A few days ago, the little garden patch produced its first fruit (photo at right). It doesn’t like like much, I’ll admit, but every baby is beautiful to its parents.
Well, to be truthful, some of the things advertised in the title I already knew, and others I learned from trying to grow things outside in general, rather than from this particular zucchini per se. But the larger point is that growing things teaches one several important lessons that are difficult to get from the everyday, fast-paced, air-conditioned, hyper-caffeinated, homogenized, insular, virtual world that most of us inhabit.
The first and perhaps most pedestrian thing I learned is that I can do this. Born in the suburbs and having spent most of my life foraging shrink-wrapped pseudo-food from more or less identical supermarkets throughout the 50 states and the world, even I can do this. It’s only one zucchini so far, but there are two or three more on the surprisingly gigantic plants out there, and a pile of green tomatoes ready to spill out of the patch and lots of basil. I’m optimistic about the beans and at least a few leaves of spinach too. And you can do it too (no doubt many of you could give me long lessons about this), with even a few square yards of soil or a few large pots. It doesn’t take much to get started, and then you start seeing all kinds of opportunities.
I learned to be keenly aware of the weather, and in fact to like rain. At least rain of a certain sort and frequency — gentle, sustained for a few hours, coming after we haven’t had any rain for a week. Now, instead of seeing rain as an annoyance as so many of us do in modern life, getting exasperated about getting my shoes wet on the way to the car, my skin feels like it’s gratefully absorbing the moisture as I think of the soil and little root hairs drinking up life-giving water, and the two rain barrels filling up to see us through the next week or so. Well, not always — I still get annoyed when I get soaked on the way to the car.
Most importantly, I learned that eating fresh produce has a satisfaction that is far deeper than just filling one’s stomach with the fuel necessary to keep tapping at the computer. Knowing the source of food, knowing its history, having seen it grow from a flower bud, through hot sun and rain, having tended it and checked on it every morning, heard the birds singing around it, maybe picked off a pest or encouraged a friendly insect, all of this gives eating a satisfaction not only to the body but to the soul that is impossible to appreciate without having done it.
And I didn’t even mention that it was the best zucchini I ever had — firm but tender, mildly flavored with no hint of bitterness, no seeds. Raw or sauteed in a bit of olive oil (I tried it both ways). I could almost feel the vitamins and healthful essence spreading through my body. Nourishment in a much broader sense that we usually think about.
OK, I’m off now to check the garden.