Declaration of Food Independence

When I think of Independence Day, my mind goes right outside to my kitchen garden. It’s my Declaration of Independence from under-ripe produce, from vegetables and fruits that have traveled an average of 1,500 miles from some distant industrial farm to my table, from the pesticides that kill butterflies and bees and soil microbes alike, from tomatoes that have no flavor, watery strawberries, peas that taste like food starch and frozen corn that could be made of wax.
So when we got home earlier this week after helping my folks move, the first thing I did after schlepping inside my share of the travel detritus was head out the kitchen door to the garden. It’s been dry and hot, and despite tender care from our garden-watering friend, the plants needed a drink. I grabbed the watering wand, hauled the hose over to the first bed, and began to water. (That’s me above, in the kitchen garden wearing my silly gardening sun-hat. The wall in the background is our local Safeway store, whose well-traveled produce we don’t often buy. The red sandstone blocks in the foreground are part of my sculptor-husband’s materials. I think they’re going to become garden benches and a sculptural mailbox base someday.)

I always start with the strawberries, and as I sprayed water over their up-turned leaves with one hand, I explored for sweet red berries with the other. I popped a juicy berry in my mouth and the explosion of flavor sent a wave of relief through me. Home, I thought to myself. I’m home again. After giving the strawberries a drink, I hauled the hose back to our bedroom courtyard and watered the Super Bush tomato in its pot by our bedroom door–it has six fruits already–along with its companion basil and oxalis, and the Little Prince eggplant with cosmos, petunias, verbena, and Gulf Winds alyssum for company.

Then it was on to stretch over the corrugated tin fence surrounding the courtyard to water the pumpkin bed down the slope, and admire the sacred datura sprouts, which are not quite as big as the Spookie pumpkin sprouts.

Back to the main garden, where I worked my way from the fennel to the broccoli, inter-planted with beets, and shaded by a trellis bursting with sugar snap pea vines. I started picking only the fattest pea pods, and soon had more than I could hold with one hand. I put down the watering wand and kept picking and before too long had too many pods for two hands. So I went inside for a bowl, and Richard came back out with me to help pick. I left him picking peas and moved on to the asparagus, whose feathery summer stalks are taller than I am, and then the summer squash bed, where the remains of the spring planting of spinach and Paris Market blend salad greens are beginning to bolt, but the red and green lettuce mix is still going strong. I picked a leaf or two, sampling, as I moved on.

The cilantro has finally bolted, but the delicate white flowers atop the stalks of lacy leaves were attracting such an attentive crowd of tiny native bees that I decided to leave them to their pollen harvest undisturbed. I hauled the hose over to the tomato bed, noting green tomatoes coming on five of the six varieties (only the Persimmon hasn’t set fruit yet, but its big orange globes always come late, and prolifically).

Then the summer greens bed, where the Monet’s Garden mix is a beautiful composition in burgundy and green with ruffled, lacy, and oakleaf-shaped leaves, the chervil is setting seeds, the magenta and gold stalks of the chard are bright as neon lights, and the cucumbers are sprouting. I nibbled on a licorice flavored chervil seedhead as I opened the gate that keeps the local herd of mule deer out of the main kitchen garden, hauled the hose across the “lawn” of blue grama bunchgrass and wildflowers to give the St. Theresa grapes a drink, and the tricolor beans mix, the vines tinted purple, yellow, and spring green, and the melons and winter squash beyond.

By the time I gave the peonies a drink and watered the herb bed too, my mind no longer thrummed from the miles we’d driven over the past two weeks. I picked a bag of lettuce, and headed back inside to make a salad for dinner. I was home, in my garden. That’s my idea of independence: Growing at least some of what we eat, and nourishing our cells from the soil where we live and love.

Thanks to Renee Shepherd of Renee’s Garden Seeds for the gift of her expert eye and horicultural talents in growing and selling some of the most delicious–and beautiful kitchen garden offerings that I know.