Some 15 years ago, I stood watching my middle-aged colleague, Roll Davis, rototill a large square of our yard for my first-ever vegetable garden. I watched as he carefully placed several of his homegrown tomato seedlings in a row to get me started.
I didn’t even know what the word “seedling” meant at the time. I had grown up in Massachusetts in a family where the only fresh vegetable worth consuming was corn on the cob. In August, my mother would stop at a local farmstand to get her favorite butter-and-sugar variety, then instruct my siblings and me to “shuck” it for our dinner treat.
I moved to Maine in my late 20s and quickly discovered that many of the locals grew vegetables every summer. My friend Joy and another colleague, Paul, were early mentors, their gardens always beautiful and bountiful. In the small town of Vassalboro where I lived, the Titus family sold their garden produce on the honor system. They simply left a metal cash drop box on a table along the main road with a chalkboard listing the prices of the zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers and tomatoes that cascaded around the box.
I have had some challenging moments over the years. The deer ate the broccoli and bean tops in Vassalboro, and I’ll never forget my husband staying up all night with a shotgun to kill the woodchuck after the Havahart trap didn’t work. (Our dog actually got the woodchuck in the end.)
And I once invited a friend and neighbor to share my plot. She planted corn and let the weeds grow as high as the cornstalks. It drove me crazy at the time, but she was the one who introduced me to the idea that I could grow my own lettuce. As a salad fanatic, I was ecstatic.
I live outside of Portland now and have gained more than an understanding of fruits and vegetables and their respective habitats as I have worked the soil; I have gained a community of friends and neighbors who share their love of fresh produce, their gardening anecdotes and their recipes. I share my abundance with them all, giving bags of lettuce to fellow salad lovers in early summer and making Joy’s chocolate zucchini cake in August when the zucchini is so large and plentiful that we all need a creative way to consume it.
My bank teller, Alla, loved the carrots I regularly bought from the Snell winter market. Once, she forgot she had put them in her pocketbook, and when she went to check out of the grocery store after work, the carrots spilled out of her purse. She was sure she was going to be arrested on the spot for produce thievery. We both laughed so hard we cried as she told this story in her Russian accent.
I don’t grow corn, and I still don’t own a rototiller, but I have a wonderful community supported by agriculture.
— Special to the Telegram