One of the great pleasures of feeding ourselves from the land around our home is the nature, variety and joy of the work it requires. It is work that our species grew up with; it is in our genes.
Last night we cooked a dinner of fingerling potatoes dug from the earth of our farm. I harvested a basketfull of them to take to market last week. We prepared the ones that we couldn't sell - the potatoes with green spots from being exposed to the light or those that the mice had sampled.
A little washing and cutting, and into the pot they went for boiling. I picked a handful of fresh green beans, and Suzanne sauteed hot peppers, garlic and basil with a little olive oil and then added the potatoes and beans. A lot of fresh ground pepper and a little soy sauce for seasoning, and voila. Served with slices of perfectly ripe tomatoes, it was a great meal. It was also a meal that required some of the most satisfying work we get to do.
Although we all have other work - our son Dan is going to college, Suzanne's teaching and I'm writing, lecturing and recycling - the growing and preparing of our food is an increasingly important part of our lives. It is important because we enjoy the flavor, the seasonal change and freshness of local organic food and because we need to eat good food in order to maintain our health. But being intimately involved with feeding ourselves is also important for the work it requires.
The work is whole. The planning we did nearly a year ago just provided delicious nourishment for our bodies. We plant, harvest, cook and eat the fruits of our labors. Our work teaches us and improves us. Next year, for example, I'll pay more attention to "hilling up" the potatoes.
The work is continuous and engaging. The garlic planted last October, and the onions planted in April were both harvested in July and now hang to dry on the back porch. The peppers, started on a windowsill in March, were set out in June and we'll be picking them into October when it is time to plant the garlic again. The potatoes were planted in May. When I finish harvesting them, I'll plant a cover crop of buckwheat or oats to protect the soil until I plant garlic there.
The work is done outside. For most of our history, humans have worked in the open air surrounded by the sun and rain, heat and cold, and the breezes and beauties of our planet. The pleasures of working with fertile soil and plants in the presence of butterflies, birds and bees are numerous.
The work of feeding ourselves is very physical. Our bodies were meant to be used--to bend and lift, to walk and carry. It's only recently that sitting in the office, school, car or TV chair became an acceptable thing to do.
The work is varied. Planning, preparing soil, planting, tending, harvesting, preserving and cooking each provides challenges and builds useful skills. Getting better at these tasks will make our lives richer in the years to come.
The work is useful and relevant. There are few things which are more important than feeding our families. Study after study points to this as one of the key challenges for the future of our planet.
The work is forgiving. If one crop doesn't come in another will, and there is always tomorrow, and next year.
This is work that I can envision doing as long as I live Once we spend more time outdoors, the interweaving of the rhythm of the seasons with the work of producing food creates a rich texture for our lives which resonates with the lives of most of our ancestors.
The work of feeding ourselves personally and directly from the soil and water around us still engages up to half of the people on this planet. It more and more seems to be one of the few ways we can really use the energies and skills of the Earth's burgeoning population in a productive way.
The nature, satisfaction and relevance of our labor should be an important factor in shaping our future. It only will be, if we make it so.
Happy Labor Day.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
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