Sunday, October 15, 2006

Urban Tomato Growers, Unite! (Membership: 1)

I'm growing my own damn salad. Well, that's the plan. We'll see how it actually pans out.
Tory plans, God laughs. -Shiksa proverb

I don't know if you noticed but recently spinach, a veggie I've always loved (the only one my mother couldn't overcook) has been killing people. Or making them grossly ill. Though this was tidings of great joy for most small children, I was not pleased. The bigger huge agribusiness gets the more often these problems occur, and the more homogenized our food becomes. Think about all those pale sad tomatoes you see in the grocery store (not the beautiful heirlooms you find at your farmers market, on or occasionally at Whole Paycheck). They all look eerily the same, don't they? And they're all quite equal in their mealiness, bland flavor, and boredom factor, no? It's not a mistake. Those suckers were bred to be shipped long distances, nothing more.
And let's reflect on the word "agribusiness" for a minute. It gives me chills. They lopped off the "culture" for a reason: it truly is factory farming now. There are three big corporations (ConAgra and friends) that control a scary majority of our country's food production. That's unnatural. For real reporting on this, check out At the point where spinach isn't safe anywhere, something has gone wrong.
Ok, so what can I do? Other than complain while the children shout with glee? I live in a city, I have no yard, I'm not a lobbyist in D.C. What can I actually change?
It all started with this tomato.
In July I was slicing one of these glorious fruits in half for lunch; when I opened it up I saw all these crazy squiggly green and white thingys. Ack! My co-worker leaned over and said, "Oh look. The seeds must have started to sprout." Uh, right, yeah. You'd never guess my dad planted a big vegetable garden every summer for much of my childhood. sigh. So I took that sucker home, stuck it in a tiny pot and dumped some dirt over it. I set it outside my door, right next to the basil plant I was slowly killing (something I do every summer), and forgot. When the basil leaves were shrivelled and crying I'd water everything, but whatever. I watered a pot of dirt for a month and a half, simply because I was too lazy to throw it out.
But then It Happened. One day a teeny tiny sprout with two little leaves stuck up a 1/2 inch from the dirt. Eureka! I'd done it, in spite of myself! I was growing a tomato. After that I took a keen interest in caring for my tiny charge, and today a big yellow flower bloomed on top of my 18-inch tall tomato plant. Magnificent.
Check it out, dear reader, here's the result of that flower a few weeks later!

The weather is getting cold (well, by Southern California standards), so yesterday I replanted the tomato plant and the basil, which miraculously survived my "care" this summer. I stuck them both in a pretty aluminum trough, filled in the gaps with potting soil and brought them inside. Apparently basil and tomatoes are more than good neighbors on the plate; an English gardener who has genuine expertise informed me they grow well together, uh, there are complimentary nutrients that they give or deplete from the soil... I wasn't paying close attention, but it's a good pairing. This morning I found a packet of organic mesclun salad greens from Seeds of Change. I think I'll throw them in the mix and see if I can grow my own damn salad; bite me, ConAgra.
And you know, there's something deeply satisfying about growing a little seed (ok, weird sprouted tomato) from an empty pot of soil into a strong, tall plant that smells green-tomatoey and may someday feed me. I feel a little closer to the mystery of the Universe.

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