This essay is reprinted with the permission of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
With Tu Bishvat coming up, I’ve been thinking about trees–it is the New Year for trees, and in Israel the holiday is celebrated by planting trees. Living in New York City, I don’t think too much about things that grow from the ground. But thatâ€™s been changing, because in the last few years, my father has taught me to be a gardener.
Gardening has given me another perspective on food and how it gets from the ground to the table. I grew up in Connecticut and now live in Manhattan, where it’s easy to think that vegetables come from Fairway or Food Emporium, and that they really do grow with that shiny spray stuff on them.
I’ve never been a nature girl and wanted nothing to do with my father’s garden for many years. But I became interested about five years ago, and my father welcomed me into his garden. He taught me how to smell the soil to see if it is good, how squash should be planted close together in a circle and then thinned out, how cucumbers should be planted near a fence because their tendrils need to climb, and that parsley can last until January or February if it’s covered at night when the frost hits.
Gardening together, we worried about what would happen if there was no rain or too much rain. We worried when we had to cut down an old, rotten tree that had shaded our garden–what would happen to the plants without shade? Many times, we were together in the garden urging the plants to grow or just watching them, and talking about how each plant was doing.
My father taught me that I had to get my hands in the dirt. He said if I wore gloves I wouldn’t be able to feel it. He taught me to feel my own connection to the earth. It took time to get used to that. I was constantly on the lookout for worms, snakes, and bugs, but once I stopped screaming each time I saw one, I couldnâ€™t wait to wake up early in the morning, go to the garden, and see what had happened the previous night.