I am pretty sure I didn’t turn out the way my parents had planned. They sent me to good schools and had high hopes for my future. When I was in college, my father announced that he had found the perfect graduate program for me. It was a combo law-school-and-business-school all rolled into one. Was he kidding? Sounded like pure hell to me. “Sorry, Dad,” I said, “I am going to New York to be a writer.” Yikes, could there be any words a father would rather not hear?
I give him a lot of credit for being a good sport then—and for standing by for the next 25 years as I pursued not one, but possibly two of the worst paying career choices a girl could make—publishing and cooking. I shifted back and forth from one to the other, finally managing to splice the two together to earn a halfway decent salary as the editor of a cooking magazine. But then I longed to be poor again and quit that job a couple years ago.
Now, unbelievably, I have found a third passion to pursue that very definitely has the potential to earn me even less money than the first two careers—growing vegetables. It could, however, be the most satisfying pursuit of all. Who wouldn’t want to play around in the dirt all day, sun screaming down from a perfect blue sky, little green edible jewels poking up all around you like candy spilled out from a piñata?
Okay, I know it’s not all like that. Not hardly. I went to work on a friend’s farm in upstate New York last summer to try and see if I had what it takes. I spent one entire week on my hands and knees weeding carrot seedlings. My friends were really polite and claimed that I “saved” the carrot crop, but all I could think about was how slow and out of shape I was, and how hard (REALLY hard) they worked.
Still, I can’t get this growing urge to go away. I’ve had little vegetable gardens over the years, but this year I’ve really gone and done it. Along with my partner Roy Riley, I’ve rented a big plot from my friend Rebecca Gilbert over at Native Earth Teaching Farm here on Martha’s Vineyard. By big, I don’t mean huge, as in acres; I mean big by backyard vegetable garden standards, about 2800 square feet. Much of that will be paths, of course; what Roy and I have drawn on paper is actually 16 beds, each 24 x 3 feet, plus two longish borders with perennial herbs. (So it’s really more like 1400 square feet.) Roy, thankfully, is a builder, so he has already started crafting useful garden stuff for us, like cold frames to harden off the seedlings (and the seed-starting shelves in the photo at right).
We’ll be growing peas, sugar snap peas, snow peas, pole beans, bush wax beans, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, winter and summer squash, lots of different kinds of cooking greens and salad greens, fresh herbs, and flowers. All winter long we’ve been hoarding vegetable gardening books from the West Tisbury library, ordering seeds and equipment, and figuring out a budget for this project. We’ve already started a few hundred seedlings inside, and we hover over them like ridiculously nervous parents.
Our plan is to help Rebecca get the farm stand (on North Road in Chilmark) to be a more robust destination for veggie-, herb-, and flower-hungry Up-Islanders. So Roy and I will be selling our harvest there, and possibly at a few other places. My goal is to see if there’s any way that this growing thing could become a permanent part (albeit a really tiny part) of my future livelihood. So while it’s not exactly farming, I’d be proud to call myself a grower if I can learn the secrets to this art. I’m optimistic and excited, because I know how much I’ll enjoy the process even if our yields are less than stellar the first year.
By the way, I realize this website (and blog) is supposed to be dedicated to cooking vegetables, so I’ll try not to get too sidetracked with talk about growing them. I will, however, give you an occasional update on the garden as the season gets going. Because, after all, what better excuse to develop more new vegetable recipes!