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    « 188. Square Two | Main | 190. You Don't Like Greens????? *gasp* »

    Wednesday, July 09, 2008


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    I argued with my brother for years and years about buying organic, and local when I could. He never could understand why I would spend more on these, when I could get stuff at the store for so much less. I did my best to explain that it was worth the premium, to have good, healthy greens, fruit and dairy, because I wasn't willing to do the work myself. And I wanted to honor those who did.

    I've wanted to have a gardening spot for the past few years, but have yet to get my ass in gear to do it (aside from daydreaming about my amazing garden in my own personal compound once I win the lottery *snort*). I do hope that the "backyard garden" becomes common again, though I realize it's hard for folks who don't have a yard or even patio space. This is why I'm so thankful for the plethora of farmer's markets in my area.


    This is something I've struggled with for years now. Of course, the fact that I live in grad-student poverty helps make some of those decisions for me. My local co-op recently asked members to fill out an extensive survey. One of the things I had to write about why I don't do 100% of my shopping there is the fact that while I can and am willing to pay more for some things to support the co-op, local agriculture, etc., I simply can't do that when the price difference is in whole dollars rather than X cents. For years food prices in the US have been held artificially low by government subsidies, etc. So, the current sticker shock is due to a complex web of factors. I'll confess that I've had to make harder decisions as of late and I've been trying to be really honest with myself about what is simply my pure gourmet snobbery (e.g., organic cane sugar) and what is essential for my physical/mental/ethical well being (e.g., free-range, organic eggs). So, I try do what I can right now and hope to do better in the future. (I'll leave your feminist questions for another day. I could probably blow your comment quota on that issue!)


    I wish that I had about ten times the garden space right now........ I miss the canning and shucking of peas. There is just nothing quite like home grown (though our local food coop comes close)
    A very interesting discussion.
    I think it is good for us to grow some of our own, and be reminded of all the multitude of hours invested in what we buy at the store.


    I've got even less peas than that! If they didn't take so little room, I'd forget about growing them next year. Like anything else, gardening/cooking can be equal mix of work & fun. I live the 19th century life of working to create food for later, using less modern conveniences to be more environmental, etc. It can be busy, ie back-breaking. That's why I go the other way and get annoyed when my sister says her life of dropping the kids off at soccer camp and trying to schedule a manicure is 'busy'. Anyway, the problem most people don't realize in buying organic v. non-organic is the cost which isn't shown on the sticker label. Do we really want to be a nation of people who depress others (migrant workers, exposure of chemicals to our ground water, tainted food supplies) just so we can pay 99 cents for a bag of frozen peas? I find it extremely difficult around July 4th when everyone is celebrating democracy while eating food from Costco and sitting on chairs from Target. [And I wouldn't say that organic anything is pure snobbery. It's creating a better world environment but I understand that sometimes costs can be unmanageable.]


    Excellent discussion, Norma. I suppose it begins to make sense that large families were so prized - more workers! But think of it - think of having to do all that work every day to make sure everyone was fed not only on that day but also throughout a long hard winter, AND having to keep the family clothed via sewing and knitting, AND doing all the other day-in-day-out housework without benefit of running water or electricity... and this wasn't necessarily so long ago. My parents were born in 1922 and neither had either of these "conveniences" until they were adults. Of course, they didn't have to grow all their own food or make their clothes, but my grandmothers did those things nonetheless. Amazing.


    This is a great discussion and I liked reading the comments, too. I hear you on the peas vs. work thing. I shucked and shucked the other day and got about the same yield as you did. Oy!


    You might consider a Pea Sheller from Lehmans. It would make the work go much faster.

    I think that all the little tasks like shelling peas are a chance to sit a bit and relax with family members at the end of a day. Yes, it's a lot of work to garden and do all you are doing but the price you are paying isn't so much hourly labor (it hurts when you make extremely good wages and cost out gardening wages) but the cost is the money you are not spending on hospital bills when the food from agri-business makes you ill.

    I make a ridiculous hourly wage for my skills but I'm headed to Vermont for good on Monday and will give it all up to have a garden even half as nice as yours next year.

    Onward bound for the NEK!


    I've been eating my sugar snaps off the vine, in the pod. They go further... And I buy a pint of them, frozen, at the co-op for about $3 and I'm happy to get them. :-)

    My husband and I just had a local farmer hay our field and give us 350 bales off the cut, leaving him the rest. We were talking about how stressful it must have been to be totally dependent on the weather and your luck and hard work, without the ability to go to the co-op for food or call around for hay if yours didn't work out.

    I love getting food out of the garden but I'm a lazy gardener. This must be a result of being used to the easy way out. If things grow, fine. If not, I'll buy them.

    But I do hang my laundry out, we do raise our own pork, and we just put 20 home-raised chickens in the freezer which will not only feed us (if it would only cool off enough for us to roast one!) a meal or two, but will also provide plenty of broth, which I use constantly in the winter. Next year, our beef cows will have babies, which will eventually provide us with beef. We've got more cow corn and sweet corn growing than I'll know what to do wtih, and we've got black raspberries and apples and blueberries on our property.

    Yes, I'm a hypocrite, too. But at least we're trying!


    Really good discussion. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    My mom was born in the late '30s, and she abhors anything like canning, gardening, knitting. She likes things to be "easy," and now I wonder if it's from having been raised by parents who HAD to do these tasks. I'm going to ask her about that the next time we talk.

    mary lou

    We have a little 'prayer' in our dining room that acknowledges that our food comes from the labor of others, I can't remember the wording exactly. It is good for me to be reminded again. I saw a quart of shucked peas at the farmer's market for $5. Hardly enough.


    Provocative food for thought. You have the energy and determination of 10 people. I would starve if I had to grow my own food (at last at this point in time). We are all walking hypocrites, it's human nature, sadly. Your garden must be rewarding in other ways (than yield). Count the hours of enjoyment (and blog fodder) you gain, too.


    Good discussion and some really great comments... As you touched on, everything has changed so much. From the hand-picking strawberry migrant workers to the agro machines to the GMO's...I don't know where to start. It's all so overwhelming but really makes me want to grow more and more of my own food. Yesterday at the market I saw that a jar of raw almond butter was $16.99. I SWEAR. All the raw butters were in the $15+ range. Needless to say, unless I start making it myself I have gone back to eating regular nut butters.

    As much work as those peas were, nothing tastes better than freshly shucked, just off the plant, sweet peas. Mmmmmmm...


    Excellent, Norma. I remember a childhood of my grandfather's garden and my dad's garden, chock full and picnic packed, and they worked full + time jobs... the women having their daily 'chores' with the food and the gatherings for preparation and the canning and freezing. I also remember several summertime little roadtrips to friends to help them with their canning and freezing, staying several days and enjoying the work but more... listening to those women catching up with each other. That was an incredible treat.
    'why the fuck women so wanted to get out of the kitchen'... women's work... working/creating with hands... not given enough credit? value? I believe 'greed' is involved also but greed in our society as a whole, the backbone and it's a nasty beast.


    It's rough...and there is no easy solution. Since this spring, I enlisted the help of my mentee for garden work: composting, planting, pruning, watering, fertilizer and the like. This is his first foray into gardening. Each time we commit to the work he comments on how time-consuming it is. Over the last few months it has provided and excellent opportunity to discuss US/world farming, food production, and the value and costs of food.

    If we each do our part.


    Very thought-provoking post and things I have been thinking about for a while now. It continues to be a challenge to stretch our food dollars as far as they will go to feed our family, while at the same time striving to eat locally and support organic agriculture. Fortunately, I am finally starting to realize that it isn't an either/or proposition, but a continuum and that I can keep making progress toward the "ideal" when and where I can. For the last few years, we have gone to farmers' market regularly all summer. This summer we have added a CSA half-share and a tomato plant on the patio. Next year, I'm planning for a full share and more container gardening.


    My 84 year old grandmother did all the canning, picking, planting, cooking, freezing, blanching, milking, churning, washing, etc. for about 65 years (and raised six kids). And now she sits in her retirement village, visits with her friends, gets the mail (big highlight of her day), plays cards, quilts, buys her produce from the local farmer guy, has her kids take her to the grocery store and the doctor (no driver's license), still cooks lunch every single day for her son and son-in-law who come by to eat with her and wonders WHY anybody would ever VOLUNTARILY want to do all that stuff she used to do out of necessity. She said life back then was really really hard and if you don't have to do it, you shouldn't. Of course, that's the tired person in her talking, so take it with a grain of salt


    I've done a little canning and really hated it...and was afraid to eat much of what I canned! I'll stick to stuff that can be frozen. As for the peas....I had that experience last year and switched to edible pod peas this year. Never again. Thought-provoking post.

    Rhonda from Baddeck

    This weekend I had much the same thoughts -- I harvested raspberries and white currants from my garden. Each quart takes an hour to pick & process, but I can pick daily in my own garden and the freezer gradually fills up. Eventually I want to grow more vegetables, and your blog is a great inspiration. Remembering past years when the weeds overwhelmed you, I'm glad to see your daily successes.


    I think that what you're talking about is at least, and probably a large part of why I decided to go work on a farm this summer. It's tough monotanous work that continues to exist. Even when much of it has been mechanized and sanitized there are many places where it is still being done by hand. And many of those places are where you'll get cleaner healthier food in my opinion. I feel that my appreciation of my food and the work that goes into it will be enhanced by this experience. And, I sure hope I like gardening on a large scale! I'm not going to go work on a garbage truck, not that I could get the job, just because there will always be garbage. Because, really I want to do what I can to have less garbage, or no garbage. But food on the other hand, real fresh food is eternally necessary. Fundamentally necessary. And I want to make a connection with the fulfillment of that necessity. Thanks again for your thoughts. I read every day.


    At the beginning of the 19th century, the average life expectancy was 45 years. I imagine a number of women were grateful to lie down and die. My great aunt, who lived on a farm in North Dakota during the depression miscarried over a dozen children because of too much hard work and not enough protein.

    I am reminded of a Doonesbury cartoon where Jane Fonda is talking to her maid and saying, "Of course you can find time to exercise. Why, I work a 12 hour day, keep up with all my social engagements and still make time to stay fit." And the maid says, "You works 'cuz you wants to. I works 'cuz I gots to. Theys a difference."

    When it comes to providing all my own food, I am SO glad I don't "gots to!"


    I have been fascinated with your blog gardening topic this year and it provoked my thinking on this subject (local food, etc.). So last night, when I tuned in halfway through an NPR interview with Barbara Kingsolving (?), I perked right up. They were interviewing her regarding her book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" (I believe that's the title). Essentially, the book describes her family's experience in attempting to eat all local/organic for one year. Between your blog and that interview, I am committing to a)look for a CSA in my area and b)attempt one meal a week from the 50 mile radius (was it your blog I read about that? The mind, it's a terrible thing to lose.). Anyway, those are my goals. Earlier this year, I had committed to no more drive-through/take-out coffee - it's neither organic nor fair trade and comes in non-biodegradable styrofoam. I currently subscribe to a coffee delivery of organic, shade-grown coffee and can drink that at home or bring it with me when I leave. I honestly believe that if each person made one small change, the impact would be enormous. Thank you for your inspiration. BTW - I think the coffee roaster/supplier is Vermont-based and their product is great! T


    My mom was telling me the other day about how life was so different when she was young. She grew up in a poor Mexican-American neighborhood in Los Angeles, but they did do things like grow a small garden and keep chickens for eggs. She said every morning her grandmother would get up and make fresh tortillas, salsa, a pot of beans and oatmeal. She also did all the laundry, ironing and cleaning with the help of my mother or various aunts or my mother's mother. She would water her garden and feed the chickens everyday and then prepare for the "onslaught." Because they were a big family, there were always people in and out of the house, constantly eating, and the women were constantly cooking. If someone in the neighborhood was down and out, mom remembers that they always would invite them for a bowl of beans and give them a place to sleep on the floor. The house was always crazy, which often drove my mom to local library to have quiet so she could her read books.

    So I think life was hard, but I think the biggest difference might have been community. Even though my mom's family was rather poor, they never went without because they never let their neighbors go without. So people were always generous towards them- in the summer watermelons would turn up on the porch, or someone would drop off a fresh chicken. Neighbors would pool money to bail someone out for getting locked up for stupid stuff like public drunkeness and they all watched each other's kids. Everyone took care of each other, and I think in some sense that has really gone missing from our society.


    Yes, Norma. Yes. You're so right. And it's not easy, and it's a pain, and a lot of work, and no one these days is paid what they're worth (okay, maybe the ones who don't work much are)...

    And I miss the days of the huge gardens, and canning and pickling and freezing with my mom. But I wouldn't trade going back to the kitchen (I.Don't.Think...! ok, maybe)

    I wish things were easier. I wish pesticides had never existed. I am worried (terribly worried) about colony collapse and my friends the bees...

    FABULOUS essay, hon.

    Cheryl S.

    I've never had any interest in canning or freezing produce, just because I don't want to spend the time on it. I grow enough to supplement my weekly meals, but more for the enjoyment of having some picked fresh produce out of the yard. We may be expanding our garage, which will leave little room in our tiny yard for much besides herbs and tomatoes. But even just having a single tomato plant will make me happy.


    Well...that's one reason I prefer peas and beans that can be eaten in the pod.

    I find myself wondering about my food dollar hypocrisy on the days/weeks when I don't have the energy to cook and thus have to buy lunch--I'll happily spend $7 on a quart of blueberries, but if I'm going to spend $5 on hot, prepared lunch, I want it to be at least a meal and a half. (Except sushi. Sushi is special.)


    There is a part of Barbara Kingsolver's book (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) where she discusses how today's women (working moms, time-starved, stressed) are the perfect targets for the agri-business marketing of unhealthful, convenience foods. She advocates for going back into the kitchen, but never addressed the issue of the hard, hard work involved, the low-status of "women's work" and the many, many women who just wouldn't want to. *Someone* has to to the work of feeding their families. Who that ends up being when and if the oil-based current system of food distribution fails will be interesting to watch.


    You would have been interested in an NPR piece I heard this morning where they talked about the fact that two migrant workers, including a pregnant teen, have died in California this summer due to the excessive heat. The piece followed a farm inspector as he traveled around to make sure the farmers were providing the required shade, water and rest for their workers. At one place, at first there was nothing but, as soon as the inspector arrived, a jug of water and a pop-up tent "magically" appeared. Just makes your blood boil.

    Talk about the "cost" of food!


    I spent many hours helping my mom harvest every year and I think the best part was just spending time together. We had huge amounts of peas. Mom would pick until we had a couple paper grocery bags full and then we'd sit around and shuck them. I also remember mom just pulling the green beans out of the ground because she was tired of picking them. But she has never thought of it as 'women's work' or drudgery. It's just something that needs to be done.


    I grew up doing moderate amounts of canning/freezing with my family (both parents grew up farmers) and wish SO BADLY that I lived on land that could grow more. My husband is of the same mind and we'd both love to be able to invest the time/energy to feed ourselves entirely (or mostly - I don't think growing rice is hugely feasible for family farms). I can't sew worth a damn, but I love to knit/crochet. I know we wouldn't be able to do it all, but the more we can do the happier we seem to be. I think he and I both wish for a simpler time where there isn't a computer/tele to distract us from living a more fulfilling life. Then again, we're pretty hypocritical in that we love the internet/tele/video games.

    I love your comment about why women would want to get out of the kitchen. I'm grateful to be a SAHM because I love doing this stuff!


    I've been eating my sugar snaps off the vine, in the pod. They go further... And I buy a pint of them, frozen, at the co-op for about $3 and I'm happy to get them. :-)

    My husband and I just had a local farmer hay our field and give us 350 bales off the cut, leaving him the rest. We were talking about how stressful it must have been to be totally dependent on the weather and your luck and hard work, without the ability to go to the co-op for food or call around for hay if yours didn't work out.

    I love getting food out of the garden but I'm a lazy gardener. This must be a result of being used to the easy way out. If things grow, fine. If not, I'll buy them.

    But I do hang my laundry out, we do raise our own pork, and we just put 20 home-raised chickens in the freezer which will not only feed us (if it would only cool off enough for us to roast one!) a meal or two, but will also provide plenty of broth, which I use constantly in the winter. Next year, our beef cows will have babies, which will eventually provide us with beef. We've got more cow corn and sweet corn growing than I'll know what to do wtih, and we've got black raspberries and apples and blueberries on our property.

    Yes, I'm a hypocrite, too. But at least we're trying!


    So far, my garden has definitely cost me more than it has saved...I've probably spent about $150 altogether on my container garden, and all it has provided thus far has been a few tomatoes, some cilantro, and some chives.

    Then again, I expect to be using these containers and dirt for a long time, and the compost pile is getting going. The set-up costs are the worst.

    As for my time, well...we won't count that. I try to avoid really high-labor things (like shelling peas- I like them better in the pod anyway) and here I can grow things year round, so canning and preserving aren't as important.


    If some politician ever does manage to expel all the illegal immigrants, the agricultural sector will have to start paying all its workers a fair wage. If that happens, we'll all be right shocked at the cost of our produce.

    It's easy to see the economy of scale when you grow your own food. That pint of peas cost $17.50 (according to the dollar amounts you posted). Let's say for each packet of additional seeds, you need 1 additional bag of compost ($7) and one additional bag of mulch ($4).

    Next year if you buy two packets and grow twice as many peas, you'll get two pints for $31, or $15.50/pint. Maybe the year after that, you decide to grow 4x as many - that's four pints for $58, or $14.50/pint... next thing you know, you're driving a 50 foot-wide combine with an air conditioned cab and planting your rows by GPS navigation.

    Which, by the way, I would totally love to see.


    The squash-twins have a buddy.

    To everyone who said I couldn't grow summer squash in a pot, I say haHA!!!


    Moral of this post and comments:
    1. A woman's work is never done either way. It's a good thing we are the stronger sex.
    2. Unfortunately we are all in this alone.
    3. Food costs too much any way to go about it.
    3. Plant only sugar snap peas.


    Former Vermonter weighing in. Most thought-provoking post! I live in a huge metropolitan area, and I have a modest garden. I have the space for a larger one, but no time to do it right. So I grow lovely tomatoes, and give a lot of them away to grateful friends and neighbors (no time to can--when they're gone, they're gone). Same with the squash and the onions and the greens. I'd love to have a truly large garden, and I'm well acquainted with the tradeoffs of time, the physical labor and the opportunity cost of all those other things I wouldn't be able to do. My job allows me the luxury of having it both ways (some of you might say neither way), and I can and do support local farms through the farmer's market. An hour to shuck peas--no way--I simply don't have it. I do take the time to make jam from fresh berries--I love it and it makes great gifts, and it doesn't take all that long. (12 jars--not 12 cases, though). I think there's no right or wrong about this--we just do what we can, and what we can afford.


    Certainly our labor and effort, tender loving care and interest cannot be paid a sufficient price. Same with hand knit/crafter/quilted or whatever. If it's done with your hands, you will not make enough money to make it profitable. In dollars. But the benefits received outweigh that. The fresh air, the exercise, the feeling of the dirt on our hands, the smell of the earth, the smell of FRESH TOMATOES, crunching into some fresh vegetables grown on our own spot on this big earth, with our own sweat, THAT is priceless.
    Don't you think?

    Jenn C.

    A most excellent post. I've been thinking about this a lot, reading your blog, reading books like Animal Vegetable Miracle and The Omnivore's Dilemma. I wrote my own, somewhat longer thoughts out on my own blog tonight, but really enjoyed reading yours, and all the comments.

    I do think that there's a BIG difference between "have to" and "choose to" and I think there are a lot of parallels between food and knitting. The arguments of "why knit when you can buy?" are the same as "why grow/can/cook when you van buy ready made?" and just like with knitting, either you get it or you don't - and whether or not you do is not so much a value judgment as much as it is a question of what you enjoy. I think that the joy of doing for yourself is the same in both instances, or at least it is for me.


    i think i got 1/3 of a cup of peas from my patch, lol. i don't know how much more i'm gonna get (they didn't all come up, sigh. i had "help" planting them (from teenage boys!)

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