"I'll get it to August, after that it is on its own."
Those are my grandmother's words, channeled through my mother, echoing in my head as I weed the garden. I love the garden, but dang, it is a lot of work. And by July it is hot and dry (or wet) and everything is not quite ripe, but the weeds are growing willy nilly. I do have a tendency to neglect it at that point. But September rolls around, and I relish heading out for fresh tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, squash, kale, spinach, chard, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, lettuce, and beans.
The stunning array of food my poor, neglected garden produces amazes and overwhelms me every year. This year, some of it went to Audubon for a great fundraiser. Each year at the auction, part of our Spring Gala, the education staff at Audubon offers a dinner. There is a twist, of course. This year it is a "pollinated" dinner, and everything will be linked back to pollination and how important that process is to humans. So some of my garden bounty ended up on the table.
Staff, volunteers and board members enjoy local food from 3 C’s catering.
A prize tomato from Sarah Hatfield’s garden.
This time of year, I am hard-pressed to find a reason to buy food at the store. Gardens and farms all over the state are brimming with produce, all of it fresh and local. It is harvest time and slaughter time - a time to take some of that fresh food and transform it into canned, frozen, and dried preserves. And eat a lot of it.
Just this week Audubon held its annual dinner and meeting. This is an opportunity to share the state of the organization, but more importantly to hang out with and recognize the contribution of our volunteers and board members. A highlight is the food (of course). With familiar greetings, professional air, and a great sense of camaraderie, 3 C's catering rolled in. If you've never experienced 3 C's before, you are missing something.
Their food is homemade and mostly local. They make an effort to keep their sources "in the family" so to speak and even have a large garden where much of the produce comes from. Featured this year at our dinner was lamb oh my. A lot of people cringe, but having worked on a farm and raised sheep, they do taste wonderful. And this lamb was divine - with a hint of rosemary and cooked just enough, it melted in my mouth. I ate too much, and then ate more. I'm so glad that places like 3 C's recognize the benefit of local food.
I love my garden, but miss the farm. I miss the fresh meat, though my chickens do provide more than enough eggs. There are a few farms in my neck of the woods that I buy from, and I am grateful for those. I can't help but think, as I walk into the self-serve station, that this is a better way of life. It is the honor system - you leave your money and write down what you bought, and open the freezer and select your package, wrapped in white paper. I drive by the farm every day; I know those animals are happy and healthy - why else would calves be leaping about, kicking up their heels while moms peacefully graze lush green pasture?
I buy from neighbors if I can. I give extra garden fare to my neighbors. Neighbors stop in and buy eggs from my self-serve station. There is a harmony to it all. Autumn seems to invite that. As I watch the combines bring the corn in, I am struck by the notion that there is a team of people that comes together for the harvest. You can't do that alone. And we can all support those places.
If ever you need a reminder of the greatness of world, stop in at a local farm. These folks work all day and sometimes all night to put delicious food on your table. They are your link to the Earth. And the food connects the people to each other. With the bowl of tomatoes I take to my neighbors, I am saying thank you for cutting firewood with me, babysitting my chickens, cleaning my chimney and occasionally even feeding me. And all of this is better for the planet - less preservatives use, less pollution from transportation, and often less chemical use. Local is more sustainable.
There is a reason Thanksgiving is in the autumn, at the tail end of the harvest. What greater reason to be grateful than for food and family and friends - all of which create a circle of pleasurable dependence. Even my neglected garden takes care of me now - giving me much of my winter diet. And my grandmother's words remind me that her garden fed her, and my mother. My garden indeed made it to August and beyond.
You can find out about local farms with a simple Internet search - there are too many to list here - and by asking around. To make a direct connection with the Earth, you can visit Audubon, hike the trails and visit our kitchen garden to see what we're growing.
Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. Trails are open from dawn to dusk, as is viewing Liberty, our Bald Eagle. The building is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found at jamestownaudubon.org or by calling 569-2345.
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon and once-farmer.