Summer gardening with late summer and fall canning used to be done for winter survival and a chance at vegetables to last through the long winter season ahead for my ancestors. Now rural grocery stores and the ability to drive to towns with larger stores give us all access to fresh produce throughout the year, for which I like to say thank you farmers in the “Smile.”
In the dead of winter when nothing is growing on the Northern Plains, our modern food system bring us produce from the "Smile" of southern states from California to the East Coast, as well as all the way down through Mexico and South America. I appreciate the accessibility of year-round fresh produce that my ancestors never had.
Gardening alongside farming rooted a rural way of life for generations before me. Modern-day rural life allowed me to give up gardening four or five years ago while juggling kids’ schedules and a heavier workload and rely on farmers markets and on my grocery store for fresh produce. And while I have missed the beauty of canned vegetables, fruits and sauces on my pantry shelf, I haven’t missed the work of “putting up a garden” this time of year as my ancestors did to feed their families through the winter.
My lack of gardening changed this year as our girls, ages 11 and 12, planted a garden at my parent’s farm. With ample rain and a little weeding, it flourished. We’ve been eating garden produce for the past few months, but now it’s time to preserve garden goodness as the temps drop. To save time, I’m roasting tomatoes and peppers in the oven, blending in a food processor, using fresh in recipes and also freezing. I plan to can salsa yet this month with the girls learning along the way.
I follow the example my grandma and mom set for me and am reminded that even though I don’t have to preserve garden bounty to feed my family, I want to as there is nothing to me that tastes better in January than something that we grew ourselves in a summer garden. And maybe my kids will continue gardening, growing a little of their own bounty, preserve it and train up future generations of their own to do the same.
Gardening doesn’t have to be done on your own and solely for your family. Nearby, the Aneta, N.D. (population 203) community garden and orchard showcases how growing short-season fruits, nuts and vegetables builds community fellowship and friendships while sharing the garden bounty with our neighbors.
I read their garden updates in the local newspaper and see the Facebook page updates. From the outside, I see multi-generations volunteering, working in public garden spaces, using what they need for their families and sharing with others. The sharing table is full for people to stop by and take whatever is available. Beets, onions, cabbage, cantaloupe, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, sweet corn and zucchini were recently highlighted in a post. Cut flower gardens, hazelnuts, elderberries, chokecherries, raspberries, gooseberries, apples all have been recently listed as available for picking. The variety of the Aneta community garden offers more than even our modern food distribution at grocery stores delivers. And my favorite part of the updates: volunteers deliver produce around the town to those who cannot get to the garden themselves.
Think what all of our communities and neighborhoods, small or large, would be if we adopted this simple community orchard and garden model.
Volunteer our time, spend more time outdoors in the summer months and utilize resources to grow all that we can in a short growing season. Pick, share, preserve. Add in that Aneta’s lone grocery closed a few years ago, and the community garden in a town of 200 isn’t just a feel-good garden, it’s feeding people who otherwise drive 15-60 miles to access a grocery store. Think ahead, past this gardening season and use the community of Aneta as a model to follow.
Could you help coordinate and plant a community garden and orchard in your town and neighborhood? Or plant a garden in your backyard to share with others around you? The volunteering and organization of it takes time to catch on but I think the fellowship, work and example of feeding others fresh, locally grown gives us more of what we need right now: community, sharing and connection while growing together.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.