fifty other plants that didn’t make it through the wet spring. Losing plants is a normal part of gardening, it’s not evidence of a black thumb.

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Have you tried growing plants but concluded that you just can’t do it? If you got discouraged but still really want to garden, I promise that you can succeed at gardening. You may need to shift how you think about it and approach it, but anyone who truly wants to garden can do it. I want to tell you the truth about gardening. I want to tell you what I’ve learned about growing that may encourage you not to give up yet.

Plants Are Living Beings

To succeed at gardening the most important thing to understand is that plants are living beings. They aren’t inanimate objects. Whether you believe they’re sentient or not isn’t important but you need to know that they have vascular systems, they breathe, they drink, and they eat much like you do. They respond to care similarly too. The more you pay attention to your plants’ needs, the more they’ll thrive. Plants need to become part of your regular routine. You’ve got to notice them in order to keep them alive.

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All Gardeners Kill Plants

No matter how experienced you are at gardening there’s a part of you that will always be a novice because everything you learn opens the door to new things to learn. Every garden you work in has different conditions, from broad obvious conditions like light levels to all the things you can’t see like microbes specific to that patch of earth. This means that an experienced gardener can move to a new garden and find that things they used to grow with ease now give them exquisite trouble. This is normal. Learn your garden. Understand that every plant you lose can teach you more about what works and doesn’t work in your peculiar spot of soil. It’s not a pass/fail test. It’s about having the tenacity to keep trying, keep experimenting, and discover what plants thrive where you are, and which ones you have an affinity for. Just remember that you’re going to lose a hell of a lot of plants on your gardening journey.

Plant-Based Bête Noires

For every gardener I’ve ever met there are plants that simply won’t do well for them, regardless of how much special care they give them or how many different gardens they’ve tried to grow them in. Sometimes these are plants that are considered universally easy to grow. So don’t get hung up on what people say “everyone” can grow. You may meet your plant-based bête noire early on in your efforts or after you become very experienced, but at some point you’ll meet a plant you can’t grow that the books tell you is easy. This is normal and I’m not even envious of the very rare gardener this has never happened to.

My plant-based bête noires are basil and asparagus. Note that basil is considered one of the easiest unfussy herbs for beginners to grow. It’s okay, I don’t take it personally. I suspect there’s some understanding I’ve failed to reach with them.

Tomato

Sometimes There’s Nothing You Could Have Done

Sometimes plants you buy were destined to die young long before you brought them home. This is a true story. You need to know this because sometimes a plant’s failure to thrive is already written in its cells. Plants get diseases and fungal infections just like people do. For a beginner it feels like personal failure. No matter how much you care for a plant it suddenly blackens, wilts, and dies and there was nothing you could have done about it. Some ways you can reduce the risk of this is to only buy plants, seeds, and bulbs from companies that are scrupulous about keeping their plant stock virus-free.

Sometimes it isn’t about viruses but about individual unexpected plant traits. Plants, like people, even when grown in the best and most even growing conditions, are all individuals and can respond out of character to the rest of its family. You can grow one hundred of the same cultivar of tomato that’s known to be vigorous, bushy, prolific, and delicious and some of those plants are going to grow up a little straggly and pale, or perhaps have more bitter tasting fruit, or die of bacterial wilt. Sometimes a plant’s individual wild traits will turn out to be a happy discovery like an uncharacteristically vigorous and delicious tomato. This is all just part of the adventure.

Growing a garden is about developing a relationship with an environment and all the life living in it. The better you communicate with it, and the more you listen to it, the better your results will be.

Low-Maintenance Food Plants for Novice (or Reluctant) Gardeners

By Catherine Winter

Are you interested in growing your own food plants, but you’re intimidated by the prospect of doing so? Or is it something you’re reluctant to do but feel that you should be doing for health, wellbeing, and planet-saving? Well, don’t worry: there are some delicious, easy-to-grow plants you can try out that won’t break your spirit, and might just encourage you to keep at it.

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Cut-and-Come Again Lettuce

Lettuces are pretty easy to grow anyway, but the kind that will re-grow after it’s been snipped is ideal for newbie gardeners. Most lettuces’ leaves will happily spring back after you’ve snipped them for salad, so you won’t have to fuss over re-sowing over the course of the growing season: just trim off a few leaves now and then (sparsely, so you don’t take more than 30 percent of the plant at a time), and your salad bar will re-stock itself in no time.

Iceberg, arugula, mizuna, tender mustard greens, and most loose-leaf varieties are ideal for this method, and since lettuce grows really well in the shade, you can grow it on a small balcony or patio, or even indoors.

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Cherry Tomatoes

Tomatoes are considered the gateway to gardening, as just about every gardener out there started with a tomato plant, even if it was just a teensy potted one on a balcony. Cherry (or grape, or currant) varieties ripen much earlier than full-size ones, so you have earlier gratification for your gardening efforts.

If you have the space, get yourself a few different plants to see which ones you like best. Maybe an orange or black cherry, grape, or currant, etc. Each one has a unique flavour, and since they’re so easy to grow, you can expand your palate while revelling in the joy of being a new gardener. (And honestly, who doesn’t love tomatoes?)

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Herbs

Culinary herbs are wonderful for small spaces, as you can grow them on a sunny windowsill or patio and just trim off bits here and there when you’d like to cook with them. Hardy aromatics like thyme, sage, and savory thrive on neglect, and will survive if you forget to water them as regularly as you should. Leafy herbs like parsley and basil are a bit more high maintenance, and both chives and oregano are stubborn survivors, and perennials to boot: they’ll come back year after year.

If you’re more interested in medicinal plants, calendula is really hardy, as is chamomile. Lavender thrives in sunny spots, yarrow can do quite well with neglect, and if you really are terrified of killing your plants, get a pot of mint. That stuff is damn near indestructible.

You can do this! If you need any help or advice about which plants would do best for your space and your skill level, don’t hesitate to contact us for help: just leave a note in the comments section below, or drop us an email at farmtheworldorg AT gmail.com

Photos by Dan Gold, Dwight Sipler, and Patty Mitchell via Unsplash and Foter creative commons.

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Brave New World

By MK Martin

Do you remember the first time you felt The Fear? When you’re a kid, the world is enormous, and there are often dimensions to it your grown up counterparts cannot even see, let alone protect you against. You are afraid, but you do not have The Fear. You are small, but there hasn’t been enough time for you to really doubt yourself. Come what may, you’ll put your hands up, jump with your scraped knees and shout until the walls come down.

I’m asking, because I see you.

I see you, thinking you can’t grow things. Your thumbs are parched from sticking them out in the sun, trying to catch a break. You have so many things to do, any plant in your periphery is doomed to wither and die because your kids have to eat before you do. And actually, you don’t like nature that much. Bugs are lethal these days, aren’t they?

So start small. Go back to the smallness of what a person was expected to do, when your face was a bare peek above the table top. Head to your local nursery, and stand in the greenhouse, enveloped by sweaty oxygen and feel small. Stand next to a plant that looks bright, and green, produces something (in theory) that you might eat. Say hello. Do it in your head, if it makes you feel less silly. Feel less silly, anyway, when the person standing next to you is also talking to seedlings.

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Take your bundle of leaves home with you, see that it is small. Find it a biggish home, for the summer, where it will try its hardest to grow for you, if you are willing. Set it in the sun, so it can feel warm, and water its roots every few days, so it can stretch its legs. Grow, inside, as you watch your plant multiply, and marvel at the shrinking Fear inside you. Even if it does not fruit this year, even if aphids take it down after weeks of fighting against them valiantly, you have succeeded.

This is the marvel of the plant world. A physical representation of the magic of energy, and how it is never wasted, only reimagined.

You can do it.