by Nick Heid
The times they are a-changin’. Bob Dylan wrote that song in a time of immense change for the United States. Post-war America looked very different from its antebellum counterpart. Prior to the Second Great War, people still lived off the land and frugality was the common policy of every household. As the nation began to flourish, the cultural dynamic and focus changed. The baby boomer generation became the first generation to truly outsource everything. People were no longer interested in growing vegetables and milking cows. Why would someone wake up at 4 A.M. to milk the cows when the grocery stores were stocked with $.49/gal milk and eggs for $.50/dozen?
However, the times are a-changin’ once again. The economy created by the baby boomers is beginning to be questioned by their children. Besides the obvious issues we face with regard to soaring debt, social security insecurity, and freedom being eroded at every turn, more basic questions are beginning to be asked. The questions generally focus around the process itself. “Does cheaper mean better?” “What does better even mean?” “How is value measured in food – by price or nutritional value?” Our store shelves are still stocked, but there is a growing distrust in bleached chicken breasts and red-dyed beef dripping with artificial hormones. The younger generation is starting to wonder at what price all of this convenience has been purchased.
This questioning and distrust can be seen in the rapid growth of what I would call a “back to the basics” movement. Many people, young and old alike, are trying to get back to a more natural, sustainable outlook on life – and food. People who used to be happy to be able to buy cheap chicken at the grocery store are now disgusted to find that a large percentage of our chicken now comes from China and all of it is bleached and waterlogged. People who used to enjoy cheap vegetables are increasingly terrified by what chemicals “big-agriculture” is spraying on them. Instead of outsourcing, people now want to do it themselves. The number of backyard (and front yard) gardens continues to grow. The amount of small poultry flocks and pasture raised livestock increase as people want to know exactly where their food comes from.
We would consider ourselves part of this movement. Our family garden expands in size by about 25% every year. We currently have over 50 species of plants and flowers growing in our garden and our five year goal is to get this up to 150. Why? Not only do we want to know where our food comes from, but home-grown food tastes so much better than industrial food. For instance, have you ever grown heirloom popcorn? Have you ever noticed that your typical store bought popcorn has weak texture and virtually no flavor? Go pop some and actually feel it with your mouth instead of downing whole handfuls of butter and salt (with a little popcorn mixed in). Heirloom popcorn has incredible texture and flavor. The first time my wife and I ate some that we grew we were blown away and instead of greedily eating our harvest, we saved almost all of it for seed for the following year. Oh, and our kids love it too. They love the whole process. They love planting it, weeding it, watering it, harvesting it, and especially – eating it.
This brings me to the main point of this article. There is nothing more rewarding about gardening than watching kids graze. We have structured our garden to be attractive to our children. One of the attractions of course is that a child friendly garden needs to be a seasonal buffet of delicious foods. Want your kids to enjoy gardening? Grow food that they like to eat. This means that the first thing in the ground every year should be some form of sweet peas. Peas, carrots, ground cherries, cherry tomatoes, green beans, strawberries, various fruit trees and berry bushes should be plentiful in the child friendly garden. In early summer, “snacktime” at our house means the kids are out in the garden scouring trellises for peas or picking strawberries. Stained fingers and mouths from wild black raspberries and mulberries are commonplace as well. I am, of course, glad about the nutrients they gather while eating this vitamin rich (and chemical free) bounty that grows on our land, but most importantly – in every stained face and pile of empty ground-cherry husks – I see a heritage that is being passed down from one generation to the next. A heritage of good food, good fun, and a good way of life.