We didn’t do gardeny things growing up in the small suburban town of Campbell, situated in Northern California. Except my older brothers, they were supposed to cut the lawn. One was assigned to the back and the other to the front. But, they rarely did. Only when my mom threatened them did they pull out the push mower.
My mom didn’t really have time to garden. She was a widow with four children and worked full-time. She had gardening experience growing up in Germany during war times. I remember salivating with envy when I heard her stories of climbing up the cherry trees on their property to harvest the fruit. She told us that she would get stomach aches from eating too many cherries. I also marveled that my mom climbed trees: I didn’t know moms could do that.
On some rare summers, when my mom found the time, she would plant some seeds and seedlings. I remember once pulling out radishes and being disappointed with their shockingly bitter taste. As for the other vegetables, mostly birds, snails, and other bugs ate what tried to grow. I don’t recall my mom ever presenting us with a dish made from the produce from her garden.
One rare occasion on a summer day, when I was ten, my mom came home with several six-pack containers of purple violets. She invited my younger sister and me to garden with her. I remember my excitement as we walked to the front lawn area. I also remember my disappointment when my mom handed me a garden tool with instructions to pull weeds scattered in the grass. She called it crab-grass. I dutifully did as told, in anticipation of being rewarded with the opportunity of taking those pretty little purple flowers out of their containers to gently place them in the hole I would dig by myself with that small hand shovel my mom was holding.
To my great disappointment, while my sister and I pulled weeds, my mom planted all those pretty little purple flowers! She said that they were too delicate for us to handle. At ten years old, I decided gardening wasn’t fun and never gardened again until I purchased a home in Novato in 1996 when I was in my mid-thirties.
Now, about seventeen years later, I love gardening! I have planted fruit trees: fig, apple, lemon, orange, and mandarin. I have perennial artichokes, potatoes, and asparagus. I always have strawberries, sunflowers, and tomatoes in the summer and broccoli, chard and kale in the winter. Many times I have garden tragedies, always centered around not watering enough or the birds and bugs getting to my seedlings. But, each year I learn new tricks. And the weeds: I still get them. Ironically, I enjoy weeding too. It’s a form of meditation: I reflect on those weedy things in my life as I pull out the weeds in my garden. To successfully eradicate them, the conditions need to be right and I cannot rush nor take shortcuts with my techniques. Yes, I learn many life lessons in the garden. And, I proudly serve meals to my son from my garden produce.
Everyone should have access to soil to plant their garden and grow food. There are also many life lessons in the garden, it is healing and, yes, even fun. This is why I have worked tirelessly these past seven years to grow school and community gardens in Novato. The job’s not done yet: with your help, we can succeed, grow food, and grow community. Visit our Helping page to learn how you can help.
Please share your garden stories with us and we will post them: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Veronica C. Valero
Founder & Volunteer Executive Director
Novato Live Well Network/Novato Community Garden Project
I’m not a finicky eater. Except for lima beans and spicy-hot food, I’m willing to try almost any food offered me. My expansive taste repertoire probably came from my international upbringing: my mother came from Germany, my father from Mexico, and I grew up in the international folk dancing community and had many opportunities to taste foods from around the world.
Around the holidays, I always enjoyed our family gatherings where we come together to share food and stories, and to build memories. As with most children, my favorite entre was dessert. The apfelkuchen, tortes, and pies all winked at me as I struggled in deciding which to try first.
My other favorite food memories happened at our church potlucks. Being from Germany, my Mom didn’t know how to make American classics like macaroni salad, garlic bread, and B-B-Qed anything. But, my favorite dishes were the exotic fruit salads that had ingredients that were too expensive for my mom to buy, like blackberries, mangos, and coconut. Once again, I was faced with difficult choices, a small plate, and my mother’s warning, “Don’t eat with your eyes.” This was her German translation of a saying she grew up hearing, which was influenced by war times. I understood the hidden meaning: don’t stack your plate with food you’ll be too full to eat and have to toss out later.
I often think about our abundant food culture in America and how complacent we are about “eating with our eyes.” There is so much food waste at restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, and even school kitchens when food is tossed out at the end of the day because it wasn’t purchased or couldn’t be saved for another meal. Did you know that because of health codes, if a child eating the school lunch doesn’t eat the whole apple or un-pealed orange served, the fruit cannot be given back to the kitchen staff, nor be given to a student or staff to take home, nor donated to an organization? Rather, it has to be tossed out.
This holiday season, as we gather around the tables, I invite you to reflect on your abundant food blessings. I also invite you to not eat “with your eyes,” but with your heart: Consider how you can help those who cannot afford to put food on their tables. Is there a way to help them to have positive food stories? In addition to donating food and funds to the food banks and pantries, can you also volunteer and share food at the table with those facing financial or personal hardships—without judgment?
Consider supporting your local community garden. These gardens give people the space, tools, and skills to grow their own food, while connecting with people from diverse economic, social, and ethnic backgrounds. This is what my volunteer organization, the Novato Live Well Network, is doing. We’ve overcome many obstacles to build a community garden in Novato. The garden isn’t built yet, but it might happen in 2014. To learn more and to help visit: www.NovatoCommunityGarden.org or call 415-897-2302.
There are other benefits of coming to the table or the garden to share or grow food: the sharing of personal stories and the forging of positive relationships. This also allows us to get to know our “neighbors” near and far. If we listen with open hearts at the table or in the garden then, when we return to the mundane world, we will be better tooled to collaboratively address contentious issues like economic disparities, unemployment, racism, injustices, housing issues, and global climate change. I invite you to come to the table with open hearts.
Wishing you good memories,