Wednesday, March 9, 2011


March 9, 2011

I’ve seen ‘em huge and pink, but we all know those shiny, grapefruit-sized objects that look like a tomato on steroi... hey, maybe that’s exactly what they are! Nothing surprises me any more. They mess with our other food, why not these?
We’ve eaten ‘em too, sliced and seated atop a burger under the two thin lumps of pickle. Apart from the often pale color they could indeed be giant ‘maters, unless you take a whole one and bite into it, and then... nothing. No tomato taste. In fact no taste at all.
I’m concerned about this absence of flavor. Could chemicals be at work here? They’ve been playing with our food for so long now there isn’t much that’s still natural, despite the labels that screech that word at us from the supermarket shelves.
Folks, we’re country out here. Let’s really be country. We’re amazingly lucky not to be forced to depend on the Chemical Food Industry for all our sustenance. I lived 12 years in New York City and those slickers have no idea what fresh is. Many will never know.
Here in Walton County there’s no excuse not to tend a garden. Nothing fancy. Most everyone has a small plot of land to devote to a half dozen plants, which is all you need to provide a decent yield.
You can save money. Quite a bit. Plus there’s so much joy to be derived from a garden, even a window box where apartment dwellers can handle two or three plants with ease.
I just had a word with Carole and Rayburn Casper who live on the cusp of Monroe’s city limits. Being original country folk, they’ve always grown a hefty portion of their diet for eating fresh, canning and filling their three freezers. Peas, beans, corn, cantaloupes, you name it. How much time do they spend on the garden? Not a lot, they insist. And what would be the easiest for other folks to grow? Way-hey, it’s ‘maters and cukes, just like I was going to say a few more paragraphs further down but now don’t have to.
“Folks with no space can plant in a five-gallon bucket on the porch,” opines Rayburn. “After the yield when a plant dies just put something else in its place. Bury one potato and it’ll turn into a dozen.”
The great thing is that we have a way to start reclaiming our bodies, or at least minimizing any damage being done to them by the factories of Big Food.
Those enormous pink tomato-like entities may be the Hans and Franz of the veggie world, all pumped up but basically nutrient-free milquetoast. Force-grown, like so much of today’s grub, full of water, steroids to make ‘em weigh more at the checkout, give us fewer whatevers to the pound. Extenders to turn them into the undead; vampire veggies not allowed to spoil and become worthless. And who hasn’t noticed that they’ve timed their strawberries to start rotting the moment you’re through the checkout!
For want of space, I can’t get into what the food frankensteins are doing across the entire spectrum, meats included. A chief offender is Monsanto, the Missouri-based giant that gave us Roundup and gave Vietnam a vile dose of Agent Orange that keeps on killing. Monsanto’s herbicides are condemned by alarmed scientists and farmers the world over. But we’re the happy-go-lucky ones who don’t mind.
Let’s look at Monsanto’s “terminators”, eunuchs of the seed world. They’re sterile, therefore in order to plant next year you’re compelled to buy the same seeds afresh. Repeat sales. Greater profits. Yes, they’ll tell you they’re disease resistant. Note the word “resistant”, meaning they need put up only token opposition to disease in order to be legally truthful.
The French – yeah I know, who takes any notice of them, right? – but if there’s one thing those Froggies understand it’s food. They’re famous for it. To a great degree France is still an agrarian society, and they’re leading the worldwide protest against this adulteration of our vittles.
With so much mischief afoot we must look to ourselves.
I think back to the Big Pinks I ate. What a contrast to the sweet, succulent Celebritys our neighbor JD Shumpert grew – best I’ve ever tasted. And even our own cherry tomatoes which, together with cucumbers and peppers, keep us in salads through Summer into Fall. Another neighbor, Peggy Jordan, has brought armfuls of blueberries, locally grown. We have raspberries and blackberries, figs and a small orchard that gives us plums and peaches when it wants to.
Not everyone can tend an orchard or a Casper-sized garden, but we can all eat a little more healthily and have the gratification of seeing our investment in Nature pay off. It’s fun, says our telephone engineer, Charles White. Good for the palate and the soul. And the planting season is just beginning.
A small basket of tomatoes is $3 at the store. Instead for a couple bucks you can buy Heirloom-type seeds that haven’t been genetically altered, so they last for generations and produce healthy, flavorful vegetables.
Or you can go to a local old-fashioned hardware store like Buckles on Broad Street and get a four-pack of three-inch “teenage” plants for $1.79. And where Craig Buckle will demonstrate for you how to wrestle those enormous green caterpillars off the vine. That’s fun too.
There’s something magical about growing your own.


© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.