I owe my love of organic gardening to my father, who started growing his own vegetables on the Methodist Church property behind our apartment in the “oil crisis” of the early 1970s. From him, I learned how to compost, properly prepare the soil, plant both seeds and seedlings with appropriate trellises, water and mulch during hot weather, and keep away pests without using chemicals.
“Organic” has taken a bad rap in the US media, thanks to lacksidaisical labeling that allows certain percentages of chemically-based fertilizers and pesticides. My veggies may not look as pretty as the store-bought kind, but they taste sweeter, have more pulp, and have a high yield. More importantly, I know exactly what my kids are eating.
Sometimes when I mention how much time and effort I put into my little backyard garden (about the size of two small dinner tables combined), I get comments from friends such as, “I get my veggies from the supermarket. Ha ha.”
To me, even if I could trust (ha ha) the quality and content of produce at the market, there is an innate satisfaction in knowing that I have the ability and the knowledge to provide food for my family. At least to some degree. I’m not a farmer and have no intentions of changing professions; however, another benefit to knowing how to grow tomatoes, beans, and eggplant without Monsanto-style additives is that I have gained a respect for the farmers whose lifestyles depend on their ability to raise crops year in and year out.
Growing up in the countryside, I saw plenty of farms (especially dairy pastures). But I always took them for granted. Who wouldn’t, as a kid? Cows and sheep feed themselves, right? Corn and squash just magically get taller until they show up at the supermarket for us to buy, right?
I’ve always appreciated the Japanese phrase said at the beginning of each meal: “Itadakimasu.” A difficult word to translate; it literally means (in formal language), “I receive (humbly).” You give thanks, not just to the people who give you the food, but also to the people who sold it, who raised and nurtured it, to the elements like the sun and the rain that helped it to grow, and to the food itself for existing just so that your hunger could be satisfied.
It’s hard to find time to prepare meals with my kids during the busy work week. So it’s a treasure to be able to have them participate in the food-making process. Each spring, my daughters help plant seeds in the garden, sometimes even choosing the vegetables we plant. Later in the summer, they help pick tomatos, beans, cucumbers and whatever else manages to survive (I never said my gardening was perfect! I’ve lost plenty of plants, too).
And whenever time permits on the weekend, we try to encourage them to help prepare dinner. Pizza is always a favorite. I used to work in a local pizzeria when I was in high school, and I love being able to make it at home. Usually I use whole grain wheat flour, homemade pizza/spaghetti sauce with fresh vegetables like eggplant and carrots, and top it off with slices of tomato and olives (the olives are not homegrown…still working on that one).
It goes without saying that kids who refuse to eat green peppers otherwise suddenly chow down when it’s part of a pizza face.
Bon appetit! Daddy does actually know how to cook…some things….