Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a farmer. I don’t know where it comes from, this yearning to get my food from the land. Certainly it wasn’t my parents. Just a generation away from struggle they did everything they could to convince me that the “hard work” was more than I bargained for. I grew up thinking that my dream of living my adult life in Iowa in a big white farmhouse with sheep and pigs and fields of wheat and corn and fresh green veggies would simply leave me overwhelmed, overworked, poor and miserable.
And from a political and economic standpoint, they may have been right. Growing food however called to me even as I grew. Some 15 years ago when my ex-husband and I first moved in together, our apartment had a front yard which faced south and was bathed in sunlight. Together with our upstairs neighbors we planted herbs, flowers, and a few tomatoes and chilis. We grew lettuce in a bed in the backyard. We only lived there one year. and that was a year of lots of learning through failure. We didn’t haul in a big harvest but we did play in the dirt and the potential was intoxicating.
But then, we moved into the house where my son and I currently live. I love my house for many reasons but we almost didn’t buy it because of the lack of sunlight. it is surrounded by ancient, wide oak trees. The lawn has all but disappeared and in its place grows a thick carpet of green moss. Mushrooms and hostas and ferns thrive here. Veggies do not.
So I joined a CSA, found a farmers’ market, paid more for the organic label at the grocery story and gave up my dream of growing my own food. Well, rather, I tucked it neatly out of site.
Two summers ago I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and my dream lifted her head and started poking me. It seems so right to grow what we need in our own backyard. Many of my friends, much of my community have followed in the footsteps of Kingsolver and they are growing their own food. I have sat at many a table with the most delicious beets, the sweetest carrots, with salads picked right before dinner. I have shared in their bounty, bringing home extra cucumbers, tomatillos and peppers. I have made sauce from the tomatoes they could never possibly use. I have been a grateful consumer. But their generosity has only fueled my sense that something was out of place with a garden out of sight.
That is why, this year, I am finding a way. Magic has arrived in the form of neighbors offering unused but sun drenched space in the alley behind their homes. I am building beds where beaten down weeds and ivy and trash cans once stood. I am borrowing a corner in my friend Edamarie’s yard and setting up an elevated bed. And I am experimenting with growing my own food, if not in my own backyard, then in the forgotten corners of our community.
It started this winter, when January winds were still blowing, when I gathered with a gang of more experienced gardeners. I was a total beginner, out of my league but somehow in the sisterhood of these wise women I felt as though I could fine my way. It was worth a try.
This Friday, my seeds arrived. I spread them out on my table and basked in all the promise that they offer. Promise of healthy food. Promise of heartbreaking loss due to bugs, or birds or drought. Promise that I will learn to accept what is, whether its a bumper crop of tomatoes or lost crop of peas. Promise of hours in the dirt, digging, hoping to coax something from the land. Promise that no matter what I bring home I will learn something, not only about the art of gardening but also about myself. Promise of adventure. Promise that, seed by tiny seed, I will manifest my dreams.
Meg Casey is an activist, mother and blogger who has decided, with the loving support of Edamarie, to give urban farming a try. She will be guest-blogging over here this growing season, sharing her experiences with other brand new gardeners. You can visit her over at her home here.