In a very personal essay at The American Conservative, Gracy Olmstead explains the connection Americans once universally felt with the rhythm and cycle of harvesting seasons. The effort exerted by communities, followed by the shared celebration of the rewards of hard work are quintessentially American. Olmstead makes the case that every garden activity is geared to “greater rootedness.” She writes (abridged):
In the region of Idaho where I grew up, when a crop was ready for harvest, communities worked together to get the job done and then ate together in celebration. Historically, most crops were grown for local food consumption, and so whatever could be preserved—via smoking or drying, canning or fermenting—was saved away, while the rest was enjoyed for as long as it lasted.
During hay harvesting seasons, my great-grandmother would prepare fried chicken (she killed and plucked the birds herself before dawn), fresh vegetables from the garden, homemade biscuits and preserves, and dozens of freshly baked pies.
My dad, who often helped out on the farm, remembers those heavy-laden tables, the laughter and the prayers offered up around them, the bone weariness and soul satisfaction he felt at the end of haying days.
But as our society has grown food less and bought more from stores, we’ve lost many of these ties to place and its fruit—and thus many opportunities for feasting. But I think we’ve also lost some of the joy of food, the ability to treasure the flavors of the seasons, because we no longer understand these patterns of waiting and feasting.
This concern became especially real for me two summers ago, after my husband and I moved to the Virginia countryside. As we were unpacking our books and clothes, I transplanted our fledgling tomato plants into a garden plot the previous homeowners had left behind. Those plants seemed to shoot upward overnight, spreading with fervent glee.
Soon we were picking giant bowls full of tomatoes every day, and the toddler and dog would sit next to each other in the garden and eat them to their hearts’ content. We made salsa and marinara sauce, gazpacho and bruschetta, BLTs and tomato soup. And still there were tomatoes to spare. We canned them, froze them, and texted pictures of them to family members, begging for them to be taken off our hands.
After the first frost, our magnanimous tomato plants withered and died. Tomato season was officially over, and we didn’t want to buy them from the store after enjoying the fresh ones we had grown in our backyard. So, we ate the tomatoes we had canned, the salsa in our freezer, and waited, waited for the next summer, the next opportunity to gather the plenty.
The last couple of weeks, we’ve had lettuce up to our eyeballs in the garden. My three-year-old daughter and her cousin went out a few days ago and started picking lettuce leaves and eating them like rabbits (one of the many benefits of not spraying your garden: children discover vegetables they might not otherwise enjoy and eat them whenever they get the chance).
My family doesn’t farm in Idaho any longer, and thus we don’t participate in the rhythms of agricultural harvest as we once did.
But my husband and I still garden, in the hope of embracing and preserving many of the same rhythms: to deepen our connection to the earth and become better stewards of what we own.
Every garden activity—planting seeds and tending them, composting and mulching—is geared toward the hope of greater rootedness.
Read more here.
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