How our gardens grow

Author: Mark Roland
Posted: Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Acouple of growing seasons ago, I put off my obligation to my Community Supported Agriculture co-op until late in the season, which turned out to be a good move. While my partner did her required hours in the field weeding under a blazing midsummer sun, I rolled up on my bicycle one blue-sky morning in late September to harvest leeks and potatoes.

Pulling up the leeks and removing the outer leaves and hacking off the roots with a machete was fun, and so was rooting around in the warm soil for potatoes left behind after the tractor, with potato digger in tow, made the first pass.

Despite my Irish lineage, the closest I had ever been to a potato plant was when I'd occasionally leave a store-bought potato in a cupboard too long and it sprouted shoots from the eyes. I had no idea how they were harvested. I didn’t know that the soil was often banked up the sides of the plants to protect the potatoes as they matured.

I grew up on Long Island, which once had many potato fields, including the land the archetypical suburb of Levittown now occupies. I never visited a field, but I did grow lettuce in the backyard one year, proudly picking the leaves for dinner salad. I was mildly surprised the lettuce did not sprout up like the tightly formed heads of Iceberg from the supermarket.

I tended my crop on the plot where my dad did battle with the rhubarb planted by the original owners of our house. After several years, he finally managed to extract the deep roots. If only we had known how delicious strawberry rhubarb pie can be.

The strawberries could have come from the patch that grew wild in a field with high grass and old apple trees that was behind the newer houses at the end of the block. I would begin checking the field in early May for the white flowers.

For a while my dad supplemented his teaching salary by clamming Long Island Sound in an old wooden boat that he owned with several other teachers. I don't know that they ever really made any money, but that venture ended when the boat disappeared during a storm.

Although I was not a huge fan of clams, I liked to pan-fry the occasional flounder I caught from the dock at the end of Main Street in Northport village. Around the time we moved away in the late 70s, the town began to celebrate Cow Harbor Day in earnest, in honor of its old name, Great Cow Harbor. In the 1800s farmers from the region would bring cows to be shipped to slaughterhouses in New York City.

Every now and then as a special treat we would pile into the family station wagon and travel a few towns over to visit a hamburger stand sheathed in aluminum and plate glass and decorated with big golden arches. In a few years, our town had its very own McDonalds, within walking distance of the junior high school. It soon became a major teen hangout.

At college up in Buffalo my food experiences were buckets of chicken wings and Mighty Tacos. If making a meal at home, it was often my speciality, Campbell's Cream of Mushroom mixed with some rice and hot dogs. I spent the next 20 years in New York City, where I didn’t get any closer to my food sources.

Only after moving to the Hudson Valley 8 years ago did I begin to explore this fairly important part of life. Now I compost, and I try to know where my meat is coming from 50 percent of the time. Once a week, on Tuesdays, I have friends and neighbors over for a communally prepared dinner that is heavy on the local goods. I've seen the movie Food Inc., which illuminates some of the problems with and consequences of our current industrial food production.

This month, Anne Dailey takes us a step back in the food chain with Ken Greene of Hudson Valley Seed Library. And in “My View,” Lisa Jessup of Common Ground Farm writes about the true cost of food. Whether or not you decide to make a commitment to finding out more about your food sources, you would be nuts not to take advantage of our local bounty this growing season. Enjoy.

Categories: Going Green,Home and Garden,Profiles

Tags: (CSA) Community Supported Agriculture,Hudson Valley Gardening,Food

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