A Walk Through the Garden

by Sam Thornburg, University of the Pacific Student

THORNBURG_cropI know my grandpa’s backyard like the back of my hand. I spent my childhood freezing my skin off from the ice cold pool shaded by the eight large redwoods that stood proud and tall in his backyard. I have always loved the oddly pleasant smell of lemon-blossom and chlorine that has taken up residence in the air surrounding his ranch style abode. Out of the things I remember about his house in Elk Grove, the most vivid and beloved memory I have is of his garden.

It was a bright and sunny day, with a cool breeze rushing through the sickly smelling Boxwood bushes that lined the cobblestone path to his large garden. It was a grand garden but a bone-dry, barren one. My grandpa, Don Truhett, leaned toward me as we were walking to his beloved dirt forest. “It’s not usually this barren,” he said, “but I’ve been having trouble with my back lately. I have Michael clean up the mess from all the fallen leaves and mow the grass. No…No…I don’t have time for stuff like that. I pour my work into the vegetables.”

I am used to there being a plethora of tomatoes, carrots, and herbs, but it seemed as though a harvest was not even going to be an option for my grandpa. After getting over the initial shock, I realized that the reason I was not seeing these regular vegetable visitors was due it being wintertime. Curious about harvesting, I asked my grandpa, “When you do have a harvest, what do you do with it? Do you sell any of it or give it to neighbors?” He thought these questions were funny. His eyes crinkled and he said, “Why no?! I barely have enough to give to your grandma, let alone feed a neighborhood.”

Sam with Kale

Sam prepares to plant kale in a plot in the Robb Garden.

I realize now that my memories of his garden were tinted with a rose-colored glow of grandeur. After all, I had not visited my grandpa’s garden for a couple of years. Time and the aging process are not kind to the hands and body of a gardener.

My grandfather has always been intimately involved with the processes of obtaining his meals. During this interview, I wanted to know more about his history, as I was aware he had grown up on a farm in Louisiana. At this point, we finished looking at his garden and moved to a table near his pool. When we settled I asked, “Has the food you eat changed significantly as industrial agriculture has modified the quality and quantity of it? Does it taste worse?”

“Food is different nowadays,” my grandpa responded. “Now, I can’t attest much to the quality of your grandmother’s cooking, but what I can do is talk about the quantity of food we can get at a grocery store compared to our garden. Bel Air and Safeway mark up their vegetables and fruits, because the companies that supply the product grow them out of season and transport it. When you have a garden, the price comes in the form of your time. You have to spend a lot of it in a garden to coddle the growth of your food. A full harvest is not always guaranteed with gardens, but you can always get what you need at the grocery store.”

I ruminated for awhile about the changed American palette and how my grandpa was living proof of the growing disconnect with our food. I asked my grandpa, “Why do you think America has pulled back from small farming? Do you miss not being on a farm and having more than half your meal grown by your hand?”

My grandpa looked towards the redwoods as he thought about his answer. “Money. America can be greedy like that. I also think fear has turned us towards big farming. I think humans will always have a fear of starvation, even though we have enough food to go around. I do miss being on a farm, but I also do not miss the times when my ma and pa were nervous about whether we would have enough food to go on the table. When you feed yourself by your own hand and you do not have an income to support buying groceries, then you have to put forth maximum effort into getting enough food in your system. I don’t have to spend half my day on a farm anymore.”

I was somewhat saddened by this answer. I hate the idea of America playing its citizens a fool and diminishing the control of our food right before our eyes. My grandpa’s answers told me a story about food in America. I was able to see the past and present form of agriculture through his eyes.