Maybe it’s because of the time of year, but I’ve been thinking a lot about when I was a kid and my mom would pack up the station wagon for a trip down to the farm. It was only a few hours away by car, but this place in southern Ohio where my grandmother grew up felt so far from our home in suburban Cleveland, visiting was always an event. These summertime trips away from our backyard, community pool and local park brought a new joy to the season. My sister and I would hunt for eggs in the henhouse, run wild in the fields and pet the cows who’d lower their big heads through the pasture fence as you passed. There were acres and acres, so many you’d get lost. And on this farm, there was a garden that seemed magical.
Every day the three of us would walk through the vegetal rows, flip flips sinking into the dark earth, a sense of excitement building at discovering what would be ripe. We’d pick green peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes, then take them into the kitchen where my great-aunt would make a salad with my great-grandmother’s homemade cheese. Later in the day, when it was time to make pies, we’d gather up apples from the ground, the ones so heavy with juice that they’d fallen from the trees—those were the ones that were sweetest. There was a simplicity and an easiness to the farm. Of course, those were the impressions of a child visitor. And admittedly, to this day, my memories of those times are fuzzy with an idyllic happiness the way these things so often are. As a kid, what did I know about difficulty, about managing livestock, protecting against Mother Nature and fending off nefarious coal companies? The truth is, farm life was hard. It came with pressures that my relatives faced every day. But as a city kid (in as much as the suburbs of Cleveland made you a city kid), the farm left me enchanted.
When my grandmother was a young woman, she moved north to Cleveland, carrying the traditions of the farm with her. She composted in the backyard, made her own dirt and kept a tidy garden with my grandfather. My mom carried on the composting tradition for our family. And now I compost in New York City, something I’ve written about before…and nagged about. What I’m getting at is those memories that are tightly woven into the fabric of our youth, they stick with you: composting, visits to the farm, all those summer mornings my sister and I tiptoed through our grandparents’ garden searching for ripened strawberries. Every bit of it has led me to this point: I want to grow my own food.
The dream, friends, is that we’ll have some acreage somewhere someday where I can farm the land, growing organic veggies and fruits for the husband and me. I’m not talking about driving tractors or having animals—that’s beyond me in every way. I just want a nice big garden. One that’s lush, that produces a seasonal bounty. I keep telling Patient Husband that the plan is to grow what we eat. I’ll plant! I’ll harvest! I’ll can the flavors of summer for those cold winter months when all I can get out of the ground are potatoes! (Are potatoes even harvested in the winter? Note to self: Research potato growth schedules.) Anyway, Patient Husband is kind about these ramblings, gentle with his chuckle as I spin out this dream of mine, this dream I have while surrounded by concrete.
But the concrete has played a role here, I think. It’s been two decades that I’ve resided in New York City. When you’ve lived a certain way for so long, a seed of an idea, a dream that’s long been dormant can remain quiet, deceptively still even. But sometimes, given the proper conditions, it sprouts and starts to assert itself. I think that’s what’s happening here, because I’ve gotten to the point that my inner-farmer is a bustin’ out.
Yes, we still are surrounded by concrete, but we’re lucky to have a little perch outside the city—and that perch has a little deck. And it’s here, amongst the sea breezes and ample sunlight, where my farm is taking root.
Recently, my mom came for a visit, and tucked into her luggage she had a surprise for me. Days earlier, while in the process of cleaning Grandma’s house, my mom came across a tiny container of beans with a note.
So we dampened the tough little nuggets in an attempt to coax out their sprouts. We weren’t sure how old the beans were, or even if there was an inkling of growth left inside.
We tucked them into a corner of the farm, and now I’m waiting to see what grows, feeling that same old excitement I used to as a kid. It’s poetic, really, these tenacious little root systems that are now nestled in my pots of soil, drinking up the seaside humidity, keeping the oregano and basil company. I don’t know where Gram got these beans from, but my mom bringing them to me and helping plant them, well, there’s a special loveliness about all of it that I’m unable to describe.
Generations of my family have led me to this point, have played a role in planting the very pots that constitute my teeny tiny farm. It’s because of loved ones, especially my mom and grandmother, that today I can say it: I am a farmer.