When I was little, I lived in an apartment with no back yard. But one summer, my mom made friends with the older woman who lived in a house next to our building. Since Mrs. Smith was too old to tend to her over-run garden, my mom volunteered to take it over, and we spent the summer picking green beans and tomatoes and made fresh rhubarb pies far into the chilly New England autumn.
Since then, I’ve had this romantic notion about gardening, taking it slow and working hard at the same time, in the dark dirt under the hot sun. Alas, I once again find myself in an apartment, with no backyard or balcony for planting. So, other than the spindly basil plant on the kitchen windowsill (my tomatoes withered in the shade by the sidewalk a few months ago), I’ve sated my garden desire by reading about them.
First came Gardening at the Garden’s Gate, a book that reminds me of my grandmother—grounded and full of comfort. Next came Wendell Berry, Kentucky farmer and poet. And I’ve just started “Deep Economy” by Bill McKibben, which pulls together an economic plan that’s based on quality, not just quantity and wealth.
A recent article in the New York Times follows the preparation for Slow Food USA’s annual conference in San Francisco, complete with a quarter-acre veggie garden planted in front of City Hall. As Alice Waters and the other leaders of Slow Food in America battle the stigma of pretentious, pricey dinner parties, my summer reading list has shown me that good, local food is anything but that. From small-town family farmers working hard every day to grassroots organizations like the Edible Schoolyard bringing quality meals back to city folk, Slow Food means getting connected to the land and your community. It’s about people, and the pleasure of being sprayed in the face by an over-ripe tomato, just picked and sprinkled with salt and pepper.
For more, check out Peggy Markel’s Slow Food Dinner Party 101.
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