It Takes a Knowledge Part II

When our children were little, a neighbor gave us a round, blue, hard plastic, watering trough for them to splash around in over the summer. The trough was about eight feet in diameter and maybe two and a half feet high and the only thing my husband didn’t like about it was that we would empty the water out of it to no avail. It held a considerable amount of water and since we didn’t use any additives, it needed emptying quite regularly. We would take the plug out of the valve on the side and the water would gush out onto the grass at the side of our house and then run down the driveway till it soaked in wherever it soaked in. Our water is free, coming as it does from the creek that crosses our land, but still; my husband felt that it should go to a nobler use than just watering the lawn and the driveway.

So the second summer we used this watering trough, he decided to set it up at the top of our garden instead of at the side of our house. That way, when it needed to be emptied, the run off could irrigate the plants growing there. But in order for this to be effective, little ditches needed to be dug between the raised beds, to direct the water coming out of the pool, so that all the vegetables got a taste of the wet stuff. My husband enlisted our five-year old son’s help with this project and I remember looking out the window and seeing them both bent over, assiduously making tidy grooves in the dirt with the points of their trowels. It seemed like they were out there for hours, never complaining, sometimes conferring on where the ditches should meet up and then, eventually, releasing the water and watching with pleasure as it ran in both directions the width of the garden and continued on down the rows, like marbles in a marble maze. And I remember we had the biggest squash that season, not only in the garden but growing over the fence so everyone walking by could see the magnificent orange and deep, dark green gourds that sprang from the swimming pool water.
Gardening
Gardening 2

What impressed me most, however, about this homemade irrigation project was our son’s willingness to work on it. And it impressed me because I was never that kid. I remember hating to garden, although I can’t really remember why. But whatever the reason, it led me to tell my husband, early on in our relationship, not to expect me to help in the garden. He didn’t, and I remained steadfast in my lack of inclination until….he fed me some of the things he’d grown. Fresh lettuce, spinach, kale, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, carrots, beans… it was heaven on a plate, and lured me into wanting to protect the early stages of the produce from strangulation by weeds. Thus I relented and found myself bent over rows, allowing my fingers to get fully immersed in leafy greens and dirt.

Apparently I had to make that connection between gardening and eating in order to be part of the process. I grew up in the city in England and only remember my parents gardening for the first few years of my life so maybe that connection got lost in the time spent without a garden. My children, on the other hand, grew up picking fresh vegetables out of the garden every summer and if the way they browsed on the tomatoes (even the unripe ones) was anything to go by, they made that connection early and strong.

Fortunately there are now ways to make sure that all children can make that connection, even if they don’t have a garden at home. Farm-to-table programs are sprouting up in schools all over the country, and then there are some beautiful books on gardening that both children and adults can enjoy. One of my favorites is The Children’s Garden; Growing Food in the City by Carole Lexa Schaefer, a story about a community garden in Seattle that was originally published in 1994. Now, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, The Children’s Garden is being reissued (Little Bigfoot) with beautiful new illustrations by Pierr Morgan. Those of you who enjoyed reading my blog post It Takes a Knowledge, will really love savoring every page of The Children’s Garden with your favorite young person (people). Here’s a taste; a short description of the book from Secret Garden Books in Seattle, where the book will launch on May 2nd at 7pm, and two of the special illustrations by Pierr Morgan.
RootToes-pierrmorgan-2017

Down the road from Woodlawn Avenue, on a street called Sunnyside, there’s a garden patch grown by children who live in the neighborhood. A sign on the garden’s gate says: Children’s Garden, WELCOME That means: Come in, please. Listen, see, smell, touch–even taste.
“In rich prose and lush illustrations, this charming picture book shows children as urban farmers, exploring the sights, smells, sensations, and tastes of growing their own food in a community garden. The story invites young readers to enjoy summer’s bounty and the hands-on experience of tending and harvesting it, while the colorful illustrations depict a multicultural community of children learning about and enjoying a sustainable, local food system.”
SeedPackets-pierrmorgan-2017

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It Takes a Knowledge

It’s early when I turn into the well-rutted driveway that should lead me to the hoop house where Anne grows her tomatoes, but the sun is already fully involved in all the lush greens around the property. I can’t see her old, red and black pick-up truck to tell me I’m in the right place, but I can see the trailer that my husband helped Lois, who owns this property, acquire from one of our neighbors. And Anne grows her tomatoes on Lois’s property so I’m pretty certain I’m in the right place. For all the traveling I’ve done over the years, I remain directionally challenged so I often second-guess myself on things that seem familiar.

The dirt driveway leads past a field on my left, sheltered by a row of short trees, and straight on towards Lois’s house and the trailer. As I get closer to the end I notice I can follow the ruts around to the left and when I do, the large hoop house appears. I bump along, energized by being in the right place, and come to a stop directly in front of the hoop house. Outside the entrance there is a knee-high stack of produce boxes, labeled Organic Tomatoes, Grown by Blue Heron Farm; the morning pick. Anne told me she and her crew would be here, but I don’t see anyone around as I climb out of my vehicle and step toward the boxes. The tomatoes inside them are orbs of perfection; smooth skinned, baseball-sized spheres of cherry red with that dip at the top making them somewhat heart-like. Love apples. Pommes d’amour.

Glorious orbs

Orbs of perfection

Love apple

Pomme d’amour

I wonder if I can take a box and pay Anne for it later but these might be for her CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) customers or for the Food Co-ops she supplies. So I step inside the hoop house, in search of a human being. What I find instead is an exquisite land of warm vines that intimates years of knowledge to me. Row upon tidy row of vines, both sides of a central walkway, painstakingly trained upright on orange twine between homegrown bamboo poles, so the tomatoes are exposed in heavy clusters to ripen naturally. I’m enchanted as I move down the center, my eyes widening at the number of tomatoes blushing to perfection. I tread gently, not wanting to disturb the tranquility of this long plastic dome, where the only noise comes from the fans whirring up by the peak, and I marvel at the experience that has gone into growing tomatoes to this degree of success. Especially in the sun deprived, rain rich, Upper Skagit Valley. We need the passion and bullheadedness of youth, I think to myself, because it encourages innovation and drives us forward; but we also need the perspective of our elders, who have tried and failed – then tried again. I’m sure Anne Schwartz has had her share of disappointments over the years as an organic farmer, but boy, she’s certainly proven that persistence pays off. She and her crew of women, who bring such uncomplicated, chemical-free – not the mention delicious – sustenance to our table.

Tomatoes ripening

Tomatoes ripening

Slicing tomatoes

In clusters

Row Upon Tidy Row

Row upon tidy row

I’m still lost in that gentle musky smell that comes from tomatoes on the vine when I step forward and get an incredible hit of tangy fresh peppers. I look down to see long, curly green fingers hiding in the leaves throughout the rest of the hoop house. The smell is so mouth-watering I want to stand there and browse, like a deer at an apple tree, but I know if I start, I might not stop. So instead I linger a moment, torturing my salivary glands, then head back out of the hoop house before my growling stomach interferes with the peaceful growing that’s going on here.

Green peppers

Long, curly, green peppers

I get back into my car and decide I’ll catch Anne later to buy tomatoes and maybe some of those yummy smelling peppers. I do a three-point turn in the dirt and head back down the driveway, this time glimpsing a gap in the windbreak of green growth alongside the field I passed. Again my eyes widen at the sight of onions, planted in such a way that suggests someone really knew what they were doing. Why can’t I get my onions to look like that, I think. I can’t resist pulling over to snap a photo, and I’m glad I do because I get treated not only to the orderly onions, but also to the sight of crew members picking green beans and kale under the backdrop of Sauk Mountain. It takes a knowledge, I think.

Teri picking beans

Teri picking beans

Rows of Onions

Rows of Onions

Onions

Such tidy planting

Anne Schwartz 2

Anne Schwartz

Under Sauk

Under the backdrop of Sauk Mountain

And in case you didn’t catch the links in the text, here they are again for more information about Anne Schwartz and Blue Heron Farm:
http://tilthproducers.org/author/BlueHeron/