I’ve been traveling the past few days and had the pleasure of visiting an incredible national treasure … Monticello. For those who are history challenged, this is the home of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States. Monticello is located on a gorgeous mountain in western Virginia with views of rolling hills and valleys. And part of the beauty of the estate is not just the orchards and flower gardens, but the vegetable garden, too! OH MY … Be still my beating heart!
The soil was rich, the furrows straight, and the entire vegetable garden must have reached the length of two football fields! The garden is still farmed with primitive methods and includes an incredible variety of vegetables. As I gazed in awe at the garden, it reminded me how we’ve lost the appreciation for growing our own food … as well as the knowledge of how to farm!
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Food and Statistics report in 2014, the number of farms in the U.S. has fallen from more than 6 million in 1935 to roughly 2 million in 2012. The family farm is on the decline while corporate-owned farms rises! One of the ripple effects? The experience and knowledge of how to farm and grow sustainable gardens will disappear as these family farms disappear, too…
My dad grew up on a farm in Iowa in the 1930’s. I’m so proud of that fact! Grandma and Grandpa were sturdy midwest folk and taught all they knew about farming to their kids, who worked alongside them on the farm. My dad and mom went on to raise eight children (yes, I have seven siblings!) on a small parcel of land on the outskirts of an Iowan town … and as you can guess, they turned a large portion of our yard into a garden!
I grew up snapping beans and shelling peas under the maple tree in the yard, eating tomatoes like apples, and grabbing grapes off the grapevine on the way to the school bus in the fall. We ate canned vegetables in the dead of winter and enjoyed homemade jam on homemade bread. And that is what we are losing … the art of growing food! And we aren’t teaching our kids! There is knowledge in gardening that comes solely from past experiences and generational teaching. My dad knew just what to do to make his Iowa corn grow, when to plant, when to harvest, what made great natural fertilizer, how to rotate his crops, etc.
My encouragement to those of us who live in the suburbs and want to embrace healthy living, is to connect with our history. LEARN gardening. For you and your kids! If you have a patio or a small backyard, you can plant vegetables in containers. You can do a raised garden bed near your house. Options. Simple. Start with just one type of plant. Get your confidence up and plant more next year. And let the kids own part of the work of “gardening” the plant. Second best option is to hit your local farmer’s markets! Not only do you support the local business, but you also know exactly where your food comes from!
There is such GREAT satisfaction in eating what you grew with your own hands. Your body will thank you, too!