Dirty Work

I’ll admit, round about January I’m wandering around starry-eyed as I plan out my garden for the upcoming spring. And while I grew up gardening, I did have a few years where I wasn’t able to do much of it and kind of “lost touch” with a certain reality about growing your own food: it’s dirty work.

Case in point, this was my largest cabbage that I harvested this past weekend:

See those little holes? Something made those holes. Something small and green. Or maybe it was one of the many slugs I picked off of them. Or maybe it was one of the many earwigs that crawled out from the base as I uprooted the plant.

Don’t even get me started on the sticky mess that our cherry preserving turned our kitchen in to. I had to wipe down every surface – including the entire floor – after we were done.

When someone walks up to me dreamily and says, “I want to garden! And I want to can what I grow!” I try to be as gentle as possible. Because really, it’s cool that they want to try. Some people discover that gardening is a really fun hobby for them, and you get lots of health benefit aside.

But gardening is more than just doling out cute little seeds from their packets and then picking the fruit as it ripens. Growing your own food involves lots of physically demanding labor. It involves bugs – lots of bugs. Good bugs like worms and lady beetles, bad bugs like slugs and ants and earwigs. It involves very dirty hands and short fingernails. It involves hours of chopping, of boiling water and lifting hot, heavy jars out of your canner. It involves sweat. Sometimes, it’s not pretty.

Growing my own food is humbling for me. It reminds me to be thankful, and to make better choices about where I buy food that I can’t grow myself. It’s very easy for us to “disconnect” from our food. We go to the grocery store and buy clean, perfect-looking produce with nary a thought to how it got there, who picked it, what it was sprayed with…

It’s harder to do things this way. It takes more time. Some days, I’m pretty certain it’s a tad more expensive. I don’t want to ever “glamorize” growing your own food. I want people to be realistic about what it involves.

But I’ve found it to be worthwhile because I’ve learned to enjoy the process. The years that I spent not gardening softened me up a bit – I’m getting to be much tougher these days about squishing bugs with my bare hands and hauling buckets of horse poop around. I’ve even learned to find humor in it. Because it’s funny to squat down in your cabbage patch and flick slugs over the fence for your neighbor’s dogs to harass.

I get genuinely excited about coming home and checking on the progress of things – especially this time of year. The first tiny cucumber or tomato is just as thrilling to me as the end product. Seeing my pumpkin vines growing 6 inches a day makes me really happy.

So, if you want a cheap and easy way to get organic produce, gardening is not my first recommendation by any means. But, if you’re looking to commit to spending many hours outdoors, to watching life happen in your backyard, and to getting dirty on a regular basis….

Go for it!


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