I warm up my hands by wrapping them around a steaming cup of hot tea and I watch the rain through my window. It’s tapping on the leaves that still insist on attaching themselves to the branches of my backyard trees. This cold drizzle is a sign that I can now finally look back on this year’s growing season and learn from it. I can learn from my successes and I can certainly learn from my mistakes.
Being my very first time gardening in Vermont, the balance was a mixed bag. There were some very good crops that grew with hardly any effort and then there were the uncooperative vegetables that chose to teach me a lesson. I am grateful for all of them: the plentiful, the ugly, the stunted and the dead ones. All in all, we had an unexpected large amount of organic food to sample during the five months that the season lasted.
I am, by all standards, a big city girl and I had no access to farming or gardening while growing up. My upbringing was typically urban. I lived in the eighth floor of a high rise building in the center of Madrid. There were lots of large glass structures, paved roads, asphalt and concrete. We also had an abundance of museums, libraries, department stores, restaurants and all manner of noisy vehicles. Indeed, all the trappings of a metropolitan area.
Nevertheless, Madrid is (even today) the European capital with the largest number of green spaces. There are more than forty parks silently providing the city with cleaner air. They are scrupulously maintained by an invisible army of city employees. I remember them as beautiful and full of seasonal flower beds, but I never considered the option of having any involvement in the care of those spaces. To me, they were just my playground.
Although I was the great granddaughter of farmers, my understanding of plants and seasons was, for all those reasons, marginal. I thought of gardens in terms of flowers and viewed them as merely ornamental. My mom grew potted plants on our terraces, but never vegetables since the concept of urban food production was not yet a reality. Markets in Madrid were abundant with fruits, vegetables and, yes, flowers, but I seldom thought about where they were coming from.
I did have, however, a distinct advantage over my city friends: my grandma was from Valencia and I visited her on occasion. There she would walk with me through brush thick with rosemary and thyme, sometimes up the hill to her almond tree orchard, and sometimes down the side of the river to her vegetable patch. She tended a small plot where she would grow saffron, green beans, tomatoes and a variety of local leafy greens. She also showed me how to forage spindly asparagus and how to marinate olives in salty brine with marjoram and garlic. These activities seemed to me not just rural, but positively wild and I always had the greatest time with her.
Fast forward a couple of decades (perhaps more) and my occupation as a nutritionist and my original vocation as an artist have both benefited from my interest in gardening. I find obvious connections among all three pursuits, and they have happily mingled this year thanks to my involvement with the VCGN program. It has been a wonderful experience both in terms of learning and because of the incredible hospitality I have been shown by the teachers and staff. The time spent at the garden has never failed to be the highlight of my week. My gardening experience would have, no doubt, been very different without the constant support of everyone at the Intervale Teaching Garden.
I would recommend the program to everyone, from the food lover to the aspiring urban farmer and particularly to those concerned about the health of our ill-treated planet. Everything you’ll learn will have a practical application and you will even learn things about yourself that you did not know before. The garden is a place where honesty is required. If you try to take shortcuts, if you neglect your care-taking tasks, it will quickly be apparent to everybody. Plants make you accountable for the treatment they receive from you. I personally enjoy that kind of instant feedback. It gives me the chance to rethink my strategy and rectify what I am doing. Life is not often that generous.