When I walk out the front door of my workplace, I am greeted, both to the left and the right, with fresh-growing edibles being nurtured by a small enclave of clueless farmers. This small tightly knit group of numbskulls is comprised of staff members who apparently had the bright idea last spring to start gardening right at the entryway to the business. They trucked in railroad timbers and lots of good soil, then went to work creating the large square spaces that would be necessary to pull off such an uninformed stunt.
A little bit of sporadic watering, some blazing good Florida sunshine, and next thing we knew, the craziest thing was happening: with what seemed like very little effort or experience on the part of anyone involved in the effort, everything began growing like gangbusters, bursting forth in what seemed like only a week or two. Peppers and tomatoes, and several other things I can’t quite remember, all began providing produce on a scale that was a bit unexpected. We couldn’t give the stuff away (actually, that’s all we did, there just weren’t many takers, since most of my coworkers, the majority younger than myself, knew nothing about stuff that doesn’t start out in life as something in a package arranged prettily on a shelf.
The half-baked greenery looked absolutely fabulous, adding color and a wild, untamed element to an otherwise rather non-descript building. We decided to keep up our good work. Now, we have our winter garden well underway and it’s time to start harvesting again. The comical part of this story is that, nobody quite seems to know what we’re actually growing. Not to say that we don’t have a fairly good idea, just that we’re not entirely sure. Something got lost in translation.
I should say that by ‘we,’ I actually mean ‘them,’ since I’ve had no part in this venture, whatsoever, other than eating what gets grown ‘out there.’ The main characters, however, are worth taking a look at. For instance, one of the jokers in this comedy of errors is a wonderful young man who doesn’t know a thing about gardening. I never know what answers he’s going to offer regarding my questions and his green plot, and I can probably classify him as an ‘unreliable source of growing information.’ In no fashion does he fit the farmer M.O., and it’s quite interesting to note that he has no intentions of eating any of the vegetables, himself.
“I’d rather sell it all at a roadside stand,” he said, “so I can go get some greasy fast food.” He wasn’t kidding. Still, I watched him on several occasions during the hot summer months, diligently working ‘midst the jungle-like growth, coming away with handfuls of peppers and tomatoes that would find their way to the community dining area in the kitchen. Since he did not partake, his labor was truly selfless. It was kind of adorable.
I pointed to one of the plants that was really taking off and asked him what it was (I really didn’t know). He said it was a Reuben. Again, he wasn’t kidding. I repeated his answer back to him, squinting hard as I did so, and then he scratched his scraggly head (I envy his mop greatly), no longer quite certain. I offered that I thought a Reuben was a sandwich and he affirmed that he thought so, too. Then I asked if maybe he had meant Rhubarb. He was delighted in the idea that I had pronounced correctly what he had intended to say. The conversation continued in that vein for a while, with less clarity, not more, the result. It wasn’t Baby Boomer vs Millenial miscommunication. It was two humans conversing about a topic in which neither had much expertise.
Another member of the enclave was a mother hen type, and she was a reliable old hand when it came to gardening wisdom. She maintained that no rhubarb had been planted in our garden. A third member, a guy who wears his hair very long and reminds me of John Lennon a little bit, says he couldn’t remember if there had been any rhubarb planted or not. The reason the question had come up in the first place is because I had been staring at something that looked very much like the plant my grandpa used to grow when I was kid, and grandma would then use it to make rhubarb pie. Turns out the thing living in our garden was possibly Swiss chard (I think I have that right).
“The stalks are poisonous, right?” someone inquired. Somebody else, another staffer who had put herself in charge of watering duties during her afternoon smoke breaks, said she thought it was the leaves and not the stalks. Nobody was 100 percent on this, so the Unreliable Source Googled it and, although we determined which part of rhubarb would kill us, we still weren’t certain what was growing in the garden, either willing to commit a crime, or trying desperately to clear itself of any guilt by association.
There was another plant that was also being left unidentified, and much speculation as to its heritage was also put out there by these certifiable amateurs. They hadn’t understood the importance of placing those little plastic mini-stakes next to the efforts of one’s fruit. “I think it’s a turnip,” I said, convinced that I must be right simply because of the resemblance of the thing to what I hadn’t eaten many times before. It was growing right next to what most of us thought was probably cabbage, or broccoli. Smoking Girl thought the leaves were the wrong color. “The blue leaves are the kale,” the Unreliable Source said.
We ventured back inside to talk to yet another elder (I was the same age, just without the same wisdom). She trekked out to the South Forty (about twenty steps from her desk, in truth) and informed us all that she believed it to be a Rutabaga. I hadn’t heard that word in years, and none of us were sure if the leaves could be cooked down and eaten in the same way as a turnip. Again we conferred with the Google Oracle, who whispered knowingly through the cyber ether that indeed the leaves were delicious. I was exhausted.
What I found most telling in this mini mound of misinformation was how knowledge of the land and the things that sprout from it had very noticeably diminished, tied directly to the age of the person conveying the information. The most senior among us knew the most, while the youngest did not know anything about the plants he was tending, nor was even willing to eat any of it.
While on the surface, the situational dialog that had occurred was certainly worth a good laugh, the realization that valuable knowledge had slipped away with the generations (almost three involved here, I would say, with an age range from early 60s to early 20s), was no laughing matter. The fact that the urban garden existed at all, had come into existence through the efforts of a younger, willing generation, and that all wanted to participate in its success in some way or another, all gave me hope. If the spark to live independently could forever remain, maybe the dead canned goods in the supermarket might forever have to remain on their toes.
Sincere thanks for stopping by!