100-Mile Food

Soil Beneath My Nails

Even though here in Ontario spring has taken forever to shed it’s winter-y skin, it’s that time of year again. The trees are that vibrant, eye-aching chartreuse green that can only been noticed in May. The soil smells wet and dank after soaking up the snow and torrential April showers. Every breath is full of promise and anticipation.

Anyone who knows me well enough will know at this time of the year, it’s likely easier to find me at the greenhouse than anywhere else. My manicure consists of garden soil French tips, and I’m probably wearing my harem pants because they make me feel more like Mother Earth.

This time of year gets me thinking beyond just what to plant in the garden, though. More and more I’ve been thinking about what our girls will remember from these wet, sun-soaked spring days.

As a kid I can vividly remember our garden, a large plot (or maybe it felt that way simply because I was a kid) off to the left of our driveway. I remember my Mum working in there tirelessly. I can picture the root cellar with jewel-toned jars, a virtual time-capsule, capturing summer. I can see my Mum’s hands, caressing my cheek at the end of the day, the rough edges of her dirt-engraved thumbs snagging my skin. And now, as an adult, I can see all that she taught me through those strong fingers: what it means to work for your food, to know where it comes from, to put away food for the bleak seasons.

Yet somewhere between childhood and where I stand now, those lessons have lain dormant. The intimacy between my food and the soil it has grown in, the hands that have nurtured it, has been displaced by the convenience of my 24-hour grocery store. I’m just as guilty as the next person for buying strawberries in February, peppers from Mexico and grapes whenever the heck I feel like it. Sure, I’ll go on a kick of buying produce from the local farmers market, but when all they’re offering in the winter months is cabbage, potatoes and squash…no thanks. I’ll peruse my brightly lit grocery aisles where the only people I talk to are the cashiers who don’t have an ounce of soil beneath their finger nails. (But they can tell me that I should be price-matching my blueberries because they’re cheaper at the other 24-hour grocery store down the road.)

And so, I think – Do I want my kids to learn how to price-match strawberries in February? Or do I want to introduce them to the farmer who actually picked the vegetables, packed her truck at an unearthly hour in the morning, and set up her market stall all in the hopes that someone would savour the literal fruits of her labours? Do I want to teach them that milk and eggs come from the refrigerated section of the grocery store? Or do I want them to feel an egg that is still warm? Or realize that the cows dotting the hillsides do more than just go “moo?”

The answer is, I do. I want my kids to someday remember their Mum, a woman who’s nails were never perfect; who caressed their cheeks with ragged, soil-stained skin. I want them to be able to look into our fruit cellar and anticipate the golden sunshine bottled in a jar of peaches. I want them to be able to go to the market and talk to the farmers by name – to know what vegetables are in season and to be content with that.

Just how are we going to do that? While we do grow a sizable vegetable garden and have our own urban “flock” of chickens, the limitations of city living can easily cause lapses of convenience over sustainability. Consequently, as a family, we have decided to embark on a year-long journey towards more sustainable, relational, ethical eating. What exactly is that going to look like? To be perfectly honest – I don’t know. I am so excited to forge these relationships with local farmers, to take one small step towards teaching our girls stewardship of our Earth. And yet, another part of me is full of trepidation of all the “what ifs.”

Let’s maybe dwell on all the “what ifs” another day. For now, I feel satisfied enough in our decision to make this vision happen. (In other words, stay posted for how we’re actually going to slay this undertaking.)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *