• One Minnesota Writer

EAT, WRITE, DIGEST: This Summer’s Garden Plot

I’ve been thinking about food again. This is a frequent thing I do, think about what to cook, what to grow, what to try. What sorts of foods will bring solace on a busy day? What will welcome friends to my home? There are foods that I can eat only when my children are not here for dinner (that means legumes, especially peanuts) and foods I can only cook when Mick is away (that means non-shell fish). No red meat for my daughter-in-law. No dairy for my daughter’s boyfriend.

And there are those other considerations that I’ve really been contemplating of late: local food versus stuff from far away, vegetables and fruits that don’t grow here at this time of year, hormones and high-fructose corn syrup and pesticides and big agriculture. I started reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver this week, which was actually published a few years back but I didn’t get around to it till now. I also bought a copy of the Edible Balcony: Growing Fresh Produce in Small Spaces by Alex Mitchell and began my balcony (well, deck, actually – pretty much the same thing) garden with lettuce, two kinds of peppers, strawberries and one purple basil plant. The lettuce is already feeding us. The basil is struggling, not sure why, but I’m blaming the squirrel that dug it up when it was just getting going. I put it back, but it wasn’t happy. No matter…I have another basil plant in my raised garden and that one is thriving.

The reading is pushing me to think harder about where the foods I’m used to having around really come from. Today, for example, friends are coming over for dinner. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen, which inspires things like blog articles and short stories, and I kept wondering, okay, where did these lemons I’m using come from? How long were these cucumbers on the truck before they landed in the Cub Foods produce section? How far away did the chickens live whose breasts are now in my crockpot atop a mixture of onions, garlic, ginger, tomato paste, chicken broth, and vegetable oil? And what is it that stops me from making my own chicken broth once in a while? Oh, and eggs, I really should get those at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market. 

It’s easy to think about these kinds of things when summer is at its start and we haven’t tired of working in the garden just yet. Here in the Twin Cities, we are lucky to have a lot of access to farmers markets and CSA memberships, lucky to have a growing season that allows us to uphold a Minnesota tradition for home-grown tomatoes among other things. Many municipalities allow the keeping of chickens and bees. There is strong support for organic food. All of these things are important not just for our diets, but for the health of the larger community, and that’s something I know I don’t think about often enough.

But there’s been a shift in how Mick and I are taking care of ourselves that perhaps I can connect to the ripple effect of individual choices within our community. We’ve recently changed our habits around exercise and diet simply because we needed to. We needed to be healthier so our bodies would last longer. Our energy was lagging. So, that meant a gym membership and a pact to quit making stupid food choices (goodbye French fries and sour gummy worms and chips with dip) so that we would feel better. 

And we do indeed feel better after only a month. We have the whole summer to solidify some healthier habits and learn to cook with a little more attention to what’s actually in season versus what’s on sale at Cub Food or Byerly’s or wherever. 

This is one growing season where growth will occur well beyond the borders of the garden. Just not on my belly, thank you very much.

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