by Maria Reidelbach
Oh, dear, it’s summer already! Ive been preoccupied all spring with a new project (more on this below) and my little backyard garden has been sorely neglected. In May, I bought a variety of salad green starts and tender herbs, planted a few beans, found some winter squash volunteers in the compost and transplanted them, and put up my little fence. The groundhog family that has moved into the pile of branches I’ve been accumulating laughed at that, strolled in and have been munching down a steady spa diet. I even ran into a baby groundhog in the backyard the other day—so young he was not yet afraid of humans. I was chatting him up and then spotted his sister (?) sitting quietly in the grass. She didn’t move when I reached out to her—her fur was soft and warm. I was petting and talking to her for a few minutes when I noticed that she was completely still—even her eyes weren’t blinking! I said “boo!” and she didn’t budge. Uh oh, had I just been petting a dead baby groundhog? Gross! I went inside to pull myself together and get some gloves to dispose of the body, and when I went back out—she was gone! I guess groundhogs can play possum, too. Phew.
Anyhow, now that summer is icumen in I was particularly bummed that my garden was so bereft, but I have a new roommate, Kate, and I was giving her the tour. I thought I’d show her the handful of perennial herbs that faithfully come up every year and that groundhogs don’t like. As we stood in the yard I started with lovage and moved on to thyme, oregano, savory, marjoram, chives and garlic chives. I was just beginning pointing out the variety of wild greens and self-seeding volunteers: chickweed, lambs quarters, amaranth, anise hyssop, purple shisho, fennel….when she stopped me. “I’ll never remember all those!” she laughed. It was then that I realized that even though I had failed my garden this year, my garden had not failed me! Or, in the words of Hawthorn Valley Farm master gardener Greg Ocean, “Plants are very forgiving, not like people.”
Since then I’ve shaken down a quart of juicy, sweet mulberries from the tree across the street and snipped enough wild elderberry flowers from a roadside bush to make the fragrant syrup they’re famous for. Plenty of spicy day lily buds beckon from every weedy spot. I guess the moral of the story is: plant some good, hearty herbs that regrow every year and learn a bit about the abundance of wild food that surrounds us and Mother Nature let’s you skate for a bit, as we all need to do every now and then.
Stick to Local Farms!
Even when we don’t have our own gardens, we can still eat “from our own backyard” when we buy produce from the many great local farms in the Mid-Hudson Valley. I love how I can hop over to the local u-pick and harvest the most beautiful, fresh fruit and vegetables possible—the fruits of a farmer’s labors.
Important as farming is, in this economy it is an extremely challenging, and challenged, occupation: as hard as farmers work (and dawn to dusk is just the beginning of it) it’s said that over 80% of small farmers have to have second jobs! Pair this with news from the USDA that Americans eat more servings of iceberg lettuce than all other vegetables combined, and that surveys have shown that most Americans eat fewer than 10 varieties of fresh vegetables in their lives, and it’s not looking good for the health or well-being of our agricultural community members.
I believe that we can begin to tackle the twin challenges of increasing business and appreciation of local farms and encouraging people to eat more fresh, whole food by enticing more folks to visit and learn about our fantastic local farms. Inspired by cute, vintage fruit stickers, I created Stick to Local Farms. Two dozen Rondout Valley farms, farm stands and farmers markets have special, theme-shaped stickers we’ve designed just for them. Part two of the project is a folding farm map with a spot for each sticker. Get the free Stick to Local Farms map and then take a tour of the farms to add to your sticker collection! You can find map give-away racks in the usual places.
Take all summer and fall, or you can visit a bunch in one day. It would also make a fun bike tour (many farms are along Route 209 between Kingston and Ellenville). As you add stickers the map becomes a colorful, magical souvenir of the amazing farming we are lucky to have here in our region.
Visit stick2local.com for more information about the Stick to Local Farms project, and share your farm adventures on our Facebook page and on Instagram (#stick2local).
Maria Reidelbach is an applied artist and author living in Accord and having fun being a tourist right in the Hudson Valley. (firstname.lastname@example.org)