I started this garden season back in October under a cold frame by sowing spinach and arugula. Then in February I tripled the area under cultivation, again under cold frames. I planted lettuce, kale, beets, turnips and radish seeds. Those early plantings mean that right now at the beginning of June we have been eating our own food for three months. Back in March each of those home grown foods was precious and eaten ceremoniously. But not right now, now food is pouring out of the garden and the daily harvest swells our kitchen. Every day Katy and I eat great quantities of that food but even we can’t eat it all.
Little gives me more pleasure than giving vegetables to friends. Most of those friends have land and they could choose to dig up their grass and grow food. Most don’t devote themselves to growing food. I choose to dedicate significant amounts of energy to growing food and I indirectly benefit from my neighbors choice not to to do so as I need friends to want the excess harvest.
However some of my friends don’t have a choice about growing or not growing food. On Tuesday May 26th I gave a friend, Dakota, a big bag of arugula, spinach, mustard and lettuce and said proudly like a child, “Picked this morning!” She said, “Thank you Ted. You don’t know what this means to me.” Dakota then paused and shook her head and said, “I would love to be able to grow my own food. Do you know how lucky you are to be able to grow your own food? Nothing would make me happier. It reminds me of visiting my family, in Costa Rica, and being told to go out back and pick a mango. That is the life I wish I could live.” Later in the conversation she talked about the injustice of our American life. She said that despite how hard she has worked and with all she has accomplished (Dakota is an absolutely astounding teacher) she has still not been able to get a loan to buy her own house.
She is right. It is not right that she can not get a loan. And it is also not right I had not realized how lucky I am.
I have grown my own food and had my own garden or worked on a farm for almost fifty years and I don’t think I had once stoppped to consider how lucky I was to have the space and time and physical ability to grow of my own food. I just had thought it was a choice I had made to devote my energy and effort to growing my own.
Every now and then someone will say something to me that makes me perceive a wider world, that changes who I am. On that day and the days that followed what Dakota said made me more present, more aware and more determined to advocate for universal access to health.
As the Covid 19 weeks go on and on and decades and centuries of racial bias are demonstrated the undeniable unfairness of our social contract is more and more exposed. The original sin of our country, racism, is too clear to see even if you are trying to not see it. The statistics of who is dying of covid and in custody tell that story all too clearly.
The history of discrimination in America is not restricted to police, education, and capital. There have been systematic political decisions that have been made that have taken Black American Families off the land and out of home ownership. The world of Edna Lewis and a close and healthy community that grew and cooked its own food was once quite common, it is not now. The story of the treatement of Black Americans is not a story of steady progress from the bad old days to Barak Obama — this can be clearly seen in the land holding of African Americans. In 1920 when Edna Lewis was a child there were 949,889 black farmers in the United States in 2019 there were 45,508 black farmers in the US and those farmers on average earn 22% of what white farmers earn.
Clearly political action by young people is needed. Clearly political action by old people is needed. Clearly a more honest telling of our national story is needed. Clearly each person confronting unfairness on large and small scales is needed. Clearly civic action and voting are needed.
Writing about gardening, planting carrots and encouraging others to plant carrots is a small and at times seemly unimportant passion. That is true. However small acts that teachers make like Carrot Day Massachusetts for children can lead to healthy bodies, healthy minds and healthy land. Stewardship and the opening up of access to land are big things and an important step towards a more just and healthy country.
On that same Tuesday May 26 I gave a second bag of greens to another friend. Later she wrote me a text that said in part, “It had all the delicious greenness that anything grown by you does, as somehow, your warmth of spirit and loving heart become infused in your produce.” I thanked her for those kind and generous words and I also corrected her. It was not my personal qualities she tasted but the qualities of really good soil. The deliciousness Edna Lewis experienced in Freetown Virginia in the 1920’s came not just by fresh home grown food it came from healthy farming and gardening practices. Healthy soil produces food with more nutrition and as the chefs will tell you flavor is a signal of nutritious food. I wrote my friend back and said it was not me but good soil that produced that “delicious greenness.” In my text I did take credit for the garden soil. I stated that I had nurtured it with seaweed and minimal till agriculture for over twenty years.
Now think of the privilege that lives in the facts of the last two sentences of the previous paragraph. It is true that I worked hard on that soil for twenty years but I was given the opportunity to build the same soil for twenty years. That is good fortune and because of systematic racism my good fortune has come at the expense of others, I was wrong to think of the quality of the soil as a product merely of hard work.
Why I am so passionate about Carrot Day? Why is this the form of my continued connection to elementary schools and their families?
I write this blog this because it is fun and because I believe and have seen how the taste of a really good carrot can influence how people live their lives. I have gardened with school children for 24 years and in that time I have heard from many families that their children got them to put in a garden. I have also publicly advocated for turning front lawns into front vegetable gardens. Few have followed that lead but the children have led their families into growing their own food.
This spring I learned about several former K- 2 students who studied with me at Holly Hill Farm and graduated from college this spring with a focus on the environment. In fact one of them graduated from Bard College with a degree in Urban and Environmental Studies with a focus on Agriculture.
Who knows all of the land and agricultural policies he will be able to influence and maybe eating a really good carrot is one of the reasons he is off to change a world that needs changing. Here’s to making a more just and fair country and a healthy world one relationship and one carrot at a time.
I still have planty of carrot seeds and a mid to late June planting is perfect time to plant “frost kissed carrots.” Get them by filling out this form.
Be Well Ted