As the snow melts and little dandelion starfish begin surfacing from the dark and to-date unkempt depths of our backyard vegetable garden, the hint of spring’s nascent emergence begins to awaken my itch to get my hands dirty.
As I look out the window, the austerity of that little plot of soil looks to me like a blank canvas. This year, I will not let the chipmunks eat my carrot sprouts. I will grow leeks from seed. I will tackle the challenge of brussel sprouts. And in the process, my kids will know the pleasure of reaching into the dirt and pulling out a potato. They will experience the wonder of tucking a dried up green pea into the black earth and watching it grow into a vine. They will taste the Colorado sun and the melted snow and the richness of soil, all in a just-emerged baby broccoli crown.
These are the promises I make to myself as I stare at my backyard, waiting to plant my garden.
The annual garden planting has become a kind of seasonal ritual for me, as I channel the spirit of my farmer ancestors, and think too of the future of my own children.
On Earth Day, Elle suggested we pick up trash, to show we care for the earth. I told her that was a lovely idea. But I thought too that this annual ritual, in which we painstakingly attempt to grow a little something green for our dinner table – often with mixed results come harvest time – is perhaps one of the most significant ways I can show I care for my family, as well as the earth.
I recently read an article explaining that, due to budget cuts caused by the recently enacted sequester, the FDA would conduct fewer food inspections. But even before the sequester, the article went on to say, the FDA was able to inspect less than 2 percent of all food imports. Traditionally, the FDA was an entity structured more for responding to food crises (outbreaks from foodborne illness) than assuring the food we put on our tables is safe in the first place. In response to this concerning conundrum, President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011; however, due to the sequester cuts and general legislative slugishness, the agency says it won’t be able to implement any of the changes outlined in this act anytime soon.
As I stare out my window, waiting for the earth to warm up just enough for me to sow those tiny black specks that, in the course of just a few weeks, will turn into lettuce and spinach and kale, I think about how far removed my generation truly is from its sources of nourishment. I think about my many attempts at growing food in this testy climate, ripe with ever-present challenges to growing (July snowstorms, April droughts); challenges that will only become more acute as global warming intensifies, bringing with it more extreme weather.
(In that same USA Today where I saw the FDA article, I also found a tiny little blurb stating that scientists expect the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to reach 400 parts per million in the next months, a number 50 ppms higher than what many scientists, climate experts and progressive national governments say is the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere.)
Imagining lime-green heads of cabbage and wispy radish tops and rust-red stalks of rhubarb painting the currently bleak canvas that is our family garden calms the churning in my mind brought on by the thought of contaminated food and global warming and all the other challenges my daughters will have to face with as they fight for a livable future.
Maybe, I think, if more of us tackled this teeny little challenge of growing a garden, maybe we could pass along a legacy of caring for and of nourishing our families along with our planet. And maybe the next generation will learn to care for and to nourish its offspring, once again.