Thursday, September 20, 2007

Food and gardening

Einstein and I were raised in the sticks. We liked it then, and our families continue to enjoy it. There are times when I am annoyed by being from the sticks. Like when we are home over holidays and the sidewalks roll up at 5PM. Or when I realize that there is no real coffee shop. Or every time I am forced to drive from my family home to Einstein's (a nearly hour long drive, although we have the same "hometown").

But it is only after the past six years of being "away" from home that I begin to truly appreciate the thing that I miss the most about being home: the food.

I don't mean the actual dishes that are cooked. I love love love being exposed to all of the new dishes and produce-Einstein and I had green chiles for the first time last year, and okra for the first time this year. The food we grew up on was standard Midwestern fare, for the most part, with some tasty Scandanavian ethnic dishes thrown in.

What I miss is knowing where my food comes from. While no one in my family has farmed in three generations, my grandfather worked for John Deere. We ate grass-fed beef raised by some folks from our church. Our bacon was grown and processed locally. Our neighbors provided our milk (dairy and goat), chicken and eggs. Einstein's family is much the same, although most of their meat comes from the deer that he, his father and his siblings hunted (and continue to hunt) each year on their own land. They process the deer themselves. Their venison steaks are amazing.

Wild rice (which they now have to ship to us because I refuse to pay boutique prices for rice that isn't Uncle Ben's) is harvested from the lake that lies off the back of Einstein's family's property. Raspberries, strawberries, apples, rhubarb and just about every vegetable imaginable came straight from the garden. I remember being confused the first time I realized that my friends ate vegetables that came out of metal cans; ours were in glass jars. Frozen I was fine with, after all, I had helped Mom and Dad freeze a whole deep freeze full of veggies!

I know how much work that food was; I have a few clear memories of planting, weeding, watering, picking and sweltering August days spent canning. And canning. And canning. Lots of canning. But what I remember best is how sweet that corn was, how juicy the raspberries were and how crisp the green beans were.

When I was in college, I didn't miss this type of food much; part of the time I was living with a bunch of people raised much like I was, so we had a huge backyard garden and frequented the farmer's market. We were the only college kids I knew who made their own jam. Besides which, college kids are supposed to eat crappy food. It's a rite of passage. But now Einstein and I are a family, and I want to have real family food. And I can't, because:

The military is messing with my food. I feel really lucky to have the military community; after 4 years of unofficial membership and three months with an i.d. card, I know to appreciate the vitality, resilience and friendliness of those in my new community.

But there don't seem to be many farmers. Or even gardeners. I would give my eyeteeth for some farm fresh eggs.

So I've spent most of the time since we PCS'd looking for good food. I'm growing some fall tomatoes, and of course my little kitchen herb garden is thriving. I also have chives, mmmm. I found a farmer's market, but the last one of the growing season was two weeks after we arrived. Without the contacts that I had growing up, I'm not sure how to find a farmer to sell me eggs, meat and dairy. My super-librarian-research-skills have helped me locate some things (grass fed meat!!), and the commissary is pinch hitting with some cage free vegetarian eggs, but I'm exhausted at the thought of having to do this every time we move.

It was a lot easier when I was eight and could go across the road to collect our fresh batch of "golden" eggs and goat milk from our elderly neighbors.

Also, I'm used to being able to garden-not always a given if we are in base housing or an apartment (like now!). And even if I do find someone to buy bushels of tomatoes and whatnot from, do I really want to haul all of that home canned food with me when we move? What about produce that I freeze? Eat it up, I guess, but I'm paranoid about moving in the summer (highly likely) and ending up in this situation again-ie, facing a whole year with no home preserved anything because I was moving during growing season.

I'll just have to keep looking, and hope for the best.


liberal army wife said...

are you from MN or Wisc? scanihoovian? We are in MN, and about to PCS to VA.


Nomad Librarian said...

Definitely scandihoovian, although my husband is mostly German, much to my grandmother's dismay...she was hoping I would find a nice Norwegian boy... :-)

Minnesota, most definitely!!! Although I have to admit now that we're far away, meeting folks from Wisconsin makes me feel like I've found a long lost sibling.