Friday, March 4, 2011

Let's get this thing started!

When I was a kid growing up in Eastern Ohio, we always had a garden. I grew up with my two brothers in a house about half a mile from my grandma's house, where my dad grew up. Grandma had two city lots: one with the house on it, and one that was about half covered with a garden and the other half with chestnut trees. Most of my childhood memories of Grandma's house were in the garden - planting carrot seed, bean seeds, playing a game with my brothers where we would chew on a rhubarb stalk and laugh as our faces turned inside out. As Grandma got older my dad took over most of the garden duties but when I would stop over in the summer, most times Grandma was fussing around amongst the veggie plants making sure they were all growing to her satisfaction.

As a child, the garden was always "work." As far back as I can remember, my family preserved vegetables through canning and freezing, but that process always started with an enormous amount of raw stuff from wherever my dad got it - the bushels of green beans, the pickup truck load (no kidding) of sweet corn. If you had asked me back then if I would have a garden when I grew up, I would have likely dismissed the idea in favor of buying vegetables already preserved and avoiding the work.

All of that changed for me in the summer of 1997. I was living in Italy as an exchange student between high school and college. My family came from Italy in the early 1920's and I always had a desire to check the place out. For the most part, the year I was there was about having fun, learning a language and making friends. After school let out for the summer and I was coming up on my return home, my host dad suggested I go find where my family came from. One very long train ride later, I was in Siderno, Calabria, a nice little place with a gray pebble beach on the toe of Italy. My relatives, distant as they were, welcomed me in with a show of affection that startled me, even after being in kiss-on-two-cheeks Northern Italy for almost a year. I spent a week wandering around this little town, looking at olive groves, lying on the beach, eating everything that was given to me.

My family's olive grove in Siderno
  So one day I was invited to dinner at a distant relative's house. His name was Domenico. As we ate dinner, which was polpettoni con sugo di pomodoro, I recall asking about what kind of tomatoes they buy. Domenico perked up, pulled me away from the table and into his garden. We spent the next hour or so wandering around, Domenico showing me everything he was growing. We went to other people's gardens too. It was then, in a little town in Southern Italy when something ignited in me, and I understood this connection I have with the soil and a desire to grow things.

Domenico in his garden. I wish I took better pictures!
After Italy, several years later, when I moved into an apartment with my girlfriend, who would become my wife, one of the first things I did was rip up a tiny little patch of ground and planted a measly garden. When we bought our house, I had scoped out the back corner of the lot. I ripped up the sod, mowed down the brush and put in the first iteration of Il Nostro Orto. I was in love with the dirt, the plants, the bees. Every year that love has grown. We have two boys now, who will be a big part of this blog, because they are in the garden all the time. Maybe, just maybe, they will think of it as work now, but someday will realize they actually love the dirt as much as I do.

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