Time or money? is the oldest question of all. Ever since we as a species figured out how to domesticate the plants and animals that feed us, we've had to decide whether to spend our time producing what we need or to exchange our time for money so that we can buy what we need. In the twenty-first century, in the developed world, we exchange our time for money for all the things that we need. Even among the farmers, few are able to choose the other way, to choose time over money.
Yet, I want to choose time, or at least I want to feel like I have the option to choose time. I don't like feeling like an indentured servant to the industrial-consumption machine. I think that one of my motivations to garden, to grow my own food, is to practice choosing time. The reality of it is not as simple as that, given that growing a garden also costs money. But in spirit, if not in practice, growing a garden is a commitment of time. I commit to preparing the garden, to planting the garden, and to caring for the garden, and the garden produces food that I can carry straight into the kitchen without paying a grocer, or distributor, or wholesaler, or farmer. I get food in exchange for my time.
Food costs more that just time in the growing of it. Cooking from scratch, using raw ingredients out of the garden, also takes time. Time that I am accustomed to spending, in fact, often happy to spend. But then there is the time required to get the food from the garden to the kitchen counter, ready to be sliced or dressed or sautéed or baked. That is where I am finding myself spending a lot of time lately, as I thin and trim and wash the greens from my garden.
The greens in my front yard garden grew more quickly than I expected, with each row turning into a crowded hedge of baby plants desperately in need of thinning. At first I put off thinning because the garden looked so good. I loved the look of the fat, crowded rows of greens across the yard, and I didn't want to lose that fullness through thinning. Once I began, the thinning process was slow going. The stems of the over-sized baby greens were tightly packed together, so that the leaves were intertwined and stuck to each other as I tried to remove some, but not all, of the plants. Each row required careful, patient time, and produced a huge bowl of greens. The thinning process, which was originally a simple, single item on my to-do list, "thin greens and make salads," has turned into a weeks-long process.
Once the greens were harvested, the next step was to trim the leaves from the stems, or the stems from the roots, depending on the type of greens. I discarded yellowed or brown leaves into the compost bowl along with the stems and roots and tossed the healthy leaves into the sink for washing.
Growing crowded and close to the ground, some of the leaves were quite muddy when they went into the sink. Luckily the dirt dropped to the bottom of the sink as I sloshed the greens around in the cool water. I pulled the greens out of the water into a colander, rinsed the dirt out of the sink, and refilled the sink with water. Then I dropped the greens back into the sink for a second rinse, just to make sure all of the dirt was washed away. After the second rinse, I dried the greens in a salad spinner. Now the greens were ready for cooking, or salad making, or to be stored in the refrigerator for later use.
Sunday I spent a few hours trimming and washing cilantro and parsley thinnings, bok choy thinnings, and tatsoi thinnings. As I stood in front of the kitchen sink, clipping and sloshing, I was painfully aware of time passing and of all the other things that I could have been doing with that time, including writing a blog entry. The expensive boxes of washed, organic greens at the grocery store started seeming a lot less expensive, given the labor and oil involved in their production. But, in the end, once I saw the volume of greens that I had washed and readied for eating, I was reminded that having too many greens is a good problem. We will eat well this week.
Of course, the final, and most important, step of the process was the supervisor inspection. Benji sniffed each bowl but took a special interest in the cilantro and parsley. I've read that cats eat plants to cleanse their intestines, and I've also read that parsley is a cleansing herb. So it should have been no surprise when she decided to eat a fresh, baby sprig of parsley. At which point her inspection was rudely interrupted as I hauled her screaming self off the dining-room table. I guess that, even if I was weary from time spent thinning, and trimming, and washing, baby greens, Benji was there with her excellent feline nose to remind me that fresh greens from the garden have a quality that can't be bought in a plastic box from across the country.