Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Planting seeds

Although it's spring, and we're planting lots of seeds in the garden, I'm talking about planting metaphorical seeds. Anyone who knew me in high school or college has to be incredibly shocked when they see the person I've become -- growing my own food, weighing less than I did in high school and college, almost never wearing make-up, more concerned about who made my clothes instead of who designed them, never watching television other than a once-a-week movie from Netflix. I've changed in practically every way imaginable.

When my first child was born, I would drink a two-liter bottle of soda every day -- caffeine-free though because I was nursing my baby. I remember buying $50 designer jeans in high school in the late 1970s! (That was a lot of money back then.) I thought, "What's the big deal?" when garment manufacturing jobs started going overseas in the 1980s. I ate out more often than I ate at home, and a home-prepared meal was likely to be something from a can or a box. I never got any exercise more strenuous than walking to my car. I was heavily addicted to television. What happened to me?

Me at age 20, standing in the middle. The woman sitting,
third from right, was the knitter. Boyfriend is on the far right.
I was lucky enough to have a number of people come into my life -- some for a very short time -- to plant seeds. The four months I spent in Nebraska on National Student Exchange at Kearney State College definitely represented a fork in the road for me. I had a boyfriend who was diabetic, and it was the first time I had ever heard anyone talk about good nutrition. I grew up believing that all food was created equal. Just eat whatever you want, and you'll be fine. It was just fuel, right? Although I didn't change my diet at all -- and felt sorry for my boyfriend who had to watch what he ate -- the seed was planted that connected health and diet.

Another person I met during that time was a woman knitting a pair of mittens from wool that she had spun. Like most people, it had never crossed my mind that human beings could spin yarn from wool. At that time, learning to spin wool became a goal. It was a goal not realized for almost twenty years, but the seed was planted when I was in Nebraska.

Although I had read Walden previously, I read it for a literature class when I was in Nebraska, and somehow at that time, my brain processed it differently. Maybe it was reading it more than once. Maybe it was reading it after a geology trip to Colorado (pictured above). Maybe it was meeting the woman making the mittens. But whatever the connection, I finally "got it." I understood what Henry David Thoreau was saying. The designer clothes were not really important. Old habits die hard though, and I do recall buying a Gucci handbag a few years later. But the seed of simplicity was planted.

I earned my bachelor's degree from Eastern Connecticut State University, and my first New England boyfriend had a mother who was a Cordon Bleu chef. She was the first mere mortal I ever met who could really cook. I loved my mother dearly, but she either boiled or deep-fried everything, seriously everything. I loved my boyfriend's mother's cooking. She had her own restaurant, and I was lucky enough to help out a bit. Knowing her, I learned that cooking is something that anyone can learn. You can prepare delicious food in your own kitchen. It doesn't have to come from a box or a restaurant. She planted the seeds that gave me the courage to try things in the kitchen that most people never even consider -- like making cheese.

My parents planted a vegetable garden every year that I can remember, although I never helped. I don't remember ever pulling a single weed or picking any vegetables. My idea of gardening was overly simplistic. I assumed that you just plant seeds, and they magically turn into kitchen-ready vegetables. Although I had to learn a lot on my own, my parents planted the seeds that growing your own vegetables is possible.

I remember visiting my grandparent's farm when I was a little girl. All of the animals were running around together in fresh air and sunshine. I grew up believing that that's what all farms were like. Because of my grandparent's farm, the seeds were planted that made me believe that animals could be raised naturally.

Although I grew up in town, my parents would buy a calf from a rancher they knew. Sometimes my father would take it to the locker to get it butchered, and sometimes he'd shoot it and bring it home and butcher it in our garage. I was absolutely horrified as a teenager. "Why can't we just buy meat at the store like everybody else?" I asked my mother. And she responded, "Because you don't know how it was raised." She didn't elaborate, and I didn't ask any questions. I didn't know why it mattered, and I didn't care. But that comment stuck in my head, and one day in January 1989, when I was a new mother, I read an article about factory farming. I understood why my mother didn't like to buy meat at the grocery store, and with no alternatives for locally grown meat, my husband and I became vegetarians and decided to raise our children as vegetarians. My mother planted the seed that sometimes it's okay not to do the same thing as everyone else. It's okay if people think you're weird.

I was talking to a conventional-turned-organic farmer in January, and I asked him why he switched. "It didn't work," he said bluntly. "Conventional doesn't work." He told me about walking around with a pistol-grip syringe in each hand, injecting sick pigs with antibiotics daily. Then he told me about a conversation he overheard between his grandfather and his father. His grandfather said, "I don't understand why people think they can spray poison on food, and it's not going to hurt them." That thought lingered in his mind for decades as he grew up and followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a conventional farmer. One day he sprayed his field and forgot that he wasn't supposed to go back in there for a few days. That night he woke up gasping for air, barely able to breathe, thinking he was going to die, and he heard his grandfather's voice. He knew why he was sick. He knew he had to stop spraying poison on his fields and injecting his pigs with drugs. His grandfather had planted the seeds that decades later caused him to reject conventional agriculture.

Some people think there has to be a big a-ha! moment when you suddenly see the light and change your life, and it can happen like that if someone gets a life-threatening disease, but more often, it's the culmination of a lot of little things. So many people have come into my life and presented me with a new idea or a question that seemed insignificant at the time. But today I can see how all of those little seeds that were planted have grown into this beautiful garden that is now my life.


Jeanne said...

Deborah, lots of truth in this post! So many things come together to make us who we become, and some of that we never see coming!

Sarah said...

wonderful, as usual. :)

Mama Pea said...

Lovely post. The stumbling block for so many people is that they never are able to open their eyes, ears and heart enough to think about and question anything. (Lemmings marching to the sea?) But I do think day by day more and more people are allowing themselves to make different decisions and live differently from the way they were raised or have lived as adults. And that's only going to make it better for all of us.

Kathy ~ Cackles and Berries said...

what a wonderful post Debra. Thank you for sharing.

rachel whetzel said...

GAH!! I just LOVE you. More and more every day.

Anonymous said...

I quit buying Tyson products decades ago b/c of their polluting in Arkansas of the rivers and lakes. Your philosophy on home grown, organic products is in lock step with what more and more people in our country need to realize...at least if you grow it, you know what you're getting. I use no sprays and/or chemicals on my fruit trees or vege garden, but use what nature has provided. I do lose some fruit, but that's the way it goes. - Terri


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