November 3, 2015

Once upon a time, gorgeous yellow lillies bloomed in my front yard. Then, I ripped them out to grow veggies instead. The urge to try farming in some small way brought a surprising bonus. Of all things, I’m making peace with my control freak dad.

More on that in a minute. First there’s the tale of the kale…

I kept a few lillies; my neighbor adopted most of them. Happiness now means getting beyond pretty for the down & dirty realness of tending a rather unattractive patch of soil. How amazing to watch (some) green sprigs eventually burst into mature bunches of lettuce, kale, basil and more. gardenThe summer brought juicy, delicious tomatoes. tomatoesWhat a thrill to step outside my door and nonchalantly pluck a few zucchinis for dinner. zucchiniGrowing kale made me feel like a superwoman because we were eating our trendy leafy greens for free. To get the most from these moments, I’ve become passionate about zero waste. This means eating the stems that others usually throw away. We chop them very small, cook them until soft, and then, add the leaves.  kaleThe stalks, picked clean, are sprouting new leaves for a miniature palm tree look. A second pinky-purple kale variety is doing well too. As for my daughter’s old toy dinosaurs, they’re a note-to-self. Next year, we’ll plant lacinato, aka dinosaur kale. dino kaleSome veggies loved me back more than others. The kohlrabi only sprouted two lumpy turnips. A few odd-shaped, rock-hard eggplants stayed too long on the vine. I don’t have pictures to show you; in working on this post, I suddenly realized that I only took photos of the success stories. This is what happens when you’re a daughter raised to be perfect. Let’s not memorialize the failures! No one needs to see that!

Which brings me to me and my dad. Growing vegetables is gloriously messy and unpredictable. Bugs and critters feasted on the tomatoes. The weather could be too hot, too cold or too dry. I found a new kind of patience because a garden grows at its own pace.

I even slowed down enough to reconsider this framed picture which sits on my desk:Dad and meThat’s me, with Dad. Until I was nine, we lived in a crappy little house in New Jersey. (Then we moved across the Hudson River to Manhattan’s Chinatown.) My father, the stressed-out son of farmers from South Vietnam, found peace in tending his rose bushes.

Lately, I feel like I’m seeing this photo and my past through fresh eyes. After all, I also know what it’s like to plant and harvest, whether we’re talking about vegetables, roses or children. It’s time for me to acknowledge his struggle because what goes around comes around. If I want my daughter to cut me some slack for all the, ahem, mistakes I’ve made, then I must show some generosity of spirit too.

Speaking of compassion, a word about the book in front of the picture of me and Dad. The full title is “FOOD, Inc.: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter and Poorer — And What You Can Do About It.”

This paperback classic is the companion to the hit 2009 documentary by the same name. I assign this book in many of my courses and it usually goes over quite well. Each chapter is an essay by a different author, each of them sounding off on an issue within our troubled food production industry. The chapters always end with a call to action. One of the suggestions is to plant a vegetable garden in order to get insight on reality. The advice certainly is working for me.