Based on my records, which is really just an orange spiral notebook, I have been gardening for a bit over three years. During that time, I have learned a tremendous amount about the biology that sustains us, and the tasks necessary to produce edible, and at times even tasty, food from soil, seed, and sunshine. This season is my most ambitious yet, I added an extra 200 sq ft. in the West Crop and I planted a variety of plants which I’ve never planted before including bush beans, summer squash, potatoes, leeks, beets, pumpkin, strawberries, okra, brussel sprouts, and scallions. Despite working at a frenetic pace to get everything going, I have had time to reflect and wanted to share some of the motivations for my gardening zeal.
After moving to northern California, surrounded by fantastic restaurants, and influenced by more savvy friends, I began to appreciate food differently than I had while growing up. I began to appreciate flavor, texture, and above all, quality of the food.
After years of consuming, in that first season I started gardening, I produced more tomatoes than I could possibly ever consume, and started to share them with colleagues. I came to appreciate food on a very different and social level: sharing good food is perhaps one of the most primitive levels of human goodwill.
Regardless of whether it’s grown, baked, fried, or grilled, there is something very fundamentally satisfying about sharing a delicious meal with people, or reciprocally, having somebody share a delicious meal with you.
Last year, when I tore up a few hundred square feet of pointless dying sod in our front yard, I unwittingly embarked on a quasi-social experiment in my neighborhood. Without a fence, for the first time, my garden was publicly accessible. Anybody could walk right up, smell the flowers, steal a tomato, or kick over a bush. As the idea developed, I set out a wooden picnic table, a little wooden “surplus” box, and a water bowl for dogs passing by on hot summer days.
I started to meet people left and right, talking about our respective gardens, or other neighborly small talk. Eventually I met Dana, probably 20 years my senior, who would walk her dog past our house, and enjoyed sitting at the picnic table to rest and enjoy the garden.
Last season I shared tomatoes and zucchini with her, and she shared soups she made with me. This season, she’s growing sugar snap peas from seed I gave her at the end of last year, and already tested some of my radishes and sugar snap peas.
Gardening has broadened my social circle and elicited connections with neighbors in a way I had not experienced before.
When a person looks across a patch of seemingly inert soil, they probably just see dirt. Now, I see the potential for something beautiful and delicious. The novel biologic systems that come together to germinate a miniscule seed into something edible still fascinate me. Creating an environment into which these plants can thrive and do something for me, my friends, and my family, continues to excite. The joy from the end result is sufficient to motivate me through shoveling, watering, pruning, and all the other menial tasks involved with gardening.
At a more fundamental level, my motivations are probably selfish. Somewhere hidden deep in my monkey brain, plucking from the vine or pulling from the earth, and sharing that harvest with friends and family certainly triggers some happy-monkey-hormones.
That’s what gets me up in the morning, motivates me through the long hot afternoons, and keeps me watching carefully as the myriad of green stalks push towards the sun.
A bountiful harvest, a good meal, and those happy-monkey-hormones.