I am really enjoying reading Barbara Kingsolver’s story of moving from Tuscon to a rural family farm in Virginia. Animal Vegetable Miracle. She is funny and perceptive.
She talks about the loss of basic food growing literacy in the American people.
… Most people of my grandparents’ generation had an intuitive sense of agricultural basics: when various fruits and vegetables come into season, which ones keep through the winter, how to preserve the others. On what day autumn’s first frost will likely fall on their county, and when to expect the last one in spring. Which crops can be planted before the last frost, and which must wait. Which grains are autumn-planted. What an asparagus patch looks like in August. Most importantly: what animals and vegetables thrive in one’s immediate region and how to live well on those, with little else thrown into the mix beyond a bag of flour, a pinch of salt, and a handful of coffee. Few people of my generation, and approximately none of our children, could answer any of those questions…..
“What’s new on the farm?” asks my friend, a lifelong city dweller who likes for me to keep her posted by phone. She’s a gourmet cook, she cares about the world, and has been around a lot longer than I have. This particular conversation was in early spring, so I told her what was up in the garden: peas, potatoes, spinach. “Wait a minute,” she said. “When you say, ‘The potatoes are up,’ what do you mean?” She paused, formulating her question: “What part of a potato comes up?” “Um, the plant part,” I said. “The stems and leaves.” “Wow,” she said. “I never knew a potato had a plant part.” Many bright people are really in the dark about vegetable life.
Steven, also a biology professor, …. lived in an urban neighborhood where his little backyard vegetable garden was a howling curiosity for the boys who ran wild in the alley. He befriended these kids, especially Malcolm, known throughout the neighborhood as “Malcolm-get-your-backside-in-here-now-or-you-won’t-be-having-no-dinner!” Malcolm liked hanging around when Steven was working in the garden, but predictably enough, had a love-hate thing with the idea of the vegetables touching the dirt. The first time he watched Steven pull long, orange carrots out of the ground, he demanded: “How’d you get them in there?” Steven held forth with condensed Intro Botany. Starts with a seed, grows into a plant. Water, sunlight, leaves, roots. “A carrot,” Steven concluded, “is actually a root.” “Uh-huh . . . ,” said Malcolm doubtfully. A crowd had gathered now. Steven engaged his audience by asking, “Can you guys think of other foods that might be root vegetables?” Malcolm checked with his pals, using a lifeline before confidently submitting his final answer: “Spaghetti?”