Thursday, 6 August 2015

My first cherry tomato.

Last summer I tasted a cherry tomato for the very first time. I had eaten many, in fact I used to claim they were a favourite snack – but I had no idea I had never actually eaten them the way they were. The first time I really ate cherry tomatoes was in an urban garden, next to some train tracks and ironically, behind a grocery store. They were straight off the plants we had been forming all season – and they cast a long shadow over every other cherry tomato I had ever eaten. We hadn’t done anything special to them, or used a particular kind, or tried to grow an exceptional cherry tomato. We had just tied them and suckered them as they grew. In a burst of flavour and juiciness, it was all immediately clear how grievously disconnected we are from what we eat.

We all know this, of course. But it would be impossible to walk through a supermarket with the fullness of this knowledge. I myself often do not care what a meal tastes like as long as I am full at the end, and the cleanup is quick. Gardening goes against almost all of my sensibilities – patience, intentionality, planning ahead while also being flexible with what the soil yields. This is in part why it is so refreshing to me, as I am continually humbled, continually giving up control to the soil.

Spending time in this particular garden, one of the most consistent things that people are amazed by is what broccoli looks like prior to harvest: a large leafy plant that seems far too big to be practical for what it yields – there was so much untouched room that I often found intact spider webs among the deep green leaves. I have led such a life that I have never needed to know how to grow broccoli, or tomatoes, or anything else. A food I eat regularly, only seen for the first time as an adult before it is packaged up for my quick consumption. Of course this is not a privilege, but rather a huge disconnect from what people have being practicing for… most of human history and around the world. I’m in the minority, and I’ve been missing out.

We all eat though, one way or another, and are involved in this process, however disconnected we might be. Wendell Berry calls it “farming by proxy.” So we just have to decide what type of farming we engage in.

A spider's home in the broccoli.