Travels to LA and Back: Connections to the Earth

I’m just back from a short visit with good friends in Los Angeles–leaving these rural acres from time to time for urban settings shakes things up, expands my sense of the world and helps me see my Vermont life.   That our friends love good food of all sorts also meant we were in for some sensational eating–both in their home and in the taquerías and inventive restaurants that abound in LA.

Stacie is a fabulous, caring cook who has taught me a good deal about creativity in the kitchen.  She scours the farmers’ markets of Venice and Santa Monica for the freshest organic ingredients — we ate her kale and farro salads, her strawberry-balsamic ice cream, her fresh pastas with corn and pancetta, with pea shoots and favas, her ragú–amazing cooking with incredible ingredients. What I’d give to have such ingredients, fresh, most months of the year!

And so, of course, they took us to the farmers’ markets (there’s a market every day of the week!).  I was instantly envious of  my friends–for what they have access to on a daily basis– and even more, of these farmers–to be picking such gorgeous artichokes and peaches and strawberries at all much less in May!  To have citrus and olive trees! Almost everything imaginable that comes from a garden or orchard was there. Fresh, organic, perfect. I have never eaten such tasty cultivated strawberries anywhere.  Period.

In spite of this bounty, my friends still wish they could grow their own food–they want to run out to the garden to snip a bit of sun-warmed mint or basil; pluck the zucchini flowers, shaking out the critters hanging out in the pollen just before she reaches the sauté pan; race the just-picked corn to the kettle.  But they live on a tiny city lot with a narrow, short border of  flowering vines and a small patio. They live in LA. They rent their place.

But that hasn’t stopped them from vegetable gardening.

They’re creative: tucking chard and beans here and there between the jasmine and bougainvillea flowers, and growing herbs in a barrel: sage, mint, oregano, cilantro, tarragon and thyme.

They pair cucumbers with basil and lemon thyme in a modest pot:

They grow tomatoes and zucchini in their own pots:


Something beyond a desire for fresh and safe food compels them to grow a few tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and beans.  Something beyond the taste of a just-picked herb.  They can get all of that and of a quality perhaps superior in those farmers’ markets.  In other words, they are driven by something else–the simple and profound desire to produce even the tiniest bit of their own food, to participate in the natural cycle of earth to plate. This small garden gives far far more than bodily sustenance.  It gives them perspective as they slow down to tend to weeds, to water, to make sure the pots are in the sun or shade, and to pick the fruits of that caring.  It gives them pleasure.

And so back here in weather-tossed Vermont, as I head out to our local, twice-weekly farmers’ market to look at what local farmers are harvesting, I think back to those boxes of blood oranges, strawberries, zucchini and tomatoes gracing the tables of the California market, and I remember that sweet, tiny garden in the middle of Los Angeles.  I think about how what I take for granted–dirt to sink my hands into and a palpable sense of living within an ecosystem rich in variety and deep in direct connectedness–is the stuff of other people’s dreams.  I think of the book I am reading, David Abram’s Becoming Animal–a startling, challenging, and powerful look at what it means to be our full selves.

As I set out into the garden I think about Abram’s observation that

“…we feel compelled to distinguish our reflective selves from our material bodies, and strive to hold ourselves aloof from the density of the earth.” (p.303)

Stacie tending to her small garden within the metropolis is trying to do the opposite–that small gesture to connect with other living things and with the source of her food is a  step towards staying in touch with the wild earth.  It gives me renewed determination to travel this path of eco-gardening and cooking, in contact with the density of the earth.

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Categories: Garden

9 Comments on “Travels to LA and Back: Connections to the Earth”

  1. June 5, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    Visiting very warm, easy-to-grow-food-in places is a very odd experience for me. It gets weirder every time. The sheer extent of growing seasons, the variety of what’s easily grown – boy, it’s defamiliarizing!

  2. June 10, 2011 at 6:43 am #

    I agree, Bryan, though I dream of being able to grow our food year-round. But you, up in the northern mountains, I’m sure it’s unimaginable!

  3. June 12, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

    It gives me a deep desire for a greenhouse. Not the best desire, given how the cost/benefit ratio isn’t too good, but still.

  4. June 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    I, too, yearn for a greenhouse, but I don’t want plastic (has there been any study about the gases they must give off?) and so the expense is rather daunting. So for now, I continue to push the seasons as far as I can and put up food for the rest of the year.

  5. June 21, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    Good question re: plastic. Don’t you use mylar or something like it over your hoops?

  6. June 21, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

    I use a woven cloth that breathes, so I think it is less of an issue than a closed environment such as a plastic greenhouse. But I have been thinking about using old scraps of wool in the winter. Am doing some research about it and will report out when I have some idea whether it’s feasible to go all natural with the hoops.


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