There is something intensely satisfying about growing your own produce. As a child, my mom and stepdad would get a little plot in a community garden every summer in my hometown, and along with my sister, we'd grow green beans, corn, tomatos, sunflowers, etc. Though I was too young to really appreciate the quality of freshly grown vegetables free of pesticides, I remember having a good time weeding, planting, tending to the plants, and harvesting when the time came.
Here on the island we've planted a garden to provide some of the produce we use on our menu, so these memories have come flooding back to me. We got it started kind of late, so the productivity hasn't been exactly what we've hoped for, but what we have gotten out of it has been fantastic. We've got swiss chard, a dozen varities of heirloom tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, patty pan squash, mints, basils, fennel, greens, kale, purple cabbage, sweet peppers, hot peppers, and more.
In the beginning -
August 4th 2009 -
The squash in the foreground are struggling a little, but the purple cabbage and kale are massive, and the tomatoes are just about ready to go.
The difference between the produce we pull out of the garden versus what we get from our produce vendor is really startling. Basil has been the most notable. Running down to the garden for a big heap of basil when pesto is on the prep list absolutely fills the kitchen with its scent, and not just subtly, it's almost overpowering. Pulling basil out of the walk-in (when we've temporarily decimated our garden supply) is a total let-down after that experience. The leaves are flimsier, the scent is weak - even when chopping it, and the color of the pesto isn't nearly as vibrant.
I always thought the idea of what Dan Barber does at Blue Hill Farm was really cool and unique. Having a restaurant on a farm where all produce and protein is grown on-site definitely creates its own niche, but after my experiences with our little garden, I really understand what the driving force behind it is. Buying organic/local/fresh produce is wonderful, and I encourage everyone to do it as much as possible, but the flavors and aromas and textures of something harvested that very day is absolutely un-matchable.
This is starting to get perilously long, but consider this last appeal. If you want organic, don't go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, go to your local farmer's market. Those of you in the Twin Cities area are spoiled in that regard. The St. Paul Farmer's Market is recognized as one of the best in the country (all product is from within something like an 80-mile radius, I believe), and the Mill City Farmer's Market is also fantastic. Support your local farmers and growers who provide a number of different products, not the mono-culture industrial-organic giants that supply new-age supermarkets like Whole Foods (think of the carbon footprint on the Peruvian organic asparagus you buy in the dead of winter).
Support the small growers.