The benefits of a store-bought carrot are that it is packed with vitamins and fiber and it is good for me.
The benefits of a home-grown carrot are that it is packed with vitamins and fiber, it is good for me, choosing the variety alleviated my cabin fever in late winter, learning how to make a cold frame, spending time outside every day in the fresh air and sunshine, seeing a doe and her fawn, learning how to deer proof my garden, seeing the first common yellowthroat I've seen on my property, toning my muscles, saving the money that I would have spent on buying carrots, not burning fuel to plant, transport or cool it, and hearing the most satisfying crunch when I bit into it, knowing that I grew it in my backyard.
The first carrot is good for me.
The second carrot is good for me and the Earth.
I don't just grow carrots. This year I grew a new variety of cherry tomato called Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato. It is closer to the "original" tomato than many others. The flavor was to die for. They were like candy. What the catalog didn't say is that it produces thousands and the plant is jungle-like ... it reaches 8-feet tall, tips over and keeps growing. My neighbors were invited to come over and harvest all they wanted. I couldn't even tell when they had been there. There was so much food from one plant.
Food is the one thing, across the globe, that we all have in common. We all must eat. Families and communities from a century ago knew this. Today we still know it. Who would throw a Super Bowl party without food? Our connection to food is woven into almost everything we do from family gatherings to going to the movies to relieving stress.
When a young man asks a father for his blessing to marry his daughter, it usually involves a meal. When a loved one dies, the grief is tempered with casseroles and covered dishes. Birthday parties have cake, Independence Day has barbecue and Thanksgiving has turkey. Food is a part of most celebrations and events. Yet how many of you think about it?
Our connection to food is what built community. While families tended their own family garden, it was virtually impossible to bring in all the fodder for the livestock with one family's labor. Thus they all worked on all the farms, everyone bringing in everyone's harvest so that everyone made it through the winter. Communities grew and became evermore self-sufficient. Local food was that powerful.
I was never and haven't again been in as good of shape as I was on the farm. Talk about the ultimate workout. I was stronger, I had more endurance and I had good-looking arms. We sold the food in the community, worked with restaurants to promote eating more locally and gave extra produce to those who needed it.
The benefits of local food and of growing your own far exceed your wallet and your stomach. The benefits of sharing it reach so far beyond yourself.
The community formed around the understanding of the value of food is priceless and genuine.
When you work in a garden or on a farm it is easier to appreciate the true cost of food. When you work in a garden, you value food more. When you value food more, you don't hesitate to spend a little more at a farmers' market. When you spend a little more at the farmer's market, you get to know the farmers. And when you get to know the farmers and forget your purse one day, they say, don't worry, we'll put it on your tab, we know you're good for it. That's community. And it is built on local food.
A garden can change lives. It could change your life. Food will connect you to people you would never otherwise meet. Growing food will connect you to the land in ways you didn't imagine. A new community, and even a lot of carrots, could come from a single plot of land.
Audubon has a demonstration vegetable garden and other gardens. Day campers, staff and volunteers enjoyed much of its bounty over the summer. So did the deer. To hike the trails and see nature's bounty this time of year, visit our center. We are located on Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn until dusk and the building is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily, except Sundays when we open at 1 p.m. Visit jamestownaudubon.org or call 569-2345 for more information.
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon and loves growing her own food. This article is adapted from a speech recently given at the JCC Community Gardens dedication.