Man in Overalls helps you #GrowYourGroceries!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Did I ever tell you about the night someone tried to rob me?

Before I get around to that, let me say it was a sunny, crisp and convivial Thanksgiving. My family and two visiting friends ate on the picnic table out front in the garden. The table sagged under the weight of food. Okay, that's a lie. It was, however, loaded. Loaded. Chicken--not turkey-- I daresay, marinated with rosemary, thyme, oregano and homemade white wine, all from the garden. Rosemary flavored sweet potatoes with black beans seasoned with peppers, onions and chilies. Mashed turnips. A mess of collard greens, southern style. Mustard greens, vegetarian with soy sauce. An egg-fritatta with onions, kale and beet greens. Did I mention that everything listed thus far was from the garden save the chicken, beans and onions? (The eggs for the fritatta came from a chicken-raising neighbor the next street over.) And, of course, there was stuffing and cornbread and cranberries, and only God-knows what else, but as-sure-as-I'm-alive, I ate it.

Here's a picture of a few veggies I picked the night before Thanksgiving to prepare. (Plus some honey from a neighbor up the street.)

So, did I ever tell you about the night someone broke into my truck?

It was Thanksgiving 2009.

After a hard day of, uh... eating, eating and then eating homemade apple-blackberry crisp and pumpkin pie, I sat up late talking with two friends, Geoffrey and Martha. They were sharing their plans to marry and farm in Wisconsin just across the hayfield from where Geoffrey grew up. Additionally, they spoke of their dreams to start a 50 to 100 member vegetable CSA with additional enterprises springing up around the edges such as might include goats and homemade soaps and knitted washclothes and dexter cattle and draft (animal) traction. As I listened to their visions, I suddenly heard a bump outside.

At first I thought it was our cats, but it sounded like a bucket being kicked... plus both our cats were inside. As there has been a rash of neighborhood car break-ins lately, I figured it was worth a look.

As soon as I cracked the front door and the flicked the lights on, I saw there was a guy running alongside (his) bike away, up my driveway. When he reached the road, he lept on his bike.

And I took off! "Hey! Hey man. Hey!" I yelled. He called back, "I didn't take it. I didn't get anything." Course, he was on a bike, so I was outmatched from the start. Nonetheless, at 12:30AM, barefoot, reaching in my pocket for the cellphone to call the cops, I bolted. For two and a half blocks I chased, but finally he passed out of sight over the next hill, and I stopped to gain my breath so I could talk to the dispatcher without panting.

The frustrating thing was, what I actually wanted to do was talk to the guy. He was about my age. In a weird way of looking at it, he was knocking on my door, and apparently, he was hungry or needy. (Why else would he be looking through the change-tray of my beat-up, old truck?) And, like I mentioned, we had tons of Thanksgiving food, loads of leftovers. Additionally, I know something about growing food, so just perhaps, within a few months, we could set him up with a garden of his own somewhere. Alas.

Instead of "Good evening. How's it going? Want some mashed turnips? How about roasted chicken and cranberry sauce? Or, tell-you-what, I've also got some soul-warming southern collard greens and cornbread.... What da ya say?" all that got out was: "Hey! Hey man! Hey!"

I daresay the words eluded me. I'm gonna have to work on being more articulate.

Well, a few minutes later the police showed up. I offered the best description I could muster: "Guy about my size. In a hoodie. On a bike. Real fast." One of the officers zipped off to look and the other gave me a ride back to my house. In the driveway, the officer took down my information for back-reference: name, date of birth, etc. Finally, the officer, she asked me, "So, do you have a job? You work?"

"I'm self-employed," I say.

"What's your line of work?" she questions.

"Uh... landscaping," I simplify.

"Okay," she processes offhandedly, "So, when I need some yard work done, I'll give you a call?"

"When you want a food garden," I say, "Yeah, let me know."

"A food garden?" she looked up quizzically.

"Yeah. Vegetables. Fruit trees. Stuff like that."

"Really? Because," she lights up, interested, "What I've been wanting is an herb garden."

As she continued telling me about how she wanted a little herb garden and all about her grand-mother who used to work medicine with "every kind of herb" and bark and roots and flowers and leaves, I pointed to my own raised herb garden in the beam of the squad-car headlights.

After we compared more grand-mother stories, just as the other patrol pulled into the top of my driveway, she said, "Yeah. I'm gonna have to give you a call."

- - -

My life is so wierd. Folks, really. I wear overalls. In the 21st century. In the city. I farm in the suburbs. I start gardens all over town. I stand beside the road with signs that say things like, "Grow Your Own Food and Share It."

And at 1 O'clock in the morning just after someone broke into my truck, I talked food gardens with the police, and it turns out Officer Abney wants my help to start an herb garden.

And for this, for all these things, I'm thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Amidst the Construction

Here's one of the greatest things about gardens: Even in the face of neglect, they keep growing.

For most of the past three weeks, I laid the overalls aside to complete a home renovation. In preparation for my sister's belated wedding party here in Tallahassee (she lives and was married in the Seattle area), our family frantically renovated both our kitchen and bathroom. On more than one occasion, I found myself at Lowes before the sun came up and worked well past midnight in order to achieve some semblance of order before the party. Needless to say, I didn't have much time left over to garden. And yet, things continued to grow and to ripen.

Below are a few pictures from my own food garden. The bounty astounds me; I find myself surprised that so much goodness could self-create outside my windows while I struggled to refinish old cabinets. Take a look.

Turnips. We ate greens at my sister's party. Last night, we ate some of the roots in a stir-fry with onions and left-over barbecue meat.

Collards. These are just coming on line. I'm looking forward to feasting on these. Collards were the first kind of green that I ever grew. Whenever I visit my grandmother, collards are always on the menu.

Cayenne Peppers. This plant has been putting out three to five peppers a week for the better part of three or four months. For seasoning greens, meat, potatoes... chop 'em up and drop them in the oil before everything else; that way, the flavor distributes evenly, and you're not kicked in the mouth by a wallop of spice.

New Herb Garden. Oregano. Rosemary. Thyme. Basil. Dill. Fennel. Garlic Chives. Sage. Nasturtiums. Lavender. And I've got a few lettuces growing in there too. Last night we ate purple mustards seasoned with garlic chives. Last week we used a bit of rosemary to cook homefry-style sweet potatoes. And today at lunch, I ate egg salad with some fresh dill.

Pomelo (or Pummelo). This citrus monstrosity has only been in the ground two seasons and already we've got a batch of fruit: three 5 to 8 pound fruits that taste like the best grapefruit you'll ever come across. In case you can't tell, these citrus "melons" are eight inches in diameter. They'll be ready for picking within a month or so.

Amber Sweet Orange. Third season in the ground and the first year we're getting any fruit. The tree is only about three and a half feet tall. I remember tasting this one at the nursery: super sweet, easy to peel, great sections... and cold-hardy down to sub-20 degrees.

Satsuma. Look at this itty-bitty-baby tree. Only been in the ground two seasons, not even three feet tall, and it's bent over with fruit. My kind of tree.

And the bananas. The trick with bananas is that your typical grocery store banana requires two years to go from flower to ripe fruit. With our freezes here in north Florida, that would never work. These finger bananas, however, take just nine months from flower to ripe fruit. So, assuming the tree times things right, we can enjoy local bananas. Who would have guessed? Four years in the ground, this is the first year it's looking as though we'll be passing over the Chiquita stand at the grocery.

Note #1: If you're still looking to grow food and don't want to wait on spring and as it's getting a bit late to start your fall veggie garden, you've still got a few options: a)It's a fine time to start your herb garden from potted varieties available at Tallahassee or Native Nurseries. b)Winter is the best time of year to plant most fruit trees as it gives them a chance to get rooted before the fierce heat of Florida comes back around. c)Go ahead and start your fall veggie garden with plants. (Gramlings still has collards and kale and cabbage and chard and broccoli for sale.) Just know things will grow a bit slower because of the shorter days. d)Ready your garden for spring by banking it with leaves and grass-clippings.

Note #2: Just Fruits down in Medart is where I purchased all the above fruit tree varieties. If you want to blow your pre-conceived notions about what fruits can and can't be grown in north Florida out of the water, it's worth the trip.

Note #3: As a little side project, I undertook to fundraise a bit of money for the Damayan Garden Project using this personalized Damayan fundraising webpage. Already folks have chipped in $390. I'm looking to raise $500 as that's a rough estimate of the cost to install the new Damayan community garden at the Tallahassee Housing Authority site just off Orange Ave. Just like my garden, even amidst my lack of attention and solicitation, the fundraising total kept growing. Thank you for your support of Damayan, an organized piece of the Tallahassee Food Movement.

See you around town.

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