Thursday, February 24, 2011


Where all my homeys at? And by “homeys” I mean thirtysomething gardeners interested in permaculture and obscure vegetables, readers of Michael Pollan, preferably not living in Brooklyn. Is that too specific?

Not that I have anything against Brooklyn. But hip urbanites in H&M wardrobes boasting rooftop gardens and apiaries who ply their wares at the Park Slope Co-op, all to an indie-rock soundtrack, give me pause in a way that my neighbor’s farm in rural northwest New Jersey does not.

Do I sound elitist? I don’t mean it that way. Here’s an analogy: In another life, Mark and I were involved in the Baltimore underground music scene. When a local band got signed to a major label, the community perceived the mainstream recognition as both the best and the worst thing that could possibly happen. While we all want our favorite band to make it big, we fear losing the intimate community of early fans. The band blows up and when they visit your hometown on their nationwide tour you have to shell out $50 for a ticket in a stadium just to watch them as a speck on the distant stage. Suddenly everyone you meet is a fan of the band and you no longer feel special. Many of the new fans have an obviously superficial interest, riding the crest of the band’s popularity and then promptly chasing the next wave. But you knew them way back when!

Let’s face it; gardening is trendy right now—which, don’t get me wrong, is wonderful!—but I get a little rankled that the Food Network is jocking my style. When a friend starts asking me questions about starting a garden, they have a hard time getting me to shut up. I fall all over myself to start seeds for them, give them guided tours of my favorite herb farm, research colorful varieties of vegetables that will grow best in their climate, regale them with the pros and cons of raised beds. But when I see Andrew Zimmern yapping about his enthusiasm for local food, I change the channel.

Almost a decade ago, Mark and I planted some tomatoes, corn, and some thyme and basil in the yard of our first little brick house in the unfashionable outskirts of Washington, DC. Before that we grew tomatoes in pots on the tiny balcony of our apartment. The herbs thrived, the tomatoes were decent, and the corn never saw the light of day. The deer ate every single pansy I planted along the front walk, so I replanted and sprayed them with a non-toxic solution that smelled so bad our new neighbors probably thought we were stashing dead bodies in the garage. We struggled through an 18-month siege against the wall of unsettling, phallic bamboo that had initially made our backyard so peaceful and ambient but turned our entire yard into a battlefield.

Every year we have been a little more successful, and our efforts have become more ambitious. By now we’ve read thousands of pages about gardening, hoovered up knowledge from the folks who run our biodynamic CSA, taken courses in food politics, researched recipes to use bizarre scorzonera and bushels of kale, and learned food preservation techniques. In 2009 we moved out to the country and broke ground on a 4,000-square-foot garden. Our passion is authentic and deep, and our enthusiasm can be contagious (and occasionally, I’ll bet, annoying and tedious to our loved ones). We’re slowly but steadily working on acquiring chickens and bees, and on sacrificing most of our considerable lawn to fruit trees. I’m greatly enjoying the proliferation of public discourse about gardening and our nation’s food system, and in fact I believe this discussion is vital to meaningful change. But I don’t feel trendy, and it’s getting harder to discern individuals and organizations that are genuinely like-minded. My beef, for example, is with the local chef (unnamed, to protect the guilty) who tells her customers she’s sourcing her ingredients sustainably from neighboring farms, then goes and buys everything at Wal-Mart.

What a poseur.


shaymo said...

did you see the NYT story about young farmers? thought of you

Kate said...

Not until now! What I want to know is why none of these folks are coming to New Jersey. I seriously don't know any gardeners or farmers under 50 in my area. Guess Jersey isn't as trendy as the Hudson Valley or Pacific Northwest.

It's high school all over again, when I had to wear those jeans that had a triangle on the back pocket but weren't actually Guess brand.