25 April 2010

Dirty fingernails

There's been alot of recent hype around Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. The cheeky, charming Brit's vision is simple: overturn the existing school-lunch system in America -- extricating any and all processed foods and replacing them with real, whole food ingredients. The simultaneous goal is to re-teach our nation how to eat and cook real food, rather than processed junk that can lead to a host of health problems.

Oliver selected Huntington, West Virginia -- which sat atop a CDC report as the unhealthiest city in America -- as his starting point for the revolution. A trailer for the accompanying TV series showed schoolchildren so accustomed to eating processed foods that they couldn't identify common vegetables like tomatoes and cauliflower. It nearly brought me to tears -- and incited me to action.

As part of my own personal food revolution, this year I made a vow to go as local as possible: My own backyard.

Nearly 7 summers ago we moved in to this quaint north Seattle home. For the first few years, I tilled and toiled the earth, planting tomatoes and basil and a smattering of wildflowers. The effort made me feel like this was truly our home. It was our dirt and our water that grew our veggies.

Then everything fell to pot, and I don't mean just the patio tomatoes infected with blight. The veggie patch behind the house -- once my gardening canvas -- grew over. First with weeds, then grass; soon it was a thick mat, so overrun I didn't even know where to start.

The shame haunted me.

My people are earthy, growing people. My mom's side of the family owned and operated a farm in Iowa for decades (it actually earned the Century Farm stamp before they sold it a couple years back). On my dad's side, my grandmother had her own victory garden for as long as I could remember; I fondly recall playing in the dirt, pulling onions still warm from the sun to slice for a salad.

As a kid, we had our own garden on a terraced portion of our home. We grew rhubarb, berries, lettuce, chard, carrots, peas, beans on poles taller than my father, and tomatoes naturally sweeter than the sugar-laced treats at the convenience store.

I often was tasked with collecting these treasures for our own meals. I'd run to the garden to snip fresh chives for our baked potatoes as steaks grilled on the BBQ, or scamper to collect a basket of fresh strawberries or raspberries for cereal, or -- my favorite mission -- asked to harvest a couple handfuls of fresh peas to shell for dinner (for every pea pod I brought in for the meal, there was at least one I'd popped and shelled directly into my mouth.)

So to not be caring for my own garden -- to have no answer when my friends and family asked what I had planted that year -- ate away at me. I felt barren, infertile. I had nothing to nurture.

It stung, like a slap in the face, to buy fresh tomatoes at the co-op during the prime of summer.

So this year, I'm turning over my old leaf.

True, I haven't done all the prep myself. We found and hired a sweet Georgia peach, Nedra at Birdsong Dwellings, who's helped reclaim the land and set up raised beds in our backyard.

And tonight, I've just come in from an afternoon of planting our beds. If I've accounted for everything, we'll be growing carrots, radishes, romaine, kale, 2 varieties of tomatoes, garlic, snap peas, basil, mint, Italian parsley, zucchini, and strawberries. I've tucked and nudged several flowers -- some edible, including viola and nasturtium -- among the crops.

The knees on my well-worn yard jeans are once again stained and damp from kneeling in the moist soil. Flecks of dirt dot my shirt. My fingernails need a good scrubbing. My soul -- and, in a few months' time, our bellies -- is bursting.

What's your Food Revolution? Learn more about Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. I'd also encourage you to sign his petition.

If you need help getting started with a garden project, I’d encourage you to find a landscaper or garden artist such as
Birdsong Dwellings to offer ideas, reign in your vision, and/or execute a plan. I love the creativity that comes out of Nedra’s mind! Or try a full-service operation such as Urban Farm Co. – who construct, plant, maintain, and even harvest your crops throughout the season.


  1. Awesome post! I loved Jamie's show and your description of garden memories is so touching. Thanks for sharing...and I want some of those tomatoes when they're ready! ;)

  2. Great post! I just ate my first garden salad of the season today. Happy gardening!

  3. Folks might also be interested in finding a yard sharing partner... We match folks up! It's a lot easier to grow with a friend!

  4. thank you so much, andrea and lara, for your awesome suggestions on how i could refine this pre-posting. :)

    and liz - good idea. thanks for sharing!

  5. Oh my, what a garden you have! My litte veggie beddie blushes with shame...

  6. @ Nurit, what's funny is that my garden *is* very little. I think we ended up with 3 4x4' beds. Just a lot crammed in there!

    Things are starting to sprout. We had lettuce & baby radishes, fresh, earlier in the week. Loving it!

  7. AMY,
    This post warmed me heart. wish you well with your gardening and growing some homely produce.

  8. @Mango, thank you! As of today, I have a bumper crop of radishes... Lesson learned: Shouldn't plant the entire packet of seeds at once. On the plus side, I was able to feed homegrown salad (heavy on the radishes) to a group of 10 last night!