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Garden in the City: A Slacker Foot Soldier in the Food Patriot Army

By Patty Wetli | September 9, 2013 12:44pm
Food Patriots
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LINCOLN SQUARE — Know how much time I spent in my garden this weekend?

Zip. Nada. Bupkis.

Instead I was in St. Louis, riding choo-choo trains and carousel horses with my favorite 2-year-old and conducting a blatant affair with my sister-in-law's garden, where I picked a load of juicy sweet cherry tomatoes. All the while my own plants went unwatered and unloved.

I probably won't be able to make it over to my plot tonight, either. With today's temperatures expected to hit 90 degrees, my vegetables will be dying — possibly quite literally — of thirst.

Bad gardener, bad.

I suspect I'm not the only person whose ambition and best intentions far outpaced her actual abilities and time commitment this summer.

Mike Sula — Global Garden plot No. 71! — has a terrific article in the current issue of the Chicago Reader about the refugee farmers who share an acre with Peterson Garden Project.

"My hot peppers failed to blossom, my cabbage neglected to form, and my five tomato plants are spindly, sickly things that produced only a few watery fruits," Sula writes. "By contrast, the 40-foot-long plots tended by the Burmese and Bhutanese are teeming with growth."

It's the difference, made eminently visible, between farming and gardening, between a livelihood and a hobby.

The farmers are growing food to sell and to sustain their families. Me, I'm just having fun watching Brussels sprouts sprout. I mean, I'm learning a lot — the things I could tell you about soil — but finding the time to put that knowledge into practice has been a challenge.

Something, usually work, almost always takes precedence. The fact that there are no consequences to my negligence or failings — we can always pop over to the produce market for peppers or buy a watermelon from the back of one the pick-up trucks stationed along Lawrence Avenue — makes it that much easier to push gardening to the back burner.

All summer I've struggled with the vision of what I wanted to accomplish and the reality of gardening not being my job. It's something I totally love doing — the half-hour I spent watering last Thursday was easily the most peaceful, enjoyable half-hour of the entire week — but that's rarely enough to bump it up to the top of my list of priorities.

I'm not sure how to resolve that conundrum short of becoming a full-time food patriot.

Next week, Peterson Garden Project will screen the movie "Food Patriots" at Global Garden. I saw an early cut of the film last year, which features of bunch of "revolutionaries" who are challenging the practices of Big Agriculture, including a fair number of people who've given up the daily grind — aka a steady paycheck — to become small-scale organic farmers.

I was intrigued, to say the least. I pictured myself up with the sun, pulling on my rubber boots, strapping on my straw hat and heading out to the fields with a sense of purpose. I would get sweaty and dirty, and I would love it. I'd spend time carefully preparing meals, using ingredients harvested with my own hands, conscious of the wholesomeness of every bite. I'd flop into bed at sunset, every muscle aching from the day's labors that had nothing to do with a computer, and sleep soundly knowing that I'd accomplished something real and substantial.

As this scenario played out in my head, Dave leaned over in his chair and whispered in my ear, "I said 'no.'"

So we're not moving to Vermont.

I don't know if it's possible to be a part-time revolutionary. But I'm trying.

Catch a free screening of "Food Patriots" and dinner courtesy of Chipotle at 6 p.m., Sept. 19 at Global Garden, 2954 W. Lawrence Ave. RSVP online by Thursday.