I suspect it’s a sign of immaturity that every fall I stand in childlike wonder before my vegetable garden’s abundance. That a tiny, 20-ounce stack of seed packets produces more than 2000 pounds of vegetables is amazing to me year after year! I understand how the germination and growth process works, but that makes it no less incredible: if anything, it makes it more so. That everything a plant needs to produce the complex infrastructure to draw moisture and nutrition from the soil; to leverage the light and heat that surrounds it; and to develop its crop is packed into that tiny little seed is a feat of bio-chemical engineering worthy of celebration. Be it God or Mother Nature or some other force at work, I’m humbled by the process.
I expect that I was always meant to be a gardener; my own New Year coincides with the beginning of the gardening season. The British have a reputation for growing spectacular backyard gardens, but growing up at the younger end of a large family I was determined to defy expectations. I love my family, and I’m proud of all my siblings accomplishments, but I didn’t want to be them, and railed against following in their footsteps. I set my course on adventures that took me far from my own backyard, and never gave gardening a thought.
When marriage transplanted me from the middle of England to rural Iowa County in the late nineties, everything I needed for a full and interesting life shared the neglected Victorian farmhouse I call home. Surrounded by vegetables gardeners who found joy in their fields [or something more visual and specific}, I decided to follow their example and give gardening a try: I was 40 years old. At best, I’d have food. At worst, I’d have compost, and either way, it’d be a productive way to immerse myself in the local culture. I didn’t expect to fall in love with it.
In the years since, the garden and the range of vegetables planted in it has expanded, such that when I retired from my business life, I was preparing to fence off a quarter of an acre for it in the field below the house. I already shared spare produce with area food pantries, but with retirement, my new mission was to grow vegetables specifically for them.
About 65 percent of food pantry clients are working families with children that use the pantry to stretch their paycheck to the end of the week. They deserve more than my leftovers. The effects of undernourishment in childhood can last a lifetime, and I’m convinced that if every child eats vegetables as good as those that come from my garden, they will love their veggies, grow strong, excel in school, go to college, and achieve great things in this world. If I’m wrong, please don’t disillusion me!
Working five days out of every seven from April until November, I exercise every muscle except my tongue; collect calluses on my hands and knees; and work my back until I can barely straighten my spine to climb the slope back to the house. I’m grateful for every sweaty, dirty moment of it.
Jacqui Sakowski is a retired consultant and active gardener. Connect with your local food pantry here.