City Girl

Cabbage, garlic and more

 Our backyard farm is in flux. On the one hand, we have massive amounts of garlic making splendid progress. Other success stories include: cabbage, chard, cilantro, oregano, peas. That’s not nothing.
 What concerns me, however, are the success stories gone wrong. Three weeks ago, we had bold heads of broccoli, handsome as Greek busts. I looked upon them with pride, admiring their dark greenness. We ate a few, too. I remember Stephanie declaiming, “Mark grew these!” and her mom and dad mmmm-ing and ahhhh-ing.
 Stephanie is so appreciative of anything garden-grown. She regards produce as a natural wonder. City girl!
 I am more suburban. I grew up with planting tips from my mother. I learned from her about how to transplant a seedling by turning the container upside down and gently squeezing, holding onto the roots. For me, gardening is definitely a way to recycle childhood.
 Yet most of our broccoli bolted. Their dark green has given way to profuse yellow flowers. Bees like them, so that’s good. And yet I feel disquieted that we did not harvest them all.
 Same thing with the lettuce, which had been so ornamental for months. So leafy, so self-contained. Now the lettuce is unrestrained. They have each shot up a thick stem encircled by an orgy of leaves. It is remarkable to behold lettuce, the most compliant of vegetables, typically so ready to be pressed between slices of bread and willing to be torn into salad, now utterly in thrall to reproduction. It’s like when low-key people start to dance and not just dance but get way-way-way on down. You may sense it’s there, in the background, theoretically, but rarely if ever do we find ourselves face-to-face with the unbridled sexuality of the quiet.
 There is part of me that thinks, “Go lettuce!” but it is the minority voice in my head. Most of me thinks woulda-shoulda-coulda thoughts about missed opportunities for making salad. The obscene thing is not plant sexuality but wasting food, which my mother and father both taught me is wrong.
 This is about to change, however. Stephanie has announced her own desire for us to grow our own produce. She got inspired by a profile in The New Yorker about Money Mustache, an evangelist of frugality. The article spoke to her inclination towards savings. I am very grateful that she has this inclination. She wants us to have enough set aside so that in advanced old age, we can still hold hands.
 I will be glad and honored to try to make our backyard farm self-sustaining. It is both a little bit of solace and more of a challenge that we are not alone in wasting food. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that one-third of all food worldwide goes to waste. The U.S. government issued a food waste reduction goal of 50% by 2030. A consortium called ReFED with a slick website has proposed several solutions, including increased composting and consumer education. 
 We can do our part. We already have a sprawling compost pile in the corner of our yard, and I’m a teacher. Making our small-but-huge-by-Los Angeles-standards backyard farm self-sustaining could provide a useful model. But there’s a more important reason to try. 
 My wife wants me to do it.

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