Growing Up Gardening: Fostering A Strong Food Culture
Growing up gardening — I was fortunate to have grown up in a family of multi-generational gardeners. My great-grandfather had a produce stand in the Italian district of Boston where he would sell fresh fruit and vegetables, and my other great-grandfather basically was an urban farmer before urban farming was even a thing. I have heard stories about his beautiful fruit trees, and only wish I had personally been there to see them. My Dad says that gardening is in our blood, and he may be right because he and all of his siblings have the most beautiful gardens and a knack for understanding plants that goes deeper than something you learn in gardening books.
There is something almost spiritual about growing your own food, and the process of watching something turn from a seed, to a seedling, to a plant with fruit that will one day be an ingredient in a family recipe is a kind of pride and connection to one's environment that really cant be explained and can only be felt.
My Dad started my sisters and I gardening I am pretty sure as soon as we were old enough to hold our own little spades, and I remember planting carrots, strawberries, and watermelon and being so proud as my sisters and I would watch them grow.
It also helped that my mom is an amazing cook and always brought us into the kitchen where we would use what we had grown in the garden to make pies or homemade marinara sauce for the winter months. This was our normal, we knew where our food came from and what the perfect summer tomato tasted like...what we didn't know was just how lucky we were.
I never quite understood why my friends growing up would say that they didn't like vegetables when cherry tomatoes were my favorite summer snack. Or why my friends would love coming to my house knowing that my mom was always going to have a fresh fruit salad waiting for us during those warm summer months. I didn't get what the big deal was until I realized that most kids didn't grow up gardening and with the same kind of food culture that we did.
Now as a dietitian and sustainability specialist, I also know how much healthier for us eating locally and with the seasons is for our bodies...and our bodies are trained to recognize what a truly nutrient rich piece of produce or meat tastes like...it tastes amazing. The intense flavor of an in-season fruit or vegetable is something that is intentional. It's a reward in many ways for treating the land and our bodies the way they like to be treated. You know what I am talking about if you have ever gone to eat a conventional tomato in the dead of winter, grown somewhere most likely in Mexico only to discover that it is virtually flavorless.
No wonder so many people grow up not likely fruits and vegetables, claiming that they don't taste good. They are right! They don't taste good...not when they are grown for convenience and abundance instead of nutrition and flavor.
I didn't realize it when I was younger, but I was incredibly lucky to have grown up with such a strong connection to my food and where it comes from, and it excites me to be a part of the generation who hopefully turns this country's relationship with food around, and reconnects both children and adults with what real food tastes like.
Because that is what food culture is all about, it is about a connection with our food from seed to table. It's about family traditions, passed down recipes, and meals that are about more than just the food on the table. No matter who you are, or where you come from that is what a strong food culture is all about, and why I believe everyone (whether they grew up with one or not) can foster a food culture within their own home.
But when it comes to reconnecting with our food nothing is more powerful than going right to the source. Start by learning how to grow some of your food yourself (start small and embrace the inevitable mistakes that are bound to happen) or connect with farmers in your local community who are growing it for you. Learn their names, ask them questions, and get inspired to maybe grow something of your own.