I grew up in the garden. And, while the specific geographic location of the garden bounced from Lewiston, Maine to Arlington and then Gloucester, and now Rockport, Massachusetts, the garden itself, was a constant. Each one had their own unique personality, but there were three basic aspects that each one held — soil, plants, and my mother. The garden is somewhere that I didn’t just learn about the plants around me, but I learned about myself too — of what sort of values I hold as a human being on this lovely planet, of what my impact is and how I can make the most of it, and many of my own personal beliefs. No matter where I have lived, or will live, the garden is something that I know will continue to be a constant because of how much of an impact it really has had on my life.
At a young age, I could name every plant in my mother’s garden. The first that I remember was in Arlington — although I have faint recollections of the flower garden in Maine, the vegetable garden that literally took over half of our postage-stamp backyard is the first that I remember fully. It had a winding brick pathway that looped through to the back corner of the garden where the cucumbers would climb the chain-link fence and then back down towards the patio. I remember walking along the path, bending down to play with roly-poly potato bugs, and plucking cherry tomatoes and herbs off the plants and plopping them in my mouth. It was simple, small, but gave us what we needed in terms of vegetables.
It wasn’t until we moved to Gloucester that my mother’s garden grew, and our hobbies began to include creating our own salsas, sauces, and other canned goods. And it wasn’t really until we moved to Gloucester that I began to realize how much the garden had impacted me already. I remember going to school with fresh vegetables packed in my lunch box, of pulling out containers filled with odd combinations that my mom had whipped up the night before — things to me that seemed normal, but freaked my classmates out. I had taken fresh vegetables and knowing where exactly they had come from for granted. I didn’t realize that children like me had never plucked a carrot out of the dirt or been told to grab some fresh basil off of the plant outside — I thought that was normal, not abnormal.
Then, when I became a vegetarian, I began to understand how the garden had shaped me as a person. At first, it was a contest between me and my boyfriend at the time, to see who could go the longest without eating meat — he lasted a few hours, I am still going strong over eight years later. My household was a fairly meat-free environment in the first place — opting for fish and other seafood and protein sources rather than steak-and-potato or pork chop dinners every night — so the transition to completely meat-free was easy. That same year, I decided to read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle for summer reading (I should really read that again now that I’m out of middle school) and my mind was opened to the horrors of the meat industry.
Of course, it’s not nearly as bad as it was when Sinclair wrote the book back in the early 20th century, but that’s only in a strictly sterile and sanitary sense. The meat industry is one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions in the world. As the world’s population grows, and more of the world’s population take on American eating habits, more of this world’s land is put into use by the meat industry. We are clearing land for cattle and corn like its no body’s business, and destroying the world around us as we do it — clearing the land causes the loss of biodiversity, of trees that were sucking in CO2, and when the land that we cleared is no longer viable because we sucked the nutrients out of it without attempting to return any, more land is cleared and the old land is left dead, dying, and destroyed.
It was from my experience in the garden, of knowing how important it is to treat the land that you use with care and of the importance of knowing where the food on plate came from, that has shaped so much of who I am, of the hobbies I enjoy, and the beliefs I hold. I love being able to give a basket full of fresh greens and veggies to my friends and neighbors; it makes me proud of myself when I open up a jar of tomato sauce in which every ingredient came from my garden; it makes me feel good about myself and my impact on this Earth when I am able to grow all of these amazing things without relying on any chemical fertilizers.
It’s a movement that is gaining momentum around the United States —of organic gardening, in no matter how small of a space available, and not just of being organic, but of being sustainable — of being able to meet present needs and ensure that future needs can be met as well. But one needs to understand just how systemic our problem, the problem of climate change and what we do about it, to understand that having a simple, organic, summer vegetable garden is a step in the right direction. And, I am more than happy to help lead people in that direction.