When I mention to acquaintances that I'm an urban farmer, they seem to have visions of pastoral beauty---tomatoes dangling lusciously from the vine, bees buzzing around the lavender, vegetable beds neatly weeded, homemade lemonade on the picnic table. Sounds fantastic, doesn't it? And oh, by the way, if you have a surplus of tomatoes, I'll be happy to take some off your hands, they mention casually.
Let's get this straight. Tomatoes do not just happen. Any serious urban farmer works year-round to make it happen. We order seeds in January and begin sowing indoors immediately. We carefully watch the spring weather, cultivating beds, adding compost, and finding the right time to transfer seedlings to the greenhouse for hardening, and ultimately to the beds. Then we watch for bugs and disease, using labor-intensive methods to organically solve problems. Finally, we enjoy the harvest. If we've done our work properly and the weather has been generous, there will be enough to freeze, can and preserve for use all winter long, perhaps even into the next season.
Several years ago, before I was a gardener, my friend Diana gave me one, gigantic sweet onion. It was the size of a softball. I cradled the onion in my hands and planned carefully how to use it in a meal, because I knew the onion came from her garden.
Gardening is like quilting. It's a labor of love. I don't give a quilt to anybody who does not truly understand and appreciate the hours it took to create. Quilters refer to gift recipients as "quilt worthy."
Gardening is not free. At Red Bucket Farm, we have thousands of dollars invested in raised beds, compost bins, bee hives, rain barrels, terracing (both wood and brick), fencing, sheds, coops, greenhouses, trellises, and arbors. We consider this our retirement investment plan. Plants also cost plenty, even when purchased bare root in the spring. Fruit trees run about $25 each, and that's when they are a tiny stick in the ground. It takes years for a tree to become fruitful. Chickens are not free, nor is chicken food.
I don't mean to be ungenerous, but urban farming is my job. Asking for the fruits of my labor is like asking for my paycheck. I'm happy to share with my friends, those lovely folks who pray for me and check on me regularly to make sure that I'm doing okay. I'm also happy to sell a few eggs when the flock is producing abundantly. But please---think twice before making assumptions. Are you veggie worthy?