Exploring the World in a Vermont Kitchen and Garden

Vermont springIt’s snowing. Hard.  On April 28 in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.  Two days ago I spent seven hours in a t-shirt hauling dirt around new garden beds (we’re doubling the size of the already large garden), planting potatoes, weeding, cheering on the rattling bumblebees and softly whirring honeybees at their work among the blossoming currants,  cherries, apples, plums and pears.  A few days before that I mowed the lawn. Yesterday I planned to make the first major harvest–chives to freeze for next winter and sorrel for a lentil-y soup loosely inspired by a Mark Bittman recipe (take a look at his new online community-building around food).  Instead I shook snow, gently, from the fruit trees and bushes, the lilacs and young birches–every couple of hours.  I harvested narcissi bowed low from heavy white inches.  I laid garden blankets on the favas, peas, young greens, mustard, chamomile, radicchio not snug inside cold frames.  I let the hardy types–kale and rapini–and the perennial herbs greening up–sage, chives and mint–fend for themselves.

This morning  the wind blows, the snow falls  and I’ve been out since dawn fixing the deer fence that broke in the night (snow or deer?), shaking and sweeping branches  instead of planting more fruit trees.

deer fence in spring snowDeer Fence Standing (A bit like a ghostly Christo Running Fence before a section collapsed after much snow)

Meanwhile down in my basement six sets of grow lights send their reliable, steady sunshine down on a sea of seedlings.  Tomatoes and tomatillos, some of the vining squash and gourds–taking up too much room–have been banished to south-facing windows in my bedroom.  If the weather rights itself, they’ll soon go out in the tunnels my husband made over two raised garden beds out of  electrical conduit from the hardware store (see Eliot Coleman for ideas and my husband’s ingenious improvements) and garden blankets from Vermont’s fabulous Gardener’s Supply.

People who know me as college writing professor specializing in social and creative  media or as consultant helping rural towns around issues of civic engagement and participatory democracy through storytelling might be wondering if this is the same Barbara Ganley.  Indeed it is, I amOpen View Gardens, LLC is a direct outcome of those endeavors–of my desire to pursue a creative life, to do good work for the world, and to explore the relationships between the deeply local and the wildly global, the slow and the fast, the traditional and the new.

My recent work in small towns and foundations with storytelling led to a long essay/quasi-white paper on storytelling in community for Orton Family Foundation, writing I hope will help them as they move forward with storytelling approaches in land-use planning efforts (to be released this summer).  These past months, in conversations with people in small and not-so-small towns, and within my own Vermont community,  I heard repeated calls for the local–food, arts, products, services, decision-making and observed the creation and/or revitalization of Arts Walks, community theaters, community gardens, local economic opportunities, and citizen engagement in local issues.  The growth of the local and home-grown foods movement is huge in Vermont where the supply, especially of locally raised meats, cannot meet the demand.  I’ve never known so many people with chickens, a couple of cows, and plans for large gardens.

I’ve also noticed that in my storytelling work when the subject of food comes up, people get interested.  We like to talk about eating.  We like to gather around food, over food. We seem to be at our most open to one another when we share a meal together, especially when we cook it for someone or together.  Look at the rise of the community supper, food-community blogs, food-based gatherings and scholarship around community engagement through shared meals (this last link is a pdf).

In the Kitchen Sardinia, Italy

I see a different relationship with food in the generation coming of age. It took a recent group of students at Middlebury College to get an organic garden up and growing.  Both my daughters (ages 20 and 24) are interested in cooking: the elder, a professional in NYC, had a lucrative baking business a couple of summers during high school and well before the onslaught of farmers’ market bakers, and recently enrolled in a cooking course in the city. She routinely shops at the Greenmarket in Union Square and calls me with questions about how to cook whatever she has picked up fresh that day.  The younger is studying food and culture in Bologna, Italy this year, writing for Italian food magazine Degusta, and keeping a food blog (temporarily on hold as she wraps up a demanding semester).  Next year she will write a cookbook/memoir as her senior thesis.  At their age, I was so busy exerting my independence as a woman in a male-dominated world that I never would have thought of doing any of these things.  They inspire me with their open minds and palates.  Now if I can just get them into the garden…

In my travels and reading I have also noticed something less inspiring– a nostalgia for some fixed, dreamy notion of the past that worries me.  Local as “traditional.”   If by traditional people mean using timeless husbandry and food preparation practices that do as little harm to the earth and its inhabitants as possible, then by all means.  But if they mean to follow narrowly in the footsteps of whichever European settlers got here first, then I shudder.  In Vermont, do we return to beans and corn, the varieties the Native Americans and first northern European settlers grew?  Certainly.  But not only those crops and that sort of cuisine. Do we also grow the crops and cook the foods of newer arrivals–Mexicans and Eastern Europeans, Africans and Asians?  Not so much.  Not yet.  Not because they can’t be grown here, but because before this era of inter-cultural communication and movement, we didn’t know what or how.  Why not expand our notion of the local to reflect the increasing diversity of even our most rural places?  It might well help open hearts and minds to otherness rather than feeding willful ignorance and fundamentalism which rise out of fear.

spices Marrakech, Morocco

In my own kitchen I am a passionate and experimental cook–I have scores of cookbooks from around the globe, but I do not follow recipes.  Here I am a world culture explorer, and increasingly so in my garden. I have long grown sorrel and lavender and currants because of France; potatoes and brassicas because of Ireland; hot peppers, lemongrass and cilantro because of Thailand; rapini, garlic, beans, eggplant, basil, zucchini (as much for their blossoms as their fruit) and tomatoes because of Italy. I have been lucky enough to prowl farmers’ markets and food shops and cookbooks on six continents, to live in four countries, to cook in almost every region I have visited. That’s how I have learned about the people, their ways, their views of the world–through a glimpse, a taste, a smell, a mixing together of senses and sensibilities.

roastpig Otavalo, Ecuador

Now I am branching out to North Africa, India and Latin America with more than a dozen kinds of hot and paprika peppers, epazote, za’atar, cumin, tomatillos, fenugreek, nigella, and a whole spice cabinet worth of herbs.  I hope to bring these ingredients to local cooks who wish to expand their cultural horizons by exploring culinary horizons and then opening their gardens to these delights (I am careful not to introduce varieties that will spread out of garden and into fields).  By encouraging conversation and story about the wide world through gardening and cooking, I’d like to relocate our notion of the local in the rich diversity of our communities, and in so doing, open us to views, traditions, beliefs and practices different from our own.

The Gardens

You’ll find descriptions and explanations of Open View Garden‘s mission, offerings, inspirations, news and sources in the menu bar at the top of the page. You can read the columns I’m writing for a local newspaper (more on that anon). Locally, on a sliding fee scale so everyone can afford it, I’ll offer ingredients grown here and elsewhere, cooking classes and feast preparation. Eventually I’d like to offer seedlings in spring.  If the gardens grow well, I might even be able to sell some of my chutneys and spice mixes beyond Vermont.  Through this blogsite I will share story and photography around this work and whatever expertise and knowledge I have as well as conversation about the world.  I will continue my community-based storytelling consultation services through Community Expressions, LLC (formerly known as Digital Explorations); who knows about new posts on my old bgblogging blog.  We’ll see how it goes…with the weather and such.

Open View Gardens

Is this snow a harbinger of climate change?  The strangeness of the weather patterns suggests it–the careening from hot to cold, from weird storm to unusual dry spells.  Seems likely.  And so leave it to me to try my hand at this new Nature-dependent enterprise, just when the weather is most unpredictable, just when the world is, too.  Seems like just the right time to me.

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Categories: Garden, Introduction, Spring

14 Comments on “Exploring the World in a Vermont Kitchen and Garden”

  1. pumpkin
    May 1, 2010 at 9:29 pm #

    I *love* your new business. Bringing the world to the locavore. Cultural diversity and understanding through food. Learning through immersion and experimentation. A brilliant fusion of old and new skills. So happy and excited for you! =)

    • May 3, 2010 at 8:15 pm #

      Thanks, Catherine! I do so appreciate your encouragement. As I plant bed after bed with the wee seedlings from the basement and seeds from their colorful packets, I wonder what took me so long to find this path–it’s what I’ve been seeking through my teaching and storytelling all these years. Now you need to come visit!

  2. May 3, 2010 at 5:28 pm #

    Here the farmers are way ahead of last year, when the flooding kept them from planting till quite late. I don’t know what that says about global warming, only that it used to be when I looked for diversity I didn’t think of the weather, but now…

    Am reading Eric Hoffer now. He says that the most vibrant cultures unabashedly import or imitate ideas from without and then make them their own. So I liked this bit:

    “But not only those crops and that sort of cuisine. Do we also grow the crops and cook the foods of newer arrivals–Mexicans and Eastern Europeans, Africans and Asians? Not so much. Not yet. Not because they can’t be grown here, but because before this era of inter-cultural communication and movement, we didn’t know what or how. Why not expand our notion of the local to reflect the increasing diversity of even our most rural places? It might well help open hearts and minds to otherness rather than feeding willful ignorance and fundamentalism which rise out of fear.”

    However, while I agree that breaking bread is a great way to foster friendship and good talk,

    I must bypass,
    The repast,
    As a topic of conversation.

    With a tendency in volume to surpass,
    Others in the cooking class,
    Who implicitly understand all good things in moderation.

    So do not be distraught,
    By my elsewhere seeking food for thought.
    While you and your followers engage in degustation.

    Best of luck on the new site.

  3. May 3, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    Lanny,

    Thanks for the tidbit from Hoffer–that feeds my thinking on finding the world in a garden and a kitchen. But much as I like your clever rhyme, I hope you are jesting about not seeking food for thought here. Methinks you do not see it as a topic of interest–but we should all be interested in food, in where it comes from, its relation to culture, and the implications of larger issues of local/global tensions, yes?

    I hope to see you here from time to time…it wouldn’t be the same without you pushing my thinking…

    ~bg

  4. May 4, 2010 at 7:38 am #

    Barbara – I still use bloglines and I’ve subscribed.

    When my wife’s family gets together, we have a good meal and then after dinner I take a nap on the couch, while the rest of them play taboo. The game gets pretty animated so it doesn’t completely turn into background noise. When there is a stumper, sometimes I’ll emerge from slumber and shout out the answer. Then they scold me for not playing for real. Not ideal social behavior, to be sure, but maybe an inkling to how I’ll participate on this site in the future.

    I meant that rhyme to be benign. My wife has a lovely garden here. Tending to it gives her great joy. And she is a regular shopping at the farmer’s market. She would love your site. The rest of the family benefits from her interest but mostly doesn’t participate directly. So a little projection of family life into the blogosphere.

    The question you pose about the topic of food – the straightforward answer is yes, no doubt. We should all be concerned about sustenance.

    Perhaps some of my worries crept into the previous comment. It’s unfair to burden you with them here. I will post something on my own site soon to elaborate.

    • May 6, 2010 at 7:32 am #

      I’m so interested in how you are responding–from a position that doesn’t entertain food as culture as well as sustenance. More to come on this topic here and over on your blog.

      • May 6, 2010 at 9:12 am #

        I’ll also respond in both places. You are probably right that I’ve deadened myself in some dimensions, food being one of them, as to it being a path for learning, cultural and otherwise. Some of that is probably whom I hang out with. As an assistant professor one of my colleagues was the daughter of the Belgian Ambassador to the U.S. Her presence made me and my fellow assistant professors more aware of food and cultural differences. Over time since she left, food has faded in importance to me as a way to become exposed to the new.

  5. May 5, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    Glad to find you still alive and blogging. I’ve enjoyed watching your journey from classroom to finding your way outside that space. I will continue to watch this space and look forward to learning through your adventures. I’m still at the beginning stages of learning about gardening and cooking myself so I hope to learn from your expertise and the expertise of others.

  6. May 6, 2010 at 7:34 am #

    Yay, Sharon! Glad to see you on the new site. I very much hope to engage your generation in the discussions here–I look forward to getting your take on these adventures.

  7. June 10, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    I’ve been meaning to come back and leave a comment since I saw your new venture. This first post evoked so many memories for me — specifically of the first (and so far, only) vegetable garden I managed to grow.

    As the daughter of a botanist, I spent a lot of my childhood being resentful of the plants that dominated my parents’ yards and, often, time. Neither of them were very big on planting vegetables or fruit or herbs, but when they did, I had little interest. I longed for a large, lush, grassy yard to run in.

    But during the first summer of my marriage I found myself living in an unfamiliar place with a small, sunny pocket of a garden in the backyard. My husband longed for a vegetable garden, and I acquiesced, grudgingly.

    I still remember the afternoon we spent ripping out grass and turning the soil. At a party later that evening, I reached up and felt soil gathered in the bottom of my ear. I couldn’t believe how backbreaking and satisfying the work had been.

    From then on, I was hooked. We didn’t plant anything terribly adventurous: a few rows of corn (more of an experiment than an expectation of anything edible), several rows of various lettuces (which grew far faster than we could possibly eat), tons of green beans, a variety of kinds of tomatoes (my favorites were the cherries which I would literally eat like candy after parking my bike in the garage after work). We planted gigantic sunflowers along the back border and ordinary marigolds along the front. We planted carrots not knowing what would happen–the soil was rather rocky–and we ended up with the oddest looking, most delicious specimens.

    Over the course of the summer I tended, mulched, and weeded. I’m not much of a foodie by nature. Neither cooking or eating come very naturally to me — but feeding people from my own garden felt like a sacred act. Somewhere I have a picture of Erik and me, late in the summer, holding baskets and bowls of our bounty, the sunflowers growing tall behind us along the fence.

    I was working in administration at the time and the thing that kept me sane was the land. Living in Montana, I sucked up the views like natural anti-depressants. Pulling weeds felt like a religious experience, reminding me of the small and vital things that were everywhere around me, even when work felt monstrous or monumental.

    The next summer, our move back east loomed at the beginning of the summer so we simply scattered wildflower seeds in the bed and hoped for the best. We ended up with a motley patch of lovely flowers, but I longed for my vegetables.

    The house we live in now is squarely planted in the middle of trees and shade. The only sunny patch is our driveway. This summer we’ve finally begun to entertain the idea of taking down a few trees to open up just enough sun for another small patch. I am terribly conflicted about the decision. I feel like I took on a responsibility to the large, old oaks when I bought this house and property. But I long to grow things that I can feed my children. I want to teach my daughter how to worship the growing of things in a way that I never understood as a child. I want her to race home to eat the ripest cherry tomatoes, like candy, off the vine.

  8. June 11, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    Martha,

    Thank you, thank you for such a lovely response (worthy of being a post–in fact I would like it very much if I could pull it to that position–the first guest post, as it were–would you be okay with that?).

    I love your story, the tenderness you reveal for your family and the earth, space and quiet and color and growth, how a non-foodie becomes a fierce gardener because she loves her young children. It’s a great story that reminds me of some of the tales I’ve heard in my storytelling work.

    And what a dilemma indeed–trees or garden! How about doing away with the driveway, or a part of it, and having both? 😉

    If we get in touch with this side of ourselves that will nurture the earth, and get out of the mad race for money and things—moremoremore—perhaps we will love deeply in small, powerful ways (such as providing a daughter a chance to pick a warm tomato from the vine) instead of growing ever bigger families (in many senses of that phrase) or seeing the earth as commodity. Perhaps we can even move away from this era of systematic poisoning of the earth. I know that I have to try. So thank you for this–it touches me to read such a beautiful piece of writing about such an important subject.

  9. June 11, 2010 at 9:15 am #

    Oh, gosh, thanks for just providing the space to share this. When I read your post a month ago, this response just sort of emerged in my head, and it took until yesterday to finally commit it to words — even doing so, I felt a little funny. It seemed like a rather long comment, but it wouldn’t have made any sense to me to put it on my blog. So I just thought I’d just share it. Reading your posts has always had this kind of effect on me — your writing seems to help me to find my own words! There’s something profound in that, I think. Something about how people make language and meaning together — always in conversation, even when we are in isolation.

    If you’d like to use it at as a guest post, I would be honored.

  10. June 17, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    Yay! I will be posting it to the front page in a few days.

    And I love what you say about the conversation–it helps to remember that there are all kinds of ways for the conversation to unfold and in so many places. I’m hoping that this blogsite will stimulate thinking, conversation, storytelling and action around issues of food, culture, and notions of local as I try to wrap my head around these tensions, the possibilities, the future.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Guest Post: Martha Burtis on Being a Non-Foodie Who Craves a Vegetable Garden | Open View Gardens - June 22, 2010

    […] that she had lessons to teach my work at Open View Gardens!  She recently left a comment (to the opening entry) that is the stuff of a great post, and so I asked her if I could pull it up here as my first guest […]

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