So many people have asked me, how did we get into “this” anyway? (Sometimes I don’t quite know how to take that question.)
My Dad mentioned just this on the phone this week, explaining that he had been trying to trace how his girl got from eating an entire box of Chicken in a Bisquit crackers in one sitting…..to farming.
I should start with my mother, the master gardener. I remember her working in the garden alone early in the morning, in her bathing suit top, before the five of us were even out of bed. She lovingly and skillfully tended a massive perennial flower garden at our house on Lake Ave. filled with daisies, “snow balls,” tulips, lilacs, and our favorite, black-eyed susans. It was the pride of the neighborhood, but I remained mostly oblivious.
My Junior year of college I took clinical nutrition with Dr. Nizielski, a course required and feared by all nursing students. On Monday mornings Dr. N opened our eyes to the horror of the American diet, changing forever how many of us eat, while destroying our GPAs and causing several major mental breakdowns in the process. Slowly, my diet began to change; new habits formed.
I endured this class and the entirety of nursing school with Stephanie Goss, a fellow nursing student with red curls as bouncy a her personality. She munched on green beans, Kashi granola bars, and Greek yogurt during class, talked of cactus tacos, and made me rhubarb jam in the summer from her garden. I walked into her study one spring evening to find tables full of seedlings sitting under a grow light waiting for the last spring frost. I was smitten.
The summer of 2008 Gwen and Dennis Jackson graciously opened their home to me for the summer. I was a poor college student in my third straight semester of nursing school whose family had moved states away. Dennis’ Thai chicken, peanut sauce and cucumber salad, and Gwen’s strawberry shortcake and raspberry pie were family favorites. I’ve never seen people appreciate food like the Jacksons. And the Michigan blueberries! We’d eat them by the fistful. Every Saturday morning was spent walking the Grand Haven boardwalk and frequenting the farmers market.
In Spring 2009 during the last week of nursing school Arlene Dekam, a fellow nursing student and loving mother of five gave me the book “Animal Vegetable Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. She reads it every year. “Keep it,” she said. She invited Chris and I into her home for bruschetta, homemade bread, and grilled veggies from the garden. It was one of those certain momentous meals that you take with you and never forget.
I read the book Arlene gave me cover to cover that summer while on the plane to LA and then while sitting on the shore of Catalina Island. From January to December it recounts a year of a family of four eating only food they grew or that was locally produced. Dreams of having my own kitchen sink spilling over with tomatoes to be canned, turkeys in time for Thanksgiving, and mozzarella cheese making came to life. Dreams I never knew I had.
In the fall of 2009, upon landing my first nursing job I moved to Durham, North Carolina to live near the man I loved. Chris was living in an intentional Christian community at this time while attending divinity school at Duke. One of his roommates, Joanna, a law student, was a container gardener in Phili and unabashedly shared her passion for food issues over the community dinner table. Many nights she’d be up late making pesto from farmer’s market basil in the kitchen for her paper bag lunch the next day.
Inspired, before I had even unpacked my boxes, I set up my first (pitiful) garden in Durham. Some cramped pots with broccoli that never produced, a window box of lettuce starts that never got bigger than my pinkie finger, and a few herbs that did surprisingly well in the shade. It was nothing really, but a beginning nonetheless.
In the spring before our wedding, a group of us met over club sandwiches and iced coffees to plan the beginnings of a community garden for our house church. It would be located in a poor, predominantly African American neighborhood on an abandoned lot growing only weeds. A larger portion of what we grew that summer and what it produced in the years since went to local food banks.
And then there’s Monika, my great inspiration. Every Sunday night potluck in Durham her dish was always the best. Quiches, guacamole, homemade yogurt, salsas, chile, cantalope ice cream, chocolate bundt cakes, and even a harvest of stinky garlic to share. She was a culinary mastermind and only cooked with fresh, local ingredients, no cost ever too great. (Whenever anyone moves to Durham she provides you with a list of all the best local restaurant for every occasion).
In October 2010 we moved to San Diego with only a Trader Joe’s basil plant in our possession. But we had a big fenced in yard, oh the possibilities! Some raised garden beds, our first CSA membership, and a handful of backyard hens named after action heroes later, and we were off…