I grew up in New York City. I think I knew one family who had a garden, and they lived in a then-rural part of northern Yonkers. Even those others of my parents’ friends who’d moved out to the suburbs got their veggies in the supermarket: flavorless tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, green (almost never red) bell peppers–all from California and none of it very interesting. Once a year, we’d go up to a cottage on a lake, and ejoy local corn and tomatoes from local farms–what a difference!
I went to college in rural Ohio, where gardening was popular and I began to discover what vegetables were supposed to taste like even if you weren’t right next to a farm. I also started reading Mother Earth News and thinking about living in the country. And already, back then, I began to think about the bizarre implications of a food system based on dousing stuff with nasty chemicals and shipping it three thousand miles to sit on supermarket shelves.
In the late 1970s, I had a friend who was growing tomatoes on the windowsill of her basement apartment in urban Providence–and that got me thinking: hmmm, you can have a garden without even having land! Since that time, I’ve been advocating that urban communities begin thinking about food self-sufficiency: that they convert rooftops, vacant lots, and windowsills to food production.
Dina and I moved from New York City to Philadelphia in 1980, and then a year later, we moved to Western Massachusetts. Living first in Greenfield that summer, we quickly discovered that organic gardens were the number one topic of conversation in our circle of back-to-the-lander friends. The following year, living in Northampton, we began a garden of our own.
Ten years ago, we bought an antique colonial farmhouse on a working dairy farm established in 1806. And about five years ago, one of our neighbors offered us a plot in the rich farmland directly alongside the Connecticut River, an easy ten-minute walk from our house.
Since then, we’ve been astounded by Nature’s abundance. With no fertilizer other than cow manure, our garden produces bounteously. Last year, Dina put in eight tomato plants; we estimate somewhere well in excess of 2000 tomatoes during the harvest. We gave away bags, we dried many jars (years ago, I invested in an inexpensive dehydrator, which gets a lot of use this time of year), we cooked up batches of tomato sauce for the fall.
This year, the neighbors whose farm we live on opened a retail farmstand. And now we have a market for our surplus. In the past few days, I’ve sold them half a dozen giant butternut squash (from the single hill Dina put in that produced about 20) and eight pounds of tomatoes. Yeah, I’ve made a whole nine bucks so far–but it feels really good to be part of a socially and environmentally responsible economy that relates to locally produced organic agriculture.
I’m just amazed that a kid from the Bronx could be selling vegetables to a family that’s been farming for 202 years. And we’re delighted to do our part to help make the store a success (I even donated a few hours of marketing consultation).
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