Social Implications in Agriculture, well-being, What is Organic

Life Lessons: Growing Food in an Iowa Backyard

I was digging it early on!
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I recently interviewed my sister for an oral history project. She evoked images of the place we grew up next to our German grandparents. She proclaimed, “Those two small houses side by side, they were so close to the street!”

The houses (one purchased from the Sears and Roebuck catalog) were close to the street for a reason – it afforded us a large backyard of fertile soil – once a flood plain of the Cedar River.

From this patch of land, we ate well.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Behind each dwelling were two gardens, divided by a stone path lined with rhubarb in spring, string beans and peas in midsummer. We grew it all: from asparagus to zucchini, sweetcorn and peaches. We had rabbits, freshwater fish and, perhaps, a turtle or two.

The grape arbor was a cool place to sit and gorge on purple concord globes.

The concords were sweet and seedy, the arbor a shady spot to shuck peas.
Photo by Bill Williams on Unsplash

Grandfather allowed wild “ground cherries” to run between the rows, sweet yellow tomatillo-like treats wrapped in paper-thin shields. Rather than yank out a “weed,” he would leave the purslane and dandelion greens alone to be eaten in salads.  

Harry was way ahead of his culinary time.

Emma, my brown-eyed grandma, festooned the climbing beans with magenta-opened morning glories – they volunteered for years after she departed.

It was a magical backyard of alchemy, worms, hidden magic, life lessons, decay, regeneration and fermentation.

Today we book our food online and dream of drones delivering our raspberries and cream.

Perhaps it’s time to look at the rewards and blessings of growing and preserving our own food again. In this article we will explore whether growing your own is achievable for all, and if so, how can it be achieved?

Where does one begin without biting off more than we can chew?

A row of lettuce and chives can be fertile ground to begin.
Photo by Kenan Kitchen on Unsplash

You may be lucky enough to have an acre or two, a patch of backyard or a lovely balcony apartment.  Depending on the circumstance, your options are many. 

Discovering organic soil amendments, master composting, indoor hydroponic herbs and lettuces or tinkering towers of shitake mushrooms – taking that first step means understanding what you can do where you are – right now.

You can buy helpful books that explore growing in certain environments, such as indoors or on balconies that don’t have lots of space.

If you’re short on space or just not ready to fully commit to growing a garden, Planted Places offers an easy solution for plant boxes and plant walls. They offer monthly subscriptions with seasonal seedlings, planters, unlimited living soil replacements, custom tutorials and curated recipes.

Microgreens and Herbs can grow on walls.
Photo by Daniel Funes Fuentes on Unsplash

Growing your own food offers many benefits.

For the most part, my grandpa, T. Harry, minded the fertility of the soil, saved seeds and planted according to the family’s needs and Emma’s instruction.

Emma didn’t drive a car, and she always joyful, was never cross – she remained dedicated to nurturing. I watched her make Kaffeekuchen, daily bread and sauerkraut. Emma brought the gardens’ abundance to her stove, hearth and crocks of fermentation – and me.    

Cabbage was sliced diced and stuffed into great crocks with salt.
Photo by The Matter of Food on Unsplash

I believe these are the benefits we can harvest today.

A prolonged sense of heritage and family: I participated in an ancient nexus of food, family, farm and emotional fortune that sustains me even today. It gave me a sense of legacy – not only culinarily but geographically and historically.

Eating that which is in season: The sap flows freely in spring; the peas pod and the radish punctuate. In August, tomato fever overtakes like a seedy passion.

The cabbage leaves will not last until November – fermentation will only save them in crocks of kraut.

The beets bleed, and then the autumn pumpkins herald another equinox.

Eating what grows now or can be preserved for the future keeps us close to our latitude – our unique edible season.

Gardening bodies create healthy lives: Both of my grandparents lived well into their 90’s. For most of their lives, they were cultivating, pulling, squatting, salting and freezing. It kept them agile and strong, outside in the sun – I believe it made them joyful and at peace.

Self-esteem and confidence may ensue: If a young seedling, micro-green or oyster mushroom needs my assistance to come to fruition, I have accomplished a great deed. If it feeds my family and me every day, I am somebody who can do great things with sunlight, soil and water. I am the goddess of preservation and life.

Acute Sense of Community: If I sow an acre of vegetables or plant an orchard of pears for our heirs, I have made an impact on my local community. If I share my elongated jalapenos grown on my balcony, I have spiced up my neighbor’s life.

Food and community go hand in hand.  

Only Organic: We once ate only fresh organic fruits and vegetables and homegrown meats before antibiotics and other atrocities.

Thus, I grew strong and sturdy with German tendencies of longevity. We just skipped the chemicals back then.

Check out this video:

Why don’t we grow more of our own food?

Rooftops, walls and balconies can become foodscapes.
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Food companies want your money, and they’ll do just about anything to get your food dollars. From virtual reality to web and mobile marketing – high-tech food marketing influences our eating habits. 

Does this serve us? Edward Harner, COO of Green Solar Technologies, said in a recent interview: “…we’re in the digital age. Traditional forms of advertising and marketing just don’t cut it the way they did before.” 

Superfoods, probiotics, bone broths and sauerkrauts are marketed as the way to stay healthy and active. Tubers, potatoes and onions may be staples of our pandemic behavior now – but growing our own food may bring us independence from technology and connections to a wilder self. 

Perhaps there is a lesson by planting that first seed. Growing something – as I did once, in a backyard in Iowa – we will gain more than we know.

Nothing quite like fresh veggies for dinner!

Hey – thanks for reading. I included links within this post. I make a little money for some of these referrals, and the FTC wants you to know that. If you know me personally or have been a longtime reader, I hope you also know that I only recommend companies that I believe in. Live well, friend.

9 thoughts on “Life Lessons: Growing Food in an Iowa Backyard”

  1. Gardening has been an immense aid to my mental health, especially during the isolation of the pandemic. And if you don’t have room at home, check out community gardens. Also the flowers I grow are every bit as important as the fruits and vegetables, they are food for the soul!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.