In 2007, the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver, changed my life. Living in the food lover’s city of Portland, Oregon, I considered myself an amateur foodie, but this book made me realize that I knew absolutely nothing about the food I claimed to love. I was mortified to discover that I didn’t even know when asparagus was in season – like most Americans, I found that it was always “in season” at my local grocery store.
After finishing the book, I immediately began reading it again – this time aloud to my husband John as he cooked us dinner in the evenings. Within weeks we overhauled our shopping habits, splitting our purchases between the local food co-op and the farmers’ market. That fall, John bought me a starter kit for home cheesemaking for my birthday. I began to rethink my free time, too – why pay someone else to make bread and yogurt for us, when I could so easily do it myself? Finally, we began talking about moving back to Ohio to put down some roots in the area where we grew up, with a large backyard garden and maybe some chickens.
This June will make two years that we’ve been in our Ohio home. Our garden dreams came to fruition and last year that garden yielded armloads of tomatoes, arugula, spinach, garlic, kale, chard, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, beets, carrots, onions, and herbs. I put up jam, tomato sauce, pickles, applesauce, and jars upon jars of hot peppers.
On the other side of things, we still often purchase our bread and yogurt, and it’s been several months since I’ve made a batch of cheese. Chickens? We’re still thinking about them. But rather than look at these things as failures, I prefer to think of them as encouragement to others! Just because you don’t go whole hog doesn’t mean that you can’t be a part of the local food movement.
Too many people think that the local food movement is only for a select group of the population – diehards, hippies, yuppies, the wealthy…you name it. In fact, everyone can take part, especially in something as easy as backyard gardening. We are lucky to have ¾ of an acre to play with, but I knew people in the city who gardened in the small strip of dirt between the sidewalk and the street. If you don’t even have that, containers are an excellent option.
If this is your first foray into vegetable gardening, don’t overwhelm yourself – choose one or two things that you love to eat. Visit your local farmers’ market and ask the farmers for advice on what to start with. Call your county extension agent and ask what varieties will grow best in your area. But take the plunge – I guarantee that it is less work and greater reward than you could ever imagine.
This year our life is changing again, in a much bigger way. I’ll be 8 months pregnant with our first child during tomato harvesting time, and I know that there will be even less time for breadmaking and canning soon. But I also know that that’s okay. Even if I don’t put up a single quart of tomato sauce this summer, we’re still taking part, educating ourselves and the next generation, and participating in our community – and that’s a lot of what it’s all about.
If you’ve made a change toward the local, we’d love to hear about it. Post it in the comments below!