Where do your fruits and vegetables come from? This week, my refrigerator is stocked with spinach and blueberries from Florida, raspberries and strawberries from California, grapes from Chile, hothouse tomatoes from Canada, and peppers from Mexico — all courtesy of a recent shopping trip to my local Costco. In Iowa, where cold weather often lingers into April, I welcome the year-round availability of such delicious diversity. But fresh produce is a luxury that many of us take for granted. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 23.5 million Americans live in “food deserts,” areas with little or no access to grocery stores that provide fresh, nutritious, affordable foods. Imagine having to feed your kids only what the corner convenience store sells.
As I see it, we’re becoming increasingly dependent on food from far-flung places. And the further we are from where our food is grown, the greater disconnect with healthy eating. The solution? Planting a vegetable garden is a good start. In raised beds. In containers. In urban areas. In schoolyards. Anywhere there’s a strip of soil and sunshine.
For Ron Finley of South Central Los Angeles, the only spot available for growing veggies was along the curb in front of his house. When the city tried to stop him, Ron — a self-described “guerilla gardener” — took his fresh-food crusade to the streets, literally. He started an organization called L.A. Green Grounds, which help people turn hell strips (the wasted land between sidewalks and streets) into what Ron calls “food forests” that provide “nourishment, empowerment, education — and healthy, hopeful futures — one urban garden at a time,” according to Ron’s TED profile. I encourage you to listen to Ron’s TED Talk. I did, and now he’s one of my garden heroes.
Plant a garden. And then spread the word.
One of the oldest known bird species, Sandhill Cranes stand 3-4 feet tall. Only the adults are adorned with red crowns and white cheeks.
Gray is a hue I usually associate with the dead of winter, not the advent of spring. By this time of year, I ‘m done with frozen monotones and yearn for a thawing dose of bright colors — the yellow in forsythia blooms, the red in a robin’s breast, the green in early narcissus shoots – that seem to shout, “No doubt about it, spring is here!” But my bias against gray became, well, less black-and-white during a recent a road trip on I-80 in Nebraska, where I witnessed thousands of silver-winged Sandhill Cranes. Their display was anything but drab.
Every March, more than a half-million Sandhill Cranes gather for several weeks in the Central Platte River Valley. Right there, in the heart of Nebraska, they have their crane convention. They dine on the previous year’s leftover field corn and entertain each other with peculiar courtship dances that show off their long, elegant necks and 6-foot wingspans. It’s no wonder birdwatchers flock here to watch the annual migration. Even from a distance, these birds are magnificent.
Before long, nature will cue the cranes to continue northward on their incredible journey, which began as far south as Mexico and will end in their summer nesting grounds in Canada and Alaska. Chances are good that our paths will cross again. Sandhill Cranes have a lifespan of up to 20 years. Their longterm survival, though, depends on conservation of their wetland habitats.
I now see gray in a new way. Silver wings, it turns out, are like silver linings — they signal that brighter days are on the horizon.
My friend Tovah Martin once told me that I should be sure to sow my poppy seeds (Papaver somniferum) on top of the last snow of the season right where you want them to grow. But each year I doubt my meteorological instincts. I figure any snowfall in March is fair game, so I’m glad I finally scattered the seeds I’d saved from my pretty purple poppies a couple of weeks ago. I purchased the original seeds some years back at VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, British Columbia, and had been saving them from year to year ever since.
Poppies will grow in any well-drained soil in full sun. Without fail, within a few weeks, here and there across my front-yard flowerbeds, will spring dozens of dainty gray-green seedlings. By early summer, I’ll have papery petals of soft lavender-purple with dark purple markings dancing throughout my garden. And those blossoms will mature into handsome dried seedheads that rattle like miniature botanical salt shakers filled with thousands of tiny black seeds. Which I will save to sow another year.