Saturday, July 30, 2016

Urban farming as a recovering scientist

We took a trip to the garden center around the corner from our new house and picked out a variety of seeds. I wasn’t entirely sure what we were going to do with them, but there was a garden store, and they had seeds, and the seeds were really cheap and small, and seemingly innocent. The girls wanted pumpkins and watermelons, while I opted for the much more sophisticated beef steak tomatoes. I bought those tiny little seeds half-heartedly, with the idea that we could learn about the germination process, but not much more. There’s no way that this suburban girl could have foreseen the series of events that have since taken place between that moment and me interrupting my home grown vegetable dinner tonight in order to lock up the chickens and ducks for the evening.

I had been at the bench for 15 years, and was accustomed to days that didn’t include a lot of sunlight. I had one of the most coveted benches in my graduate lab. It was next to a window that faced a wall. But, you could tell whether it was day or night by the shadows cast from outside facing windows down the hall. In the height of summer, the soft yellow glow of the sun filtered in enough to overcome the single tone fluorescent glare that filled the medical school. And those summer nights? Not so much, unless crunching data with the windows open constitutes a good time in your many books. Being a scientist is time intensive. Being a mom is more so. Being both is fabulous if you don’t need much sleep and have no hobbies at all. Not even a favorite TV show. Not even one you don’t really like.

But then cancer happened, and time went insane. It became a monster. It scared the crap out of me. It threatened to leave me, while carrying everything I loved far away. I tried to fill every second of it to lock it in place. And man did I succeed. I kept time so busy that there wasn’t even a fraction of a second for it to remind me of all the horrible possibilities that it had in store. Science and advocacy by day, advocacy and motherhood by night, science into the wee hours, and a clonapin to keep me from waking up from dead dreams. For months, then years. And then I stopped.

When I left the bench, I walked in to a life that didn’t require my hands on a pipette in a cold room at night. I haven’t even seen a timer in years. I spend my Saturday mornings with my family. I make breakfast for my girls. I go to seed stores and buy random things.

About a week after our germination party, we planted the shoots in dozens of little peat moss square strips and set them up in the big southeast facing bay window that seems to catch sunlight from dawn to dusk. And when they sprouted? We were hooked. All of us. The plants followed the sun like little green worshippers, each leaf  trying to reach above and beyond the others toward those rays of light. It was life like we’d never seen it before. My girls monitored the rapid growth of their favorite plants for months as we waited for the farmers almanacs much anticipated last day for frost.

We planted each little experiment into the freshly tilled earth on Mothers day and went to sleep hoping that we’d wake to upright plants thriving in the back yard garden. The next morning, we moved our sore bodies to the window to sneak a peek, and sure enough, there they were, bending with the gentle breeze as they reached for the sun.

The only thing missing was fresh manure, so Ted and I went to the seed store and bought 4 ten day old chicks. We went back a few weeks later and bought 2 baby ducks. And then we built a huge coup under the deck. And started looking at baby goats all as we harvested the world’s best tomatoes that were pulled from plants growing next to Charly and Maddy’s pumpkins.

My babies nurtured every plant, they looked into the flowers to see for themselves how pollination works. They pulled carrots and beets with anticipation and examined the shapes and sizes of each with a mixture of accomplishment and wonder. They plucked snap peas in the morning for their snacks, and cut broccoli in the afternoon for their dinner. They placed their harvests in a fuzzy pink bunny basket, and walked the garden like pro’s, picking only what was ripe, and only what we needed for that day.

All of life’s lessons unfolded for my babies in that garden. The cycle of life, the importance of death, responsibility, nourishment, sharing, hard work, diligence, patience, opportunism, accomplishment, and how to clean dirty little finger nails were readily available for the picking in my back yard.

I went to the seed store because I wasn’t on a timer. I go back all the time because I’m letting life unfold instead of forcing myself into every second of it.  My girls are learning how to cook and bake with food they made from a packet instead of a package. I love it all, the lessons, the very green life, the memories and especially the zucchini bread. Life has never tasted so sweet. Next up? A hydroponics system in the basement for the long winter months. If you need me, I’ll be surfing amazon looking for grow lights.