I find it kind of disturbing when people give me that envious look and exclaim:
“Look at those gorgeous vegetables. I wish I had a green thumb like you!”
The fact is that I never use my thumb to grow vegetables. I squash potato bugs with it and occasionally mistake it for a nail. So my thumb is either smeared with bug-juice or painfully blue from a hit by the hammer, but never green.
On the other hand, I do suffer from this craziness over a patch of fertile soil. It calls on me in the most enticing manner to put a seed, a plant, a bush, a tree into it and let it grow. In high school, during my university years studying law, economics and history, as archivist, as document restorer, as museum curator and as insurance agent I always dreamt of being a farmer. I finally made it when I was close to retirement age.
The weird thing about this dream is that I did not grow up on a farm but in a big city. I have little to no training in agriculture. In school I flunked biology and chemistry and have therefore no idea what the letters N, P, and K on a fertilizer bag stand for. I stay away from discussions with experts about alkaline and acidic soils and about trace elements, because my ignorance would show the very moment I open my mouth.
I believe that my pre-occupation with soil (EARTH) is that I regard it as a living being who I wish to be friends with. I feel therefore no need to change its personality (i.e. fooling around with pH values or experimenting with trace elements) or force it to do something it does not want to or can do.
From a business point of view this is certainly a bad attitude if I wanted to consider returns on investment, the cost of labour, expenses for supplies and maintenance. However, the permanent damage caused by agri-business, e.g. monoculture, excessive use of herbicides and pesticides, pollution through fertilizers, soil wash-out from irrigation must be a permanent warning sign for all who want to make a living off the land that soil is a non-renewable source. If you take good care of your soil it will last forever, but once it’s gone it is gone.
Agriculture has already been pushed out of some of the most fertile areas in Ontario to make room for residential development. I still remember the rich farms in Waterloo, Markham, Stouffville, Richmond Hill, and Oshawa. Now they are what I call “house farms” and grow – if anything – putting-green lawns. Try to live off that stuff!
I am sure that most farmers agree with my sentiments, but they have to make certain compromises just to stay in business. I can afford the luxury to have a more intimate relationship with my small patch of land. After 25 years on our 4.5 acre property in Rawdon Twp. I have worked on just about every square inch of workable land. It has not always been easy. There is no romance in dealing with rocks, all kinds of noxious weeds, floods, droughts, bugs, and the inevitable crop failures. On the other hand, it is such a glorious feeling when the garlic breaks through the winter mulch, when you taste the first strawberry, cut your own asparagus, and so on. There are so many firsts during the gardening season that the excitement never ends. And all I really have to do for that pleasure is do is tend the land in the most unscientific manner. I just follow my instincts and let the land teach me. The rewards are huge. Not only do we grow the best-tasting vegetables for our own consumption, but I also get my physical exercise, make friends at the farmers’ market, and even earn a bit of money. I can take time for landscaping and other creative projects. Somebody called our land a “piece of Paradise”, and I believe that he is right.
I could not think of a better life, but a green thumb I have not.