Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
The first morning of hard frost is a sure sign of the change in season. From one day to the next it's like walking out to a whole different garden; the dead bean vines, the morning glory that hangs like a black ghost on the fence and the red kale that's turned purple.
Fall is here now, with no looking back, and we're in the midst of the big harvest push. For a few remarkable weeks, all four seasons are represented daily on our dinner plates: summer tomatoes that still are ripening on our window sill, radishes as in the spring, winter Brussel's sprouts sweetened off by that shimmering frost and fall in the shape of pumpkins, cabbage.
While it's true that I like gardening, more than that I like eating. I like to work hard and get hungry and think about what to snack on, I like to wake up and dream up a breakfast before leaving bed, I love talking about food; what someone ate last night, what Dennis had for lunch if I wasn't around, what others plan for dinner. The few days I go to work somewhere else I spend an ocean of time making a lunch box, an afternoon snack and deciding what kind of apple I'd like to bring. I plan meals days in advance and I rarely cook a dinner with less than three dishes, even on an ordinary Tuesday. I appreciate abundance; such an indulgence in fresh, homegrown produce that if eating healthy food could be sinful my saving grace is all the hard work I had to perform to get it to my plate.
One thing that gardening has done to me, as to so many others probably, is that I've started to pay attention to where the food on my plate comes from, and usually the answer is “ from our garden." Consequently, I now tend to avoid food where the answer isn't as straight forward or where the list of ingredients more resembles a chemistry-quiz than a food item. Sitting down for a meal I like to imagine the plot the vegetables came from, the field of wheat or rice or the chicken pen. It's a way to acknowledge that food doesn't come from “the store” or “the factory” but from the land, whether it's our land or land somewhere else.
I couldn't do this if my mental image supply didn't include a picture of a tomato plant, a cucumber vine, a cabbage head. Before I grew a garden on my own, I never questioned where food came from, and even if I did, what would the answer has been? I'd never seen a tomato plant, a cucumber vine or a cabbage head in the ground. I remember the first time I saw a broccoli plant, well into my 20's. I remember it so clearly I didn't even shrug when someone mistook our 9-ft sunflower (!) for a broccoli plant this summer. It could have been me a few years ago.
One measure of appreciation is to let it take as long to eat the meal as it did to cook it. Another way to appreciate home grown food is to contemplate the hands on labor and sometimes sheer luck it took to make it happen; at end of the day it has come quite a way to end up there. The tomatoes were raised on our kitchen table, every day we carried the 15 or so trays out in the sunshine and back in at night. They were left outside one cold April evening; I left a dinner party early to save them. They magically survived a notoriously cold and wet June, the horn worms, the fruit flies. I think of this often as I cut one up, all the luck and labor that brought this tomato to my kitchen. Last year the beetles took all our cucumbers, this year we got all we could handle and I gave my thanks for each and every one of them.
And other thing gardening has done to me is a genuine appreciation for fresh, healthy food. Or maybe it was the appreciation for fresh healthy food I already had that gave me a genuine appeal for growing it myself. No matter how it started, it came to this: that I can sit down with my plate and all what's on it comes from no further than 50 yards; my own gardens.
Anneli Carter – Sundqvist lives with her husband Dennis year round on a highly self sufficient, off the grid homestead. In the summer, they run the Deer Isle Hostel, providing budget accommodation, positive-impact living education and a unique experience for 100's of travelers each year. They grow and keep a whole year’s supply of food without freezer or refrigerator, they provide their own building material, garden amendments, medicine and fuel using island resources and great creativity. They recently were awarded The Homesteader of the Year 2013 by Mother Earth News, and the Best Budget accommodation in the Down East Magazine.