Lots of talk about how we’re going to bust out of this unprecedented, scary, virus pandemic real soon now and emerge cheering from our confinement, ready to return to our usual routines and generally comfortable way of life. Or maybe not.
The plague of 2020 should have taught us some valuable lessons. Life is fragile. Our advanced and supposedly technically superior health system can’t always come to our rescue. We can’t always count on having a job, or being able to pay our rent or mortgage.
And we might not even be able to get enough to eat. Out of all the TV news clips relating to the coronavirus outbreak, the ones that grabbed me the most were those showing the miles-long lines of people waiting to get free food. They might have arrived in expensive cars, but they were still hungry. Even former food pantry volunteers found themselves on the other end of the food drives.
There’s no guarantee that the abundance and availability of food we accept so casually will last forever. We might even have to re-think our casual attitude about wasting food. Even more radical, we might have to think about growing some of our own food.
This is probably a safer alternative than newbies taking up hunting for meat and maybe shooting some of those fat, slow-moving black and white deer. We should probably let the experienced hunters do their thing and continue donating extra venison to the food banks.
Gardening is safer, and fun. The fun part comes around August when you start to see the results of your weeding, watering and watching over those valuable veggies. After you’ve sampled your first home-grown sweet and juicy tomato, you’ll never look at one of those rock-hard numbers shipped from California the same again.
If you’ll excuse a couple of old-timey flashbacks here, we’ve almost always had a garden. Shirley’s was on her parents’ farm in Wisconsin. Ours was in a backyard in Baltimore. It was the time of World War II Victory Gardens and even lots on school property were sectioned off for neighbors to use. Our garden in Denver had to be dug out of clay. Our best garden was on a rented farm in Tomah, Wisconsin, when the kids were little.
We’ve lucked out in this part of the country with a temperate climate and rich soil, although we’re prone to poisoning that gift of good soil with chemicals. Think of the potential for growing nutritious food instead of grass we can’t eat unless we’re goats. Pretty, but useless.
As for what to grow, master gardener Blanca Poteat, in her helpful gardening tips article in the May 6 Frederick News-Post, had some great suggestions: “Try some reliable vegetables first, such as potatoes, bush beans, peas, summer squash, lettuce and kale, onions from sets, and cucumbers if you have a trellis or fence to support them. You may want to buy tomato and pepper plants and wire cages to support them.” She also recommended the web site extension.umd.edu/frederick-county/home-gardening for more gardening information.
We’ve had good luck with our down-sized backyard garden, with tomatoes, peppers and beans, and added cucumbers this year. Was a pain to have to cover and uncover those plants during the freeze warnings last week, but that’s what I get for rushing them into the ground too soon.
Another gardening opportunity is on city- and county-sponsored garden plots. They’re booked now and you’ll have to plan on renting those for next growing season. The county contact number is 301-600-1646; the city’s is 301-600-1492.
What about all those county apartment and condo residents who also like to have fresh veggies? Why can’t schools, churches, even some businesses on large lots with unused space, provide plots for people to use? We have the land that could fill a lot of needs. Let’s Make America Grow Again. And it would help the cause if we all wore green MAGA baseball caps with a logo of a bright red tomato.
I like what master gardener Poteat had to say about gardening overall. I’ll wrap up with that: “Gardening offers us a chance to be ‘all in this together’ in positive, productive ways. Gardening is accessible and hands-on rather than digital or virtual. Social distancing is relatively easy when you are gardening. And you do not have to distance yourself from your plants.”
Veggie-loving Bill Pritchard, who worked in community journalism for 40 years, writes from Frederick. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.