Monday, November 21, 2016

How to Adopt a Vegetable

For the first time in my life I am making my own cornmeal. I can't begin to tell you how fascinating and comforting it is to see the yellowish-red cornmeal collect in my mixing bowl. It has been several months from planting to harvest to processing to baking. My husband and I have delighted in every step. It is fairly unusual behavior for a couple of city folks, acting out as urban farmers.  But don't knock it 'til you've tried it. Out in the Grain Garden as we call it, I peel open a full, dried ear of corn and show it to my husband, our first attempt growing corn to make flour.

   "It's beautiful!" he exclaims, examining the dried corn still clinging to the cob. The kernels are deep gold, tipped in a maroon red. It is a variety named Red Floriani, and is coveted as a premium corn for grinding into flour or making polenta. But this corn has made it clear it does not like growing in our desert.  It has taken a lot of pampering to get the ears we have collected.  Contrary to this the Blue Hopi desert corn, did very well in its small plot across the yard.

   "Well, it was an experiment," I reply.  "At least now we know which variety will grow best in this heat." Secretly I look at the pile of dried corn and wonder how much we have actually produced.  I am thinking in terms of quarts instead of pounds.  "If we were pilgrims, we'd be facing a harsh, hungry winter," I continue. He chuckles and agrees, and then adds that we are fortunate that scenario is not playing out today.

It may not be playing out like that today on my little U.S.A. urban farm, but somewhere it unfolds.

I say nothing but I am thinking of families in other countries that do not know how they will get through the next season or even the next meal. In my mind I recall this week's news and see children running through the streets as bombs explode nearby.  I wondered where their family was, if  one even existed. I remember "The Lost Boys," one of which works near my home at the neighborhood grocer. What does he think of our society and land of plenty? Are we a fortunate society or just ungrateful?
Thanksgiving is three days away.  Today I take my meager collection of reddish cornmeal and make a large pan of cornbread.  This will evolve to my famous cornbread dressing which my son claims he cannot survive without during the holiday season. At least that's what he tells me. Again, I think of the irony.

I have this notion that I want everyone to grow something edible at least once in their life.  I want them to relate to the little plant that begins from a tiny seed programmed with all the DNA it needs to produce the identical plant for generations. I want them to feel the excitement of seeing a flower blossom and fruit; how water, dirt and sunshine create food in partnership with this living thing. Then I want them to delight in the taste of food harvested and prepared in minutes. Finally, I want them to collect those seeds and save them for the next planting season. And while all these little miracles are happening before their very eyes, I want them to appreciate the journey.

In between Christmas and New Years we will be planting our winter wheat.  In the meantime the Grain Garden will be cleared of the corn, beans and pumpkins.  The soil will be turned, possibly seeded with a cover crop, and the cycle will start all over again. We're hoping Mother Nature will be in a good mood and will work her magic once again.

If we could only convince her to harvest, thrash, and process the wheat, it would be a more-than-perfect world. However, if I have convinced you to adopt a vegetable, then I am equally delighted. May your garden, table and belly always be full. And please pray the same for the rest of the world.