We have talked a lot about the terrible growing season this year and about food security on this blog but until I spent a day pulling out my tomato plants and bagging then in black plastic until they are dry enough to burn,until I wept over the black and grey splotches on the leaves of my potato plants, until I spent an hour on the phone in search of 3 bushels of local, organic tomatoes only to be told that such a thing may not exist for any amount of money, I did not comprehend the true fragility of our food security.
The tomatoes were started from seed in my upstairs spare bedroom. They were lovingly cared for and, when strong enough, transferred to the greenhouse, a small model that was purchased with money that could have been spent many other ways. Then they were watched and fussed over until big enough to be transplanted to the garden, into soil that has been nurtured with the manure we got from neighbor’s cows and the remnant of many happy meals that had turned into compost over the course of months. The potatoes were heirloom varieties. I remember how excited we were when our good friend, Sheri, called to tell me she had them, how we anticipated eating them as she suggested, baked in olive oil and rosemary and sprinkled with coarse salt.
If you sauce comes form a jar with a picture of a fake Italian chef on the label, if your potatoes are limp, greasy strings you get at some drive-in window, it may be hard to understand the depth of my grief. Perhaps I am overreacting. It is, after all, only some produce. My kids won’t go hungry. I can afford to go to the market and write a check and bring home a year’s worth of sauce but it feels like more to me. Somehow I am channeling the fear and anguish an Irish farmer who saw her crops die before her eyes and knew that she was witnessing the death of her children, her culture, her homeland.
This is why I prepare. Even if I could not afford to lay down the money for sauce, having food in storage means that I can get through a bad harvest and not be destroyed by it. I see the cans of seed I have as insurance against a bleak day when that heirloom seed may be priceless to me.
My children humor me about all of this. I don’t think the real vulnerability of our agricultural system is real to them. They think of our gardening as a kind of intense hobby that pays off in some mighty good dinners. They can not imagine that I am doing this, not just for fun but because I don’t ever want to wonder how I will feed them or their children. Henry will turn 2 next week. I bought him a child sized wheel barrow and some garden tools. They are tiny but they are sturdy and made for real work. When he comes here I will take him to the garden and show him how to rake and hoe and pull a potato from the ground with more reverence than if he had just discovered a diamond. We will cook the potato and eat it and talk about what a miracle it is.
I must add something. In the midst of my misery yesterday, I took a break from the arm numbing work of pulling out all those plants and looked over my mail. I found a catalog from Richters Herbs and a gift certificate. It was a belated birthday gift from Heather and her family. There is no word for my gratitude, not just for the gift but for the promise of the gift. I spent the evening looking over the pictures and imagining next year’s herb garden. I could smell the oregano and taste the lemon balm. Thank you Heather. What magic was afoot that I should recieve that gift a week after my birthday on the very afternoon I needed it most?