I was raised by some serious gardeners. I’m talking, the garden took up a large chunk of the front yard, we had chickens and ducks, there was a brief stint with a pig, and I know my way around hot water bath canning. I knew from a young age how to pull weeds, make cut worm collars for young tomato plants, how to identify a squash bug, and that zucchini and squash plants make me itch. I guess you could say my parents were slow food before most people knew slow food was a thing. I got to college, somehow, without ever having had a frozen vegetable, and called my mom soon after my arrival wanting to know why the green beans in the cafeteria tasted so…weird. “Oh honey, they’re probably frozen,” she said, laughing a little bit at both me and herself for raising me this way.
As I became an adult cooking for myself and then for a family, I strayed a little bit from those slow food values. Big bags of frozen chicken breasts were a major staple, and I mostly shopped at the nearest grocery store. Then we saw the movie Food Inc. and got serious about changing the way we were eating. We largely gave up factory farmed meat, electing to eat less of it and save our money for the “good stuff,” sustainably-raised, pastured, humanely-processed beef, chicken, and pork. We realized that not only was eating less meat and more vegetables, with as much of it raised locally as possible, was better for our bodies and for the planet, but also better for the farmers and workers who grew and made our food, too. We joined a CSA and I found myself with a weekly Iron Chef challenge to use up an enormous bounty of often unfamiliar produce each week. I learned to love greens and accepted that I may never like beets. This weird way of eating became our norm. We even got into urban gardening and ran a community garden for a time.
Then we became parents, and we knew we wanted our kids to be raised eating the same kinds of food I grew up on: local, sustainable, whole foods. We did baby led weaning with Etta (not so much with Claire because she had some serious feeding issues related to spina bifida and ate only purees for a long time, before she got some amazing help from a speech therapist who helped her learn to eat), and from the start, she ate like we did, albeit with her meals often made from deconstructed components of our food. We just kept eating family meals, kept giving our kids real food, and now we have three year olds who constantly impress me with their palates and their willingness to try new things, and also with their curiosity about where their food comes from.
This summer, my husband has taken our urban container garden to the next level with a fancy self-watering system he built. It’s only the beginning of June, and we’ve already been eating peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, and herbs from our garden. I believe there have been some strawberries, too, but the girls snatch those before I ever get a chance to have one. We have several baby cucumbers, eggplants, and peppers on the way, and our tomatoes are so covered with green tomatoes that their cages have been reinforced with rope to keep the plants from toppling over. Every day, the girls run outside to check the progress of our garden, point out new “babies” on the plants, and ask us a million questions about everything. As weird as I once thought my super-gardener parents were, my heart now bursts with pride to see my girls picking cherry tomatoes warm from the sun and popping them right in their mouths– and knowing they can, too, because our tomatoes have never been sprayed with pesticides.
Beyond the food we grow, the girls participate in procuring other local foods with us, too. Often we walk to our local Hillcrest Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, where we pick up our groceries for the week and enjoy breakfast from local food trucks. Increasingly, I’ve been using an online market, the Arkansas Local Food Network, to order our Arkansas Grown, Arkansas Made goodies in advance for pickup on Saturday. This allows me to make a meal plan for the week a little easier. We all take our bags to a church downtown and pick up our order on Saturday morning where everything is waiting for us, and then I can fill in with any components we might need from the grocery store.
Since local food is such a huge part of our life, I was super excited to go to the Farm2Home event at P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm last week. The event was sponsored by the Arkansas Agriculture Department and Farm Credit and existed to help raise awareness about the Arkansas Made and Arkansas Grown programs. The AAD knows most people would love to shop local, and would do more of it, if identifying locally grown, locally made products were easier to do. The Arkansas Made and Arkansas Grown logos can appear on products and in restaurants and businesses that sell products grown or made in the state, and they are also listed on the Arkansas Grown website to help people find local producers and growers near them. And this program will help reach people who might want to shop local but who aren’t scouting out new vendors at farmer’s markets on weekends– I’ve seen the Arkansas Grown signage at Walmart and other large retailers.
I left Farm2Home excited and inspired– worn out by traffic on my way home, I almost pulled through a drive through, but I came home and made pasta with local kale instead. I’m even more committed to buying local and raising our girls to love local foods, and I’m excited about programs that will help more folks buy local. I’ll be sharing more of what I learned at Farm2Home in other posts, too, so check back for those soon!
*Note: I attended an event to learn about the Arkansas Grown program, but was not compensated for this post.