Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Grow Simple

As seen in the May 2010 issue of 180 Magazine...

I’ve got two daughters and we planted a garden this year. My oldest wanted to plant cucumbers and begonias. My youngest wanted macaroni and cheese. We settled on a mix of vegetables. We also planted flowers. Fortunately, pink flowers replaced the planting of pasta.

The need to plant has become more prevalent among folks I know. I think that both a growing awareness of sustainability and the high cost of decent produce play a part in the increasing number of gardens found in the back yards of neighbors this year. For my family, it’s a way to do something together that has positive impact on the way we live. I made the break and canceled cable after this long gray winter. There’s no way Hannah Montana is better for us than growing a garden and I’m tired of distractions as simple and effective as television. Since we couldn’t plant macaroni and cheese, I’m hoping to entice my youngest into eating a more varied selection of foods. My grandmother always had a garden when I was growing up. When I visited there was work to be done and it culminated in dinner. There were beehives for a while and this meant dessert. It was the non-fast food experience and I always looked forward to it.

My house is anticipating the start of farmers’ market season. The success and popularity of our local farmers’ markets is on the rise. Knox County has 4 active markets as listed with the state’s agriculture department on the Pick Tennessee Products website. There are several more in surrounding counties. Many local farmers that are selling goods at the various markets are also selling CSA’s. Community Supported Agriculture is essentially a weekly food subscription. With a CSA, you get a basket from the farmer full of what they’ve got. You don’t order a specific number of any certain vegetables. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. I got to snag a friend’s CSA when she was out of town last summer. You might get a bundle of vegetables you would have overlooked when making your own choices. It can challenge your palate and your culinary knowledge. It’s fun to rise to the occasion. I used everything in the basket. I thought about signing up for a CSA this year but we are growing a garden and I’m going to be optimistic about our fierce skills.

The farmers’ market we most frequent is the Market Square Farmers’ Market. In its 7th year of existence and with roughly 60 vendors during peak season, this market was voted 5th in the nation by Local Harvest, a national website dedicated to finding farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area. Last year I worked the Glowing Body/Magpies booth and it was a celebration of community. Of course we sold energy circles, cupcakes and what not, but the market is a social hub and there was always lots of news. Friends and friends of friends were stopping by to discuss produce and baked goods, parties, art, politics and the weather. My daughters actively played a part in the social scene. We were strategically placed in front of the fountains and the girls would wear bathing suits and go back and forth from our tent to the fountains finally ending in a Tomato Head lunch frenzy. They would each be given $5 to pick out produce for us to take home. There were times that they just wanted a treat instead. They became fans of the turtle lady, collecting several different clay turtles over the summer. We came home with all kinds of things, even a puppy. True story. I’m a sucker. Our downtown has had a visible resurrection over the past decade and the Market Square Farmers’ Market has definitely been an active participant in the vibrancy of community and lure of downtown residents.

Charlotte Tolley, Director of the Market Square Farmers’ Market, has been catalyst for the downtown market since its inception. She is also the first person to bring EBT/SNAP benefits to a seasonal farmers’ market, with a central location for vendors, in the state of Tennessee. EBT/SNAP is known to the general public as food stamps. In the day and age where film and television (Food, Inc., Fast Food Nation and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution) are slowly educating the public on the dangers of what basically inedible foods can do to your body and our planet, it’s refreshing to know that government assisted food buying can be done on a local level. Charlotte also serves as a board member on the Knoxville Knox County Food Policy Council and this council supports urban chickens. On May 7th, Remedy Coffeehouse in the Old City will be showing Mad City Chickens about urban life with backyard chickens. The Knoxville Urban Hen Coalition is teaming up with Three Rivers Market and the Parkridge Community Garden to screen Mad City Chickens as part of the effort to educate Knoxville on keeping hens in the city, and to build support for a proposed ordinance to allow domesticated chickens. No roosters allowed. If this ordinance passes, we are so getting chickens at our house.

It feels like there’s a movement in Knoxville to simplify and thereby improve the way we live. I’ve wondered if it’s just the company I keep that makes me feel this way. I’ve come to the conclusion that it has more to do with the economic climate. It’s forcing us to view spending as optional or rather to spend on ways we can be more self-sufficient. This is carrying over into the concept of impact, footprint, and what essentially makes us good world citizens. UT grad student Katie Reis has based her thesis on a concept she developed called Urban Land Scouts. Katie created badges that can be earned by being good stewards of the city landscape. Her thesis includes urban nature walks, seed swaps and compost discussions. It’s exciting and the badges are ridiculously cute.

I’ve been working to change my perception of what urban living means. We’ve got a sweet little house in a somewhat cramped but charming neighborhood. I sometimes daydream about having lots of land and a farmhouse and livestock and a big garden. I interrupt my daydream to remind myself that I actually have this in city limits. So far our livestock is domestic: dogs, cats, fish and a frog. We also have non-domestics in the backyard. I’ve seen two species of garden snakes, a variety of spiders, bats, and many birds. A heron visited the neck of our creek a few times last year. Hopefully we’ll be adding some hens to the mix before too long. That’s going to be hilarious. I don’t know if these things simplify our lives but it definitely improves the way we live.

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