I have a confession to make. It turns out I’m not exactly clueless when it comes to farming. Oh sure, maybe I still don’t know my front-loader from my walk-behind and exactly how much pasture is required per grass-finished cow, but I do know a thing or two about gardening.
My colleague Joe, the only one of us farm hands who actually knows how to drive a tractor and set up irrigation and all that other stuff because he’s actually been working on farms all his life, said that he thought organic farming was “just like gardening but on a really large scale.” He said this as we were sitting in the transplanter, racing to place the tiny sweet corn transplants in the rubber-coated grabbers on the wheel as they went round and round between us and the ground below. It was supposed to go, well, mechanically. He puts a plant in from his side, then I put one in from my side, and that way we fill all the grabbers and the corn gets neatly placed exactly 18 inches apart in straight rows behind us.
Only I kept missing, and watched empty grabbers sink nothing into the ground and felt more incompetent than ever. So when, in his own way, ever-patient Joe reminded me that all we were doing was gardening, even though I was riding a tractor-pulled mechanical device, I felt a little better.
Gardening, after all, was in my blood. I spent many a summer on the outskirts of Atlanta watching my Grandpa and my Uncle tend to their respective gardens. Both of them grew prize-winning Dahlias, and my uncle came up with a number of his own varieties. (Pretty much any Dahlia that begins with a Bo-something is my uncle’s.) I was sent out to pick blueberries, tomatoes, green beans, summer squash and figs. Or to pick bugs and caterpillars off same, or shoo the birds and squirrels away.
My father’s family lived through the depression–the real one in the 1930s–and anyone with any sense and a handful of dirt grew their own food. It didn’t seem quite as intimidating and was certainly not a “novel” idea to them because even city-dwelling Americans were less than one generation away from the farm. My father’s family was rooted in Iowa. Farming country until today, near as I can tell.
But Grandpa and his boys got college educations and white-collar jobs so that the likes of me and my sister wouldn’t have to grow up “dirt poor.” Yep, me and my sister were destined for city life, with commutes, computers, cubicles, and town homes advertised with low-maintenance landscaping. Thing is, I kind of missed that dirt. I dreamed about it. I wrote poems about it. I lived in an apartment and couldn’t even grow basil on my windowsill. It turns out I was dirt-poor afterall.
But the sacrifice of my parents and theirs was not for naught. Because now I am free to make the choice to get me a proper patch of dirt and put that knowledge of how to identify a tomato horn worm to use. Because I knew I was home when I was sent out a couple of weeks ago to pick the blossoms and fledgling fruit off the summer squash plants.
“What do you want me to do with all the blossoms and baby squash?” I asked Jeff, the “overseer.” I assumed they would be delicately delivered to some gourmet restaurant or the upscale farmers market in Lewes.
“Oh, just toss ’em on the ground. There really aren’t enough to try to sell,” was my answer. “We’re just taking off the flowers now because the plants aren’t quite big enough yet. They need to get a little bigger so they can produce more,” he explained.
I couldn’t believe providence was smiling so sweetly upon me. A regular harvest bucket would not do for these tenderlings. I ran to the shed to grab a proper woven basket, crooked my arm through it, set my straw hat on my head and gleefully went about the business of plucking off delectable blossoms and teeny tiny summer squash.
This wasn’t the baby squash of gourmands. No, this was more like infant squash. Maybe even fetal squash, if such a thing existed, which thankfully, it doesn’t. It was divinely adorable.
I longed for a dollhouse and barbies so that I could make a little dinner plate with tiny squash for them. I didn’t have the dolls, but I did have a blog, so I used that as an excuse to lay out my harvest on a dessert plate so I could photograph their perfect miniatureness. I put my wedding ring in the center of the plate for some scale perspective on the picture below:
These were some sacrificial squash. Life, uprooted, gone away from the farm and the dirt that had nourished them, for good or for bad, all for the benefit of those to come. I gazed upon them reverently (and maybe a little bit giddily), and wished everyone could experience this grace.
Then I sauteed them in butter and olive oil with a little onion, garlic, and breadcrumbs and ate a whole bunch of them for dinner over some squiggly noodles.
Grandma would have wanted it that way.