Confession: I do not have a green thumb. I would like one but the truth is I'm lucky to keep a few house plants (barely) alive. I just don't have the instinct for it like I have the instinct for how to roast a chicken or bake a layer cake. Somehow, when I pick up a knife or a wooden spoon, I know what to do. Without hardly thinking, I understand that a particular recipe would taste better if the onions are browned a little instead of sweated. Or that fresh basil, finely chopped, would be an interesting garnish on a fresh peach tart.
Over the years I have come to accept my lack of gardening skills just as I've come to accept the fact that I'm tone deaf and can't seen to pick up a second language. Even better, I've come to appreciate these talents in my community of friends. In my mind, we're like a crazy quilt or maybe a masala, each one contributing what they can and creating something beyond any individual effort: a greater whole.
The Slow Food movement has suggested that we replace the word 'consumer' with 'co-producer' as a way to recognize and support a less passive relationship with our food and how it is produced. When we do this, a deep alliance is revealed and a more complex and ultimately rewarding relationship is formed. One in which our dependancy is acknowledged and growers and eaters take our places beside each other in the long, noble effort to put food on the table and carry on with the business of staying alive.
The lesson for me here is that we don't live in isolation or only with the things that we choose or are comfortable with. Life is much fiercer than any nest we try to build. We can fight against this, or we can roll up our sleeves and participate in it, and celebrate it and enjoy it.
So this post is in praise of gardeners and farmers on whose instinct and knowledge and tenacity my very life depends. Thank you for your steady, patient effort as you tend to growing the things that end up on my plate or fill my house with beauty and color and fragrance. Thank you for your backbreaking work, and your daily crapshoot with the weather, insects and a fickle marketplace.
This post is also dedicated in gratitude to my father who would have been 80 today: a passionate grower of peonies and tomatoes, and a dedicated bread baker, pickler and applesauce canner. Each day of my life reveals more of what you taught me.
(Images: Dana Velden)