By guest blogger Debbie Miller, president of Organic Connections, a Canada-based nonprofit group. Debbie and her husband Ian farmed organically from 1990 to 2005. Although they are no longer active farmers they continue to live on the farm near Lisieux, Saskatchewan. Maria is the keynote speaker at the Organic Connections conference and tradeshow this week.
So…how do you turn a Big City girl, who grew up not thinking anything about food, into a crazy organic farm girl who has spent the last umpteen or so years immersed in every possible aspect of organic agriculture…AND who has been known to dance with excitement at the sight of a bag of organic potatoes from her friend Don’s market garden?
Well, okay, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan isn’t really very big for a city—but it seemed huge when I was growing up there 20 or a hundred years ago! It seems unbelievable that someone could grow up literally in the middle of some of the best farmland in the world, yet be totally disconnected from their food and where it comes from. But I’m living proof that it can, and does, happen! There were 7 kids in our family, a lot even for those times. with a Dad who was a long-haul trucker and on the road for weeks at a time. We didn’t have a garden. My Mom was a genius at a lot of things, but cooking was not one of them. Sliced white bread, Spam, Spaghetti-Os—we had it all. I would be embarrassed to tell you how old I was when I figured out that peas didn’t always come out of a can, that they were supposed to be bright green, not gray, and that they tasted good! Food was just never that big a deal in our house. We ate because we had to, but didn’t put a lot of thought into it. We would occasionally visit people who lived on farms, but I certainly didn’t associate the wooden bins that looked like little playhouses, and the big scary-looking machinery, with food.
So how did I get from there to here? Well, for starters I went off to University, and met and married a farm boy from a family totally obsessed with food. The fact that he and his whole family seemed to get so excited about everything they ate, and would in fact go on and on and on about meals they had enjoyed, totally baffled and amazed me. Nobody was more surprised than I was when April Fools Day (not an omen I hoped) 1979 found us actually moving to the farm! All of the sudden, there was I reading “how to garden” books and figuring out how to make my own salad dressing from scratch. Whodathunkit! It was an incredibly steep learning curve.
Fast forward a few years, we now have two young children, and we are starting to wonder about all these poisons we are putting onto our fields. If they are killing weeds and grasshoppers and birds—what are they doing to us? How can this be good for the land or for anything that wants to grow on it? My father-in-law is diagnosed with prostate cancer, and we begin reading about studies linking cancer with agricultural chemicals. I’d like to be able to say we made the transition to organics purely for health and environmental reasons; they were certainly a huge factor, but the bottom line was that we were also going broke. Organics not only offered a friendlier, healthier, more sustainable way for us to care for the land and all the living things—it also made it financially possible for us to stay on the farm. Even more exciting—farming was fun again! We soon learned that organic farmers were among the most positive, optimistic, passionate people you’d ever want to meet. Not to mention more than a little bit kooky and eccentric!
But back to the food—the most important bit! As we gradually incorporated more and more fresh organic food into our diet, we learned a few more new things. The first was that it tasted better. Way better. Finally, I was beginning to see what all the fuss was about! Our children’s friends were starting to notice that certain things just tasted better at our house, from the organic ketchup that tasted like it had tomatoes in it, to the vegetables and meat they thought they didn’t like. I also noticed that organic food is actually easier to cook. You don’t have to disguise it with a lot of fancy sauces and spices—it tastes fantastic all by itself. Another unexpected bonus was that you don’t have to eat as much. We find we feel full much more quickly on organic food.
As we got to know the farmers who provided us with our food, meal times turned into story times. We talk about how the bison is from Dwayne’s herd, and the potatoes are from Don’s market garden, and the beets are from Angie’s fantastic Feng Shui-themed garden, and the milk is from Crook’s cow, and the apples came from the tree in my very own yard. You can taste the passion and the goodness in every single bite!
And that is the story of how a silly city girl turned into a crazy organic foodie!