So, we’re trying to economize. Before I quit my job, we looked at our finances and figured that most of my salary would be going to Charlotte’s daycare bills anyway, so was it worth it? More importantly, I didn’t love my job, and I loved hanging out with my kid right from the start. So we took the plunge. Fast forward 7 months and all my organic produce and compulsive book-buying is showing up on our bank accounts. So, for now the books will come from the library, and I’ve sworn to grow my own kale.
I’ve always loved the idea of growing my own food. My mother has cultivated an impressive expanse of garden over the years, surrounding my childhood home, but we never really had the sunny conditions necessary to grow vegetables. I was raised on hearty and healthy foodstuff, but there were a lot of frozen peas, steamed broccoli and baked potatoes in my childhood. I didn’t know what a leek was until I met my husband. To be fair, this is generational: mother now serves fennel, jicama, and kale like they’re going out of style. Go, Mom!
G. had a different experience. He grew up on a dairy farm in the north of France, and rarely bought food at the grocery store. Although his parents’ generation is now retired, his father still keeps an impressive garden that easily feeds the extended family, as well as many of the neighbors. In return for bumper crops of lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, and the like, he gets fresh meat, milk, eggs, and fruit from friends, family, and neighboring farms. A chest freezer keeps much of the meat (except game that goes into jars as pates), and the veggies and fruit from summer harvests are cooked and canned and stored for the winter.
Full disclosure: I really prefer fresh or frozen fruit and veg. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate the locavore lifestyle followed by my in-laws: they are saintly beyond all measure, by our suburban American standards. However, given the chance, I’ll take my organic “French” beans from Whole Foods over the brownish-colored, limp things that have been in a Mason jar in your basement for 6 months, thank you very much.
Despite being a spoiled little American in this regard, I still want to grow my own food, at least as much as is realistic during our truncated New England growing season. If I can figure out a preservation technique that makes me still want to eat it come winter, well, so much the better, but thus far I’m a fair-weather locavore.
After we moved to our own little house, we dug up part of the backyard and installed some raised beds, following the advice of Ed Smith of The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible fame. For the past three years we’ve grown a whole lot of herbs, lettuce, kale, chard, spinach, arugula, potatoes, peas, beans, carrots, beets, leeks, cucumbers, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes. We’ve had less luck with regular tomatoes, peppers, chilis, eggplant, winter squash, and gords, but I’m still hopeful. I get our seeds from local sources or (if I’m feeling fancy) from www.seedsavers.org.
As I don’t have as much time this year to dedicate to the garden (taking care of Charlie eats up more hours than you would imagine), I’m concentrating on the essentials: basically anything I’ve had good luck with in the past, and that we need to be organic (the Environmental Working Group publishes a yearly “Shopper’s guide to pesticides in produce”). I’ll continue to supplement our diet with farmers’ market fair and the occasional trip to the store, but I’m making an effort not to spend any more $$ on Whole Foods kale until next winter, cabbage moths allowing.
Here’s an interesting article from Forbes about the gardening-money-saving connection.