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Gena Bigler: Even in midst of winter’s hold, gardening and its bounty are top of mind

As I watch the snow fall, I find myself dreaming about a garden.

Every year my grandparents had a beautiful garden. It was like magic. Huge tomatoes that would be fried while green than later the plants would provide more to be cut into big red wedges to go with fresh cooked green beans grown a few rows back.

There were tons of cucumbers winding around in a tricky maze; they pricked our ankles as we waded through the vines. Sliced and salted and served anytime and ultimately, my grandmother would turn those into bread and butter pickles (which I still don’t like but get nostalgic about anyway). They grew squash and corn and beans. The sweet corn was so good; sometimes we would eat a few bites raw in the garden. Breaking beans and listening to the grown ups is one of my favorite childhood memories.

I wonder what my grandparents would think about planting in gutters. Thanks to Pinterest, I am looking at gardening in a new way, in part in gutters attached to my privacy fence. I think they would both approve. My grandmother had a green thumb and had beautiful house plants. Sometimes those plants lived in creative containers, when they grew faster and larger than she had planned for. Both grandparents were very practical in their thinking and made the most of the resources available.

This time of year the longing for fresh, real food is so strong I almost paid more than $8 for mediocre cherries. My grandparents would have been horrified. In their practicality, canning and freezing the spoils of their splendid garden was part of their yearly planning process.

Most years, my grandmother’s Christmas dinner was studded with garden-fresh jewels like a big pot of sugar snap peas. Growing their own food was the norm for them. Their ideas about self-reliance included providing for their meals. Today, we rely on a well-stocked grocery instead of planning and planting a well stocked garden.

In parts of the United States, edible yards are growing in popularity. People are replacing some of their landscaping with edibles. I love seeing raised vegetable beds in front yards; to me, they are a visible token of our society becoming a more sustainable one.

Some chefs are foraging instead of cultivating. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems they stray from where they should be. Reportedly in Portland, chefs are resorting to sneaking into neighbors’ yards and pilfering their plants. The “locavore movement” is happening because you can taste the difference that a week on a truck makes to a tomato. It is a question of quality. With food, closer is better, and it doesn’t get any closer than your own back door.

Growing a garden of any size is work. I can’t imagine the hours that went into my grandparent’s large, diverse garden. While I don’t have huge amounts of time to devote to gardening, even a small plot can have huge benefits. Besides the obvious one of knowing what you are eating, the financial benefits can be surprising.

Organic produce can be very expensive. Growing your own can save a considerable amount. The health benefits from gardening are not limited to the good nutrition from eating your own produce. Studies show that gardening for 30 minutes reduces the stress hormone cortisol levels. Gardening is good for you. It is also a delicious way to unplug for a few minutes a day and reconnect with nature.

As I plan this year’s garden, I am thankful for the memories of my grandparent’s gardens. I completely took their hard work for granted. Now as I compare varieties of beans and potato-growing options, I appreciate what they created and shared freely with their family, friends and neighbors. Along side the vegetables I chose, there will be strawberries my daughter chose, and she is already planning how best to share them.

Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at lgbigler@gmail.com.


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