Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'll Take Farm-aceuticals - Lessons from Food (without harmful side effects, co-payments, lobbyists or politicians)

(This is a brief break in the series started on my Havasu Canyon trek. It could be called a commercial break since pharmaceuticals get commercials all the time. I mean all the time. Why not Farm-aceuticals?)

This piece could just have easily been titled "How I Spent My Summer." As a grown up, I couldn't quite write "...My Summer Vacation" like we did in the Sixties with those big pencils and large lined writing pads. But I can happily attest to the fact that I've taken every available opportunity this summer to be in my garden and kitchen.

I also thought the summer vacation title not catchy enough and when you've a blog with a handful of readers, you don't want to loose even two. I opted for Farmaceuticals not because of the present health care debate (if one can actually call it a debate) but due to my first mood altering experience in the garden over three months ago. Come to think of it, maybe instead of town hall meetings and legislative committee sessions, dialogue could be had and policy hammered out in a garden. What's covertly occurring would be visible ie. dirty politics, alongside dirty politicians, dirty lobbyists, dirty corporate players, but something beneficial might result starting with the humor generated by the media photos. I digress.

This morning, I lined up five peaches from the little market in town. I was debating chopping them to put into salsa canned the week prior. I got involved in other things, as I'm prone, until I heard the peaches shout: "Put me in, coach." Okay, the peaches weren't exactly talking audibly, but that is the thought that zipped through my mind. "Put me in, coach."

I smiled. As kids playing kickball or softball in my grandmother's backyard, we would sometimes give one another do-overs, second chances. We can all benefit from do-overs so why not my peach salsa? It was only four days prior that I had made the first batch which tasted fine but needed more peaches. I quartered, peeled and chopped the volunteers, emptied the prior filled jars and stirred.

I cleaned and refilled the jars only to hear a scream: "Not the hot water." A boiling pot awaited my renewed concoction. Blueberries in a jam on a nearby cupboard shelf shouted, "You can do it" having recently survived a similar experience (see the August 2 story). The peaches were learning: Sometimes when you volunteer, you end up in hot water. Most folks make it out.

I now have eight pints of peach salsa with a hint of garlic, jalepeno and lime, sitting on my counter, a testament to do-overs. We all need do-vers, to be on the receiving end of second chances as well as the giving end. This epitomizes grace. This is one of the many reasons I've discovered I love growing things. Canning produce from local farmers as well as tending my little plot most always reveals something of value.

It started with this, a lettuce seed. (It's the speck at which the pen points.) I've planted flowers and two or three tomato plants in my twenties. I even made a seed chart in fifth grade, but there was something magic about planting these speck size seeds and ending up with sprouts, sprouts emerging from darkness, seeking light, finding form.

Thanks to Happy Frog fertilizer (who could resist a fertilizer with a name like that?), a raised bed from Gardener's Supply and a truck load of dirt, my garden took form. This would not qualify as a garden for my grandparents who as we said lived 'on the creek' and had not one but two significant plots that fed them. But this 8 x 4 space became my Farm-acy of sorts where I first realized gardening was good for both my physical, mental and spiritual health.

It was mid-April. I had just cleaned the driveway of twigs and leaves earlier that morning only to walk out and find bags of dirt at varying stages of emptiness strewn about as Jerry planted azaleas. In all fairness, Jerry had no way of knowing I had just cleaned the driveway, yet I went to my default setting of disappointment and silence. I resented 'having' to work in the garden, like this was the garden's fault, yet I had a truckload of dirt to finish layering with Happy Frog and kelp.

In minutes of creating earthen lasagna, my mood completely lifted and shifted. Contrary to the new spandex lifting underwear women are suppose to want, I prefer, "My garden shifts and lifts." I was chuckling over this and of course writing it down, when I realized all my anger and resentment were missing. There truly wasn't a negative feeling in my body. Growing food was good for my mood and my relationship. I was content, unusual for a Gemini. I was present and engaged, unusual for anyone.
This is when I realized I wanted Farm-aceuticals. I'm not referring to corporately grown perfect appearing, chemically covered nutrient depleted vegetables (although that's better for you than fast food.) I'm advocating food birthed in one's own back yard or in pots on the patio and if not there at least from area farmer's markets.
I thought of the depressed multitudes who could benefit from farmaceuticals. So many people are given anti-depressants even when they've a minor funk. Many of these people trade the funk for feeling 'flat,' nothing at all, as often anti-depressants numb experience. Farm-aceuticals are all about experience. I was grateful to have my resentment lifted for chronically held resentment ruins relationships and not only contributes to depression but to a myriad of physical symptoms.
This was also the moment I realized growing something should be mandatory for everyone, especially our representatives and senators. It's got to be harder maintaining ill will and meanspiritedness when you're digging in the dirt. (Okay, I know we can't mandate this but wouldn't it be a hoot when people showed up at their tea parties with signs reading: My government can't make me eat vegetables from my own garden.)

Farm-aceuticals is one piece of the answer to our present healthcare challenges. I'm know some people legitimately need drugs to live. I also know I'm not the first person to be offered unneeded drugs by a doctor. For example, several years ago I awakened with a chest pain and called my doctor. She suggested I see a heart specialist with a well respected group practice. I was seen immediately and given an EKG which proved normal. Upon hearing my mother had mitral valve prolapse, the doctor asked me do deep knee bends while he listened to my heart. He heard nothing irregular but said I would end up with this condition. As he wrote the prescription, I asked if I really needed the drug. He said no, but he was certain I would have mitral valve prolapse. (The same drug caused leg paralysis in an older aquaintance.) I said, "No thank you" and walked out. All the way home, I debated entering medical school at mid-life. I was stunned.

Now I'm just grateful that I'm pushing Farm-aceuticals because my garden three weeks after my first mood lift, continued to bring me joy. Everytime I pull bugged leaves, fertilize or plant something new, I experience a felt sense of connection to nature and myself. I know we are so loved by nature yet we don't realize it.

While away for two weeks in May, I missed the garden, wondered what was growing and whether the garlic spikes and black mesh had continued to disuade animals. (On the opposite side of the house, I had planted an animal garden of squash, melons and okra. ) My garden had done fine without me. Happy Frog was obviously sharing its happiness because I've ended up with garden sprawl. I'm surprised my neighbors haven't taken to the yard with"Free the tomatoes" signs.

In the meantime, tending this tiny raised bed is teaching me about love, to give, engage and take time. I feel the joy of engaging as I talk with the plants, thanking them for their presence and encouraging them in their growth. (Hey! This isn't such a bad idea in relation to our congress persons. We could actually thank them for stepping into this healthcare challenge and encourage them to grow past the barriers of fear like the blueberries said to the peach salsa, "You can do it!")

I've witnessed the miracle of growing things (and since people including CEO's, lobbyists and right wing talk show hosts are growing things maybe there's a miracle awaiting there too.) I've seen heart shaped leaves birth green beans and star shaped blossoms grow squash. My tomatoes haven't protested close quarters. I've gotten dozens of cherry tomatoes from my vines and this doesn't count the every other one I've eaten while picking.

I experience the alchemy of seeing plants I've tended over time become nourishment for my body and the tomatoes from a local man nearby become the spaghetti sauce and salsa that we'll enjoy for some time. Every yellow squash, green bean and zuchinni, I've cooked has come from my personal grow-cery.

Farm-aceuticals are packed with nutrients. Pharmaceuticals are packed with chemicals. Farm-aceuticals alter the mood without addiction as a risk. (Okay I admit, I'm already buying seeds for next year and have a lettuce tent in which I hope to grow greens through early winter.) If for some reason you need to find new insurance, the only pre-existing condition related to Farma-ceuticals is a willingness to get dirty. Pre-existing conditions related to pharmaceuticals often results in higher premiums or no coverage.

I would be remiss to not mention side effects of Farm-aceuticals. (This is where you imagine me speaking in that hurried, low and serious tone heard at the conclusion of drug commercials.)
Side effects include most of the following. Time spent in front of the television and computer may decrease. One's home as well as friendships may be neglected. Food may taste different. This does not suggest taste bud disturbance. You are actually discovering how vegetables are suppose to taste. Farmaceuticals may result in random episodes of philosophical wonderings and creative surges. Farmaceuticals carry a risk of heart break due to the interaction of bugs and fungus on growing things. It is advised to engage and enjoy the process without attachment to outcome. If you experience any of the above, do not consult your doctor.

Last but not least you may experience sensations of extreme peace and wholeness especially when saving seed from this years fruit in hopes of giving it a do-over in the coming year.
As for do-overs, my salsa I discovered didn't quite work even the second time around. But that's fine, because it's not about getting it right. As growing Farm-aceuticals has taught me, it's about engaging in the process. So whether you feel more like you've lived life jammed, sauced or salsaed, a do-over is only each graced moment away. And I call that good news.
-Dawn Kirk, The Good News Muse -08/14/09

(Speaking of grace...what if an adult son or daughter of of one of those healthcare CEO's evenutally becomes a politician who refuses to take money from pharmaceutical companies and brings about a major alchemical shift in our country where everyone can obtain affordable healthcare? That would be a saving seed, a redemptive seed. That could take some time, but we live in the Garden and growth takes time.)


jw said...

Lovely posting, Dawn. You are reminding me of the wonders of gardening--a forgotten delight from almost 30 years ago. Looks like it is time to return.

Dawn Kirk said...

Yes, it is a delight. I loose myself as well as time usually when I'm in touch with growing things. Have just started a wonderful novel, Blackberry Wine, by the author of Chocolat about the magic of growing things set in a French Village. Off to thin my lettuce sprouting in the little 'tent.'

Joyce.Counihan said...

Hi Dawn,
Our friend Duann sent this posting to me because she knew I would love it -- and I do!

I love to see things grow and always have my kitchen window full of whatever can be green all year.

I also rush back from travel to see how each tomato plant is growing; how the fennel are coming along; if the parsnips really are surviving! Growing plants and mowing grass bring me such peace.

Going to visit my friends each week at the farmers market is sometimes my church service of the week. When food is grown with hands that care and carried to those who value the closeness of that garden to the place where they live, there is a transformation. The "food" really is better for you - body and soul.

I'm so glad Duann send me to your blog. You may see me again!
Joyce Counihan, NC