Hot tomato…

Keeping with the theme of sharing some of my humble garden beginnings, here’s another non-resume item that is perhaps a universal experience.

I was six. I promise I won’t go year by year through my childhood and share each gardening memory or an exacting evolution of my great appreciation! However, this is special. It’s a vignette in time. I can’t tell you what happened before or after on this day. It’s just a distinct memory, existing alone with vague understandings about the outside world.

I remember heat – summer, oppressive heat and a new, unfamiliar woman leading me into her hard, red dirt, back yard. I might of been barefoot.  My family was there but I wasn’t paying attention to them. We had a destination because she was intent on showing me something IMPORTANT. I didn’t know what but I had great expectation. Into her vegetable garden we went. She opened the gate. Was it large? 10’x10′? 1/2 acre? I can’t say.  And, this is where my focus gets a bit fuzzy – image you’re a bit in a Charlie Brown movie where adults are large, speaking in muffled voices and your own perspective is rather removed from theirs.

I approached the great tomato patch! These vibrant, green, leafy monsters, floppy – hairy stemmed, staked beasties had managed to corral themselves into neat rows that lined up with such depth they seemed like an endless corn field. The kindly and informative adult voice was carefully explaining that tomatoes actually come from plants and not the grocery store. WHAT?!?! This was a tomato PLANT! Awesome. Bizarre. What a confounding thought that was.

Then she did something remarkable… I wouldn’t of thought of this myself – ever! I didn’t think it was possible. Her great arm reached over me and picked a red fruit. Now maybe she was growing a Better Boy, medium sized, salad/slicing tomato. This was in the early 70’s and those hybrids for the resistance to fungal and bacteria rot were certainly all the rage. I am not sure what cultivar was there except that it was – now placed in my hand – the temperature of sunshine, hefty, soft and firm, smooth and curious. What happens next is quite predictable. She encouraged me to eat – right there! In the garden! Not in the house with a napkin, plate and fork… but, unwashed, and – without knowing this word- it was ‘primal’.

So it happened, my first bite into a real, flavorful tomato – shattering all I knew about bland, waxy, lumps of pasty red stuff before. This was different! This tasted rich without words… I knew it was GOOD, BETTER, and what a tomato should be.

Last year, and, of course, many years after this epiphany, Mom and I put the pieces of this puzzle together. We were at her college friend’s home in Oklahoma on our family, cross country extravaganza. I had sat on the hand rest in the front without a seat belt for about 2,000 miles that month!  And, who would guess that later, I would take part in growing 100s of heirloom tomatoes for Tomatomania out in California. And, also discover that Yellow Pear and Matt’s Wild Cherry would become such favorites that I’ll still gladly pay top dollar for them in any store!  Actually, let me retract that, I’ve never seen Matt’s Wild Cherry in a store which makes perfect sense.  Those little flavor bombs are so enticing they never make it in the house, let alone to any market.

Now, I can’t wait for summer!


For some fun, check out and dream some winter dreams of what your summer tomato garden could be.

…and, with a vision much is possible.

Here’s a story I’ve told a few times recently. You know how that happens… You get a story about yourself stuck in a groove and repeat it when you’re in new groups. Is it canned? Is it part of self-understanding? I’m not an actor, so it’s not an act. I’ll just choose to take it at face value as simply this is what is on my mind.

I will garden at home again for the 2015 season. On the face of it, this may not seem like any sort of a revelation but it is! This is certainly part of my evolution. For years (ok, decades), I gardened at work and gardened at home. My hands were always in the dirt. Fingernails clean? You must be joking. Those were busy times and much enjoyed!

…and somewhere along the line, I got tired like we all seem to do as one gets a touch older. Naps became important. Projects were prioritized and planned. Post-meal naps became an indulgence. Age certainly has something to do with this but also, we found eating did too.

During the transition to Chicago back in 2006, an idea took root.   I did NOT have to garden at home and work! We found an apartment and then a condo where gardening in ANY SHAPE OR FORM was not possible. I wore this as a badge of honor that I only needed to garden at work.

Naps continued – which is rather understandable really.

…and, along came a new way of eating – plant-based / no oil. Radical? Perhaps from the perspective of the standard American diet but not so radical if you’re searching out defensible ways to be healthy. Over two years ago, this change in eating was the beginning of a cascade of changes.

No naps and I woke up! I want to garden at home again. This next February I will put my application in for a community garden plot. I much admire the efforts of the Peterson Garden Project. I hope to join their ranks. Stay tuned for dirty handed adventures in gardening!