Thursday, February 2, 2012


My parents kept a garden every year when I was growing up in rural New Hampshire. It was at one time quite a large garden growing a great variety of vegetables. Radishes, cucumbers, beets, carrots, tomatoes, swiss chard, peas, green beans, lettuce, bell peppers, zucchini, summer squash, pumpkins, butternut squash and various other vegetables grew there from summer to summer. It was mine and my brother's job to help plant, weed and harvest its bounty every spring, summer and fall.
I remember planting the tomato plants especially well, as it was preceded by a trip to the farm to pick up buckets of cow manure. This was always a good time as it meant time to play in the hay barn, jumping in the sawdust pile, scaring the newborn calves, and figuring out that peeing on an electric fence isn't such a great idea after all. The manure was put into five gallon pails, then my dad would round my brother and I up and we'd head back to the house to plant.

I never minded planting so much as it was in the spring and the air was still fairly mild, the work was not so bad because you were working in freshly tilled soil that was easy to manipulate with your hands... no special tools needed. Plus there was the added benefit of having little clods of dirt to pick up and throw at my brother who was always happy to return fire before being scolded by mom or dad.
Just a few short weeks after planting it was my most dreaded time of the year in the garden...Black fly season. Most other places in the country have three or four seasons. In New England we have six if you include "Mud" season which comes just before spring, then spring, and finally, "Black Fly". This is an absolutely ridiculous little bastard of a fly, which seems to buzz around with no regard for reason or logic. It spends most of it's time flying just above your head in literal swarms, then dive bombs your eyes, ears and mouth as if in tuned with the others, one at a time, with commando like precision, into all three at once.

The bonus to the wondrous black fly is they bite...It doesn't hurt so much as it's just really annoying. After weeding a good sized garden, there is no need for dinner as you've probably eaten damned near half your body weight in black flies. Spring offers little reward as there is only weeding to do and no bounty to collect except for late spring when radishes start to come in....meh. I'm ok with radishes, but tomatoes were always my favorite and something to look forward to. But black fly season passes soon enough as does spring , and then into summer you go.
We grew a small amount of strawberries at home, but we would do our serious picking of these at nearby "Pick your own" farms and this was a treat. They were easy to pick and large enough so you could fill a flat in no time. It's a good thing they didn't weigh my brother and I before and after picking as we would have easily cost my mother a fortune in consumed strawberries. Then came the blueberries, or what my brother and I liked to call “tortures of the damned.” My mother would collect the galvanized pails, the canning pots and pack a lunch, met up with my aunt and off we'd go to Pitcher Mountain.... we were going to be there a while.

Aside from the swarms of horse flies (which DO hurt when they bite), the long assed walk up the trail, and talk of perhaps seeing a black bear (which scared the hell out of me) the real problem is this... blueberries are small....really.....friggin....small. I would eat my share of those as well, and did my best to pick them, but I didn't have the heart for it and I'm afraid, I contributed little to the massive amounts my mom, my aunt and my brother picked. I always enjoyed the lunch my mom packed, but I enjoyed going home even more. I was a collection of bumps from horse flies, and scrapes from the pucker brush I would wander off into, trying my best to avoid picking the tiny little fruit.

There's just something about Tomatoes just picked and eaten in the garden. I heard someone once say they tasted like sunshine, and I figure that expression to be just about right, except of course for the time I had a tomato and half a hornworm sandwich (I'll save that little gem for another time). By this time of year, the plants were of a size so that weeding became less and less, and eating became more and more. Most of the vegetables grown, that weren't eaten...were canned or frozen in such quantities that it was hardly necessary to buy them in the winter.

Fall arrived and after picking the pumpkins it was time to start pulling up the plants that had given their all. The last of the canning or freezing was done and it was time to start looking ahead to winter, where all that was collected in summer would put smiles on our faces throughout the holidays and beyond. Before you knew it, the freezer and canning shelves were getting low but the warming spring soil was on its way and you'd start the cycle all over again.

My parents didn't know they were locavores, and for that matter, neither did I. Of course with all the buzz about it now, I felt like touching on a few points and giving it a general thumbs up. It's a great way to live and eat if you have the gardening space, the time and the manpower. Unfortunately for most people, it's just not practical. I know there are farmers markets for those without space for a garden. I don't know about your farmers markets, but often the ones near me are selling their produce at hotel mini-bar prices. "Gee Whiz Pav...can you really put a price on lowering fossil fuel emissions, eating great tasting healthy food, helping to do your part for global warming and help your local economy?!"

In a word, YES. Locavorism, to a degree is a goal most people should try to achieve. If you know of a local food stand where you can get good tomatoes or a few vegetables, or even a lot of vegetables for cheap, why would you go anyplace else? The popular belief by practicing locavores is you should just eat food from within one hundred miles of your home. That's going to be great and easy if you're a millionaire chef living in Berkley, California. As for those of us living in a rented properties in Coastal New Hampshire, a steady diet of rutabaga and butternut squash will be just a bit more of a challenge.

As far as the cutting down on emissions is concerned. Unless you're growing, canning and freezing everything yourself... you're adding to fossil fuel emissions. That's right...adding! Which moves a ton of freight more effectively... your car, or a train/trailer truck? How many times do you drive your car back and forth to the grocery store to pick up a ton of food? A train can go 423 miles on a gallon with one ton of food. That's right, so when you fire up that lime colored Prius with the "don't bungle with the jungle" bumper sticker and drive a few miles to pick up groceries at the local co-op or farmers market, because you "like to do your part."  Just remember...your car is being powered by the tears of drowning polar bears.

It's awesome if you choose to participate/believe in this way of thinking, living or eating. But don't get all sanctimonious about it as if everyone else sucks because they don't. A) Because you're annoying with all the B.S. about how you only eat lettuce that was hand picked by virgins on a moonless night and grown with water collected from baby tears, and in a window box in your kitchen, because if they were grown in a window box in your bedroom that would be too far to be considered local. B) Because as I see it, It really isn't practical on anything but a personal or, (given ideal conditions) local basis.
Like I said, it’s great if you have the space, money, time, energy, manpower to live this lifestyle. I would love to, but I can't...or maybe it's because I won't. I have a life, one not devoted to finding out if the lamb I had for dinner was a virgo from New Hampshire, was it a male or female, if it had friends, and if so, what were the friends names?

So I go to a few local farm stands when produce is available. I can some tomato sauce together with my mother, (70+ quarts at last year’s sauce-a-palooza!) plus I can/freeze a few other vegetables. I also freeze some strawberries so I can have a taste of summer with some strawberry shortcake on Christmas day. What about blueberries you ask?.....well of course I have frozen and, canned blueberries, I couldn't live without them... luckily for me...Mom still happens to pick, can and freeze them.

Thanks Mom!


  1. Mike- you brought back a flood of childhood memories with this one bud. Great Read.

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