I am continually humbled and intimidated by how complex the process of growing plants is. Each plant has its unique set of conditions in order to thrive – soil fertility, temperature, sunlight, and water, to name some of the most important. But these are just the preconditions to success. These same conditions also favor the growth of other, less desirable plants that we call weeds. And of course, when you create food, there will always be others who are interested. Deer, gophers, ground squirrels, and birds. Boll weevils, cucumber beetles, leaf miners, and codling moths. Downy mildew, verticillium wilt, and mosaic viruses. Each bite we take tells the story of a carefully waged battle – of weeds that were pulled, blight that was pruned, and gophers that were trapped. Every day requires careful observation, care, and maintenance, lest the chaotic forces of nature take control and return your garden patch to disorder.
I try to take a step back and visualize the ecology of this system we’ve created, an engine where energy, material, information, and water flow through and sustain us in the process. Carbon enters into it through photosynthesis, as plants convert carbon dioxide from the air into simple sugars, then turn them into increasingly complex organic molecules. Nitrogen is fixed by bacteria in the root nodules of legumes, turned into proteins and held, however briefly, in an organic form. Water, piped in from afar, gets sucked up by plant roots and transpired back into the atmosphere. Plants express their genes, flower, get fertilized, reproduce, and die. And all of this is driven by the sun. We carefully cast a wide net of plants to trap its energy into a form we can use, funneling it into our hungry mammalian mouths. We take these assemblages of Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorous, and other elements, break them down into smaller pieces, and reconfigure them to create more of ourselves.
But this only describes part of the ecology. Farming, gardening, and tending the soil cannot be fully explained by fluxes of energy and matter. They are a flux from the realm of human thought into the environment, an expression of love for the land and our intentions to live sustainably. Thus, the food we grow is a product of far more than sunlight, nutrients, and water. It is a product of emotion, respect, joy, and love. And food that is grown with love should be prepared, cooked, and eaten the same way. I hope you enjoy this food half as much as we enjoyed growing it!