I met a 10-year-old a couple of weeks ago who told me in all seriousness that if he were offered a choice between doughnuts and salad, he would have to go with salad. He volunteered that tidbit after telling me that he liked all vegetables, especially salad greens. I had asked about his favorite lettuce, and he answered “Romaine” with no hesitation.
We were standing in the demonstration greenhouse of DFW Aquaponics Farms in Burleson, Texas, where I was photographing lettuces, chives, kale, Swiss chard and tomatoes in various stages of development. I had heard the young boy talking with his dad about how delicious the produce looked, even though many of the plants weren’t yet mature and the tomatoes were still green.
I’m not sure that at age 10 I even realized that there were different varieties of lettuce. I ate salad, I think, because at that age I ate most of what was put in front of me. It was simple food. I grew up during the days of family meals served at home, punctuated by an occasional sandwich at the downtown drug store soda fountain as a Saturday treat.
I vividly remember the taste of those sandwiches, and the special delight of a fountain Coke! To this day I occasionally long for a real fountain drink, rich with syrup and bubbly from the seltzer.
I also remember that home-cooked food varied by the season. Winter brought soups and stews, spring and summer were filled with fresh salads, bright peas and juicy watermelon, and fall was full of crunchy apples, and tasty pumpkin, squash and spices.
Because I was a city girl, I knew little about growing food. But I knew that when the right season rolled around, there were ways to judge the ripeness of fruit and vegetables.
However, had I been given a choice, I am certain I would have opted for a chocolate chip cookie, a scoop of ice cream, or even a just-picked strawberry over a ripe carrot or a stalk of fresh romaine, no matter what the season.
Today, like that 10-year-old, I too prefer salad over doughnuts, although ice cream is still as tempting as that fountain Coke.
I have learned what I am sure my farm-raised grandparents knew: Freshly-picked and locally-harvested food tastes good. It’s that simple. It’s immensely satisfying to create a salad or an entire meal from what one has grown.
Today, because of greenhouses and modern technology, it’s possible to grow fresh food — including salad greens and seasonal produce, year-round in many different locales.
I am not still not committed to growing my own food, but I certainly understand the motivation. Luckily, at least in my area, farm stands, local markets and community-supported agriculture (CSAs) are increasingly popular. Fresh, seasonal, locally-grown, non-processed food is available. It’s a good time to experience the joy — and the flavor, texture, color and fun — of good, fresh produce any time of year. It’s simply better.
I am delighted when spring arrives and local farmers markets spring to life with colorful carrots, new potatoes, bulbous onions, butterhead lettuce and showy Swiss chard. Later I wait for the melons to ripen and still later I search out the most beautiful eggplant and squash — as much for their vibrant color as for their taste!
Food is always an adventure — whether picked from the garden and prepared at home, created by an award-winning chef at a renowned restaurant, or purchased from a trendy food truck at a community festival. I continue to learn new things about food and about people, no matter what the occasion or where in the world.
It was here at home that I learned another lesson about food. Kudos to my 10-year-old “teacher,” and to his dad for showing him the way.
Teach them young, they say . . .