Thursday, March 10, 2011

The McShamrock Shake of Plants

Having just visited the Philadelphia Flower Show, customers calling me by day to pre-book April/May orders, and browsing seed catalogs by night for my kitchen windowsill garden, I've been thinking a lot about all things spring. I'm on the search for the newest (and most fashionable) style of gardening gloves, sourcing the coolest ornamental grass, and waiting desparately for the country's longest continuously running Farmers Market to reopen. My husband Nick is "getting his Spring on" by looking for solar-powered walkway lights, Woolly Pockets for the deck, and has found his beloved new grill. He too is anxious for the Easton Farmer's Market so he can buy the ingredients for our Easter Lamb Kabobs. Nick and I understand the wait is well worth it, completely necessary, realistic, and logical to the seasonality of produce and plants, having grown up with relatives who own an organic grass-fed beef cattle farm in VT, or in Nick's case right next door to a large dairy farm.

Does the rest of the American public understand why the Farmer's Markets are closed in the winter? Do plant buyers of garden centers realize why basil doesn't grow in January?

We live in a time where technology is king, where an astounding number of foods contain high fructose corn syrup, and the majority of our household items are made outside of the United States. Americans today have grown up shopping for their food at the local grocery store or produce dude down the block from their Brooklyn flat - places where food just magically is always available and always looks the same. My friend Melissa asks "Do kids/adults know that their food doesn't materialize on demand like Star Trek or The Jetson's?"

I think sadly the answer is no. A friend of mine attended the Bucks County Food Shed Alliance meeting last week and was taken back when the consumers at the meeting commented they want a year-round farmers market. Catch: a year-round farmers market supplying tomatoes, peppers, berries, etc. that are all LOCALLY sourced. Unless Bucks County finds a grower/farmer who is interested in growing summer produce in a greenhouse with loads of heat and supplemental lighting during the coldest and darkest months of the year, Bucks County residents might be SOL.

Obviously the solution is to educate the public - adults AND children - about farming and greenhouse growing. The work is hard but the results are well worth the effort. For Pete's sake people, plants are NOT tee shirts that sit on shelves in warehouses, waiting to be ordered and shipped to the grocery or garden center. There is a seasonality, an exclusiveness, a "limited time only" aspect - just the same as one can only get McDonald's Shamrock Shakes in March, or candy corn in October, tomatoes and basil are key components in "Summer Salad" for a reason.

CSA's attempt to teach their members about the work involved in growing, but how many of the members actually put in their required time by the end of the season? Perhaps field trips are a better start. When I was in elementary school my classes went to the Dewitt, NY Wegman's to see trucks delivering food to the stores; we visted the original Hoffman Hotdog factory (back when hotdogs were still considered "food" in the mid-80's); and my Girl Scout troop visited a local dairy farm to milk cows. If you're a grower, invite the local Boy Scout troops to tour your greenhouse and have them pot up some petunia starts. If you're a mother, suggest to your child's teacher they take a tour to a local farm. For my garden center peeps, work with the local school district to start a children's garden. And in the meantime, get excited for Spring!

Plant on,

Song for the Garden: Pumpkin Soup - Kate Nash
Song for the Seedlings (AKA Plant Wannabes): Summer Girl - Beck