Eating my first all-home-grown meal was an accident waiting to happen. I hadn’t quite realized I was on that path and hadn’t put that down as a goal in so many words. I just sat down to lunch one day, which consisted of a vegetable sandwich, an apple and a bowl of strawberry ice cream. And then it struck me: Except for the yeast in the bread, everything I had eaten was either raised on my own property or grown locally. And this was years before grown locally became the politically correct thing to do.
Let’s start with my life in the city. I grew up in the Bronx, but decided the city had little that I wanted. As a kid, vacations were always up north – Maine, for example, as opposed to Florida. So, I went north in search of green.
I started working at a dairy farm in Leicester Four Corners, Vermont, the middle of the state in Addison County, which declares itself to be, “the land of milk and honey.” As far as I ever knew, that was as honest a county slogan as ever existed for a county.
I worked the farm as a hired hand, or course, raising a garden which grew every year and would continue to grow until I was blanching and freezing or stewing and canning enough vegetables to get through an entire winter.
I gardened for 25 years or more until circumstances changed for me. But in those days, I was young and spry, a city kid who thought living in the country was sweet enough to declare I was on vacation every day of my life. It was a vacation with a lot of work involved, but just waking up in the country was good enough for me. (Recently, I lived in a solar powered home on a 100 acre property surrounded by state forest. No wires to the home, no neighbors within sight, no road to speak of – just me and the coyotes and this was less than 10 miles from a city of 35,000 people. I was as happy as a mosquito at a nudist camp.
Still, this as some years ago, when I first embraced the green lifestyle. With some friends, who happened to be vegetarians, I rented a house, while attending a local agriculture college. We had goats and a big garden. We milked the goats mostly for ice cream and cheese. We also had a splendid strawberry patch, which was one of my own pet projects.
We hunkered down, as they say. I was, more or less, the family bread maker and auto mechanic. Dan and Claire and Pat were the family musicians. Three other students shared rooms. It was a productive clan: Wood heat, home-grown music and a big, black dog named Jasper. It doesn’t get more bucolic than that.
I was halfway through lunch before it hit me. I was eating a cucumber, tomato, lettuce sandwich on bread I had baked myself. The honey was very likely collected from the property, because we did not spray our fields or the apple trees, making it an attractive place to keep bees. As such, the trefoil honey that went into the bread was partly my responsibility, too, because a neighboring beekeeper a bee yard on our place. His bees had collected nectar and pollen from plants I had tended – including the apple trees on the property.
Even the flour was from a local mill that we purchased from a food buying co-op that specialized in supporting local farmers. So, my purchase of the flour helped fund the wheat that was then grown and milled locally.
You can bet we made our own ice cream. As a dairy farmer, I had become a dairy snob. I’ve since changed my dieting habits, but back then homemade ice cream was the only way to go. We were extra proud of our ice cream.
And frankly, I don’t see this as a story about extraordinary skills. Living in the country is really about ordinary skills. It doesn’t get much more domestic than baking bread. Strawberries require some tending, but it isn’t rocket science. We composted our own soil, but that takes dirt, green matter and a nitrogen source, which put the goat manure to use. Ninety-five percent of what you need to know to raise vegetables is printed on the packet. It’s kind of a “just add water” process. Oh – and a little sunshine, too.
We were cash-poor. One of my roommates had moved to the place from New Jersey, because he had run into credit trouble – he had been spending beyond his means. Now he was working three days a week, getting paid in cash and doing a lot of bicycling through the week. With the help of credit repair attorneys, Pat put his life back in order, but he kept living the “green” lifestyle – and still does, now living back in Vermont where all this began.
Myself: I’m a writer. That’s a fairly green way to go – no commute to befoul the day, but I have a car, kids, dog and ex-wife. I’m still in the country. The local post office is the size of a kiosk, there’s an eagle overhead once in a while overhear. And it’s quiet at night.
That’s the greenest thing I know: Quiet at night. Everyone tired. The planet rests.