On a cool, sunny day last March my son stood beside me as I tried to tap a skinny maple tree in our front yard. I was armed with a hammer, drill, spigots, YouTube instructions and vague memories of helping my dad boil sap as a kid. What I didn’t have was a clue. As the too-big hole leaked sap all over the place and I tried to tie the spigot in with Christmas light ties, I actually started to cry.
“It’s funny that you know a lot about computers, but not so much about nature,” Isaac said to me.
It’s funny that he’s right.
Thankfully, a neighbour had extra spigots and a drillbit so we were able to collect enough sap to boil into a quarter cup of crunchy sugary syrup. But the experience reminded me of how far removed I am now from my farming roots. And I am ashamed.
Earlier this month I wrote about trying to cut back on grocery expenses, and one of the suggestions that most readers had was to start growing our own vegetables. In theory, growing vegetables sounds like a really easy thing to do. But here in our cottage country home, the only thing that grows in our sandy and rocky soil is poison ivy and a few dozen trilliums. The patio tomatoes we grew last year were picked off by squirrels and raccoons and our treed lot gets very little sun, save for the patch where we’ve planted cactuses. The bottom line is that, between terrible land and zero skills, growing a backyard vegetable garden would be a huge waste of money.
Last week I went to visit my dad at the family farm where I grew up. I noticed that his garden patch — just as lumpy, sandy and rocky as ours — produces enough vegetables to feed himself, my youngest sister and any friends and neighbours who happen to find themselves on hard times. The difference certainly isn’t the soil, but what I like to think of as the lost art of farming and gardening. I think that Canadians have gotten so far removed from our land and we take the people who grow our food for granted — because cheap, imported produce usually trumps anything grown in our own country (save for the few months of the year when most of us shop at farmers’ markets).
While the value of growing a handful of backyard veggies shouldn’t be undermined, it’s far from the reality of what farming is actually like — a 24/7 job that requires more art and heart than it does science and machinery. Sure, a good amount of knowledge can be learned and technology can be purchased, but most of farming is about trusting your gut and crossing your fingers that the livestock and crops will survive — not only to feed your own family, but millions of other people as well.
So we’ve yanked out the poison ivy and mixed in a few bags of topsoil into our hopelessly nutrient deficient backyard. A few ugly logs replaced the beautiful raised beds that I’d much rather have, but I guess that’s the point I’m trying to prove.
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