The 4th of July is about American Independence of course, but as a Brit living behind enemy lines (so-to-speak!), I’ve made it a day to think about my personal independence, and my gratitude to this beautiful land and the people that have welcomed me so warmly.
There’s nothing more powerful to help build personal independence than growing your own organic food. From the process of selecting the seeds to the act of sowing and reaping delicious crops, the experience is laden with myth, poetry, beauty and magic.
Organic gardening on a small scale is a spiritual pursuit, as the gardener is outside in the fresh air, fingers in the earth, and humbled by the insects. We experience the elements in the silence and peace of nature. We are inoculated by the living soil, absorb the air and water that surround us, and leave our cares in the earth. Our sense of time is slowed down, our eyes and ears freed from screen and city, breath deepened, skin cells activated. We become more vibrant, more alive, with every moment spent in nature.
Our bodies work out naturally, not by treadmill, but by the satisfying effects of work in the Great Outdoors. Wheelbarrows of earth are moved, holes are dug, weeds are pulled, and mulch is spread. Sleep returns in the night, no longer held at bay by light pollution and a sedentary life.
Organic gardening on a small scale is also a political act, freeing us from the intricate and complicated web of large-scale farming and big store food distribution. We take control of what we eat, with no question about the authenticity and goodness of the food we eat and serve to our friends and families. We know exactly what happens to the chain of our money, no questions about how farm workers are paid, about health and conditions of their employment, about whether the shareholders of our supermarket chain care about the environment, or about how far our dinner has traveled and how much gas was burned to get it to our table. And we know unequivocally that our food isn’t genetically-modified and is free from chemicals.
Growing dinner is easy for me to do here in Southern California, and it’s a perfect way for me to express my right to free speech, my appreciation of this land, my desire to share this delicious bounty with dear friends, and to make the most of the California climate that is so gentle and generous and, well… awesome!
So what did I do on the 4th of July? I planted two heirloom varieties of corn, one of the most ancient Native American crops. Corn of all kinds (including sweet corn) is held as a sacred crop in most Native American societies, and has been ever since it was created by ancient Mexican farmers who bred it from wild grasses. No-one knows exactly how it was created, but we do know for sure that these master gardeners bred the entire edible corn species out of wild grasses, successive generations of gardeners selecting generation after generation of corn. The kernels were maximized, the nutritional quality raised, and the flavor and sweetness coaxed into new levels of deliciousness.
I selected two varieties from many hundreds of heirloom corn: Country Gentleman and Blue Jade. Both are short varieties at about 3′, and both are delicious raw or cooked. The first has a creamy white kernel, and the latter is a deep purple-blue. Both will have a few ears of corn per plant when they’re ready, and of course, as with all corn varieties, they will be crowned with male pollen-bearing flowers. Although corn is self-pollinating to a certain extent, gardeners still reap more yield from heirloom varieties if they give nature a helping hand when it comes to pollinating. So I’ll shake the flowers when they’re ready to release the DNA in their pollen onto neighbouring stems of corn so they grow more ears.
This week was also time to sow the last of a few more summer crops, and so I did. Come September we’ll have miniature white cucumbers, kabocha squash, and more bell peppers. The peppers will be ready in September if we eat them green, or in October if we want to wait for red peppers. Either way, they’ll be delicious, nutritious and unquestionably accountable from seed to table. A truly independent vegetable fruit!
But actually, this garden here in Malibu isn’t just for me. It’s an edible garden for a community, and as such, my garden isn’t really about independence at all. It’s about a team. It’s about our inter-dependence.
Because without our carpenter, there would be no raised beds, and without chef, there would be no menu to grow food for. Our guests inspire us to grow everything, from the organic flowers that lend rustic elegance to their dining tables, to well over a dozen varieties of heirloom tomatoes that are currently ripening on the vines in the sunshine. And every garden task is woven into the living natural community here that is made of bees and birds and lizards and snails.
So I’d like to wish you a very happy Inter-Dependence Day from the garden! It’s teaming with life!