Guest Post: Martha Burtis on Being a Non-Foodie Who Craves a Vegetable Garden

BG’s NoteOpen View Gardens is in full swing this first day after the summer solstice. Mornings are devoted to harvest and preserving; afternoons to planting and weeding or recipe development and menu planning; evenings to thinking and conversing and reading and kitchen experiments.  This is a multi-faceted endeavor: surprising, rewarding and thought-provoking.  One of the great satisfactions is the conversation–people are commenting and emailing and even Tweeting tips and recipes, stories about food and culture, about the local and regional, about land-use and the environment, about slowing down. My practice and ideas are enriched and challenged by these interactions, so much so that I plan to entice others to post here as a regular feature.  Today marks the first such guest post, from Martha Burtis, an inspiring teacher of mine.


I’ve learned a good deal from Martha over the past few years–lots about educational technology, about how to be an effective woman leader in that male-dominated world, about balance and perspective, about humor and kindness.  But little did I know 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 spot.  Here is her story about wanting a garden for her children while recognizing her important role as steward to a brace of ancient oaks. Thanks, Martha!

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.

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Categories: Garden, Guest Posts, inspiration

2 Comments on “Guest Post: Martha Burtis on Being a Non-Foodie Who Craves a Vegetable Garden”

  1. eganleyroper
    June 22, 2010 at 9:30 am #

    I love that you’ve started your guest posts– I so enjoy hearing others’ stories about their love of food, gardening, cooking, and feeding their friends and family. It’s so inspiring reading about different people’s experiences and I think for the first time in my life I’m actually interested not only in eating and cooking but also in gardening!

  2. June 22, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    I’m so glad to hear you say that about both the stories and gardening–already, then, this little site is a worthwhile part of the adventure. It is through this sharing, this conversing that I learn and dare to experiment. Knowing that others are thinking about these subjects, exploring gardens and kitchens, farmers’ markets and the relationship between food and culture as you are inspires me! And you put your finger on it about the power of stories–it’s one things to hear someone tell you that growing your own food is healthier, blah blah blah, it’s another thing to hear stories such as Martha’s about their experiences.

    Now you have to write a guest post telling your story!

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