Jessie Gurunathan discovered the joy of growing her food. Photo/Stuart Munro
Big juicy chunks of German greens and Aunt Ruby’s black krim tomatoes, torn basil leaves, fresh buffalo mozzarella dusted with sea salt, cracked pepper and finished with a drizzle of olive oil and of balsamic vinegar. Simple
perfection. It was the taste of summer 2021 for me, and I’ve been fantasizing about this explosive flavor combination ever since.
It sounds so weird, but I’m now one of “those” annoying people who will tell you that you “just haven’t lived until you’ve tasted your own garden tomatoes”.
It’s Labor weekend, which is traditionally the time when gardeners across the country prepare and plant their tomatoes and other summer crops. My grandparents had amazing green thumbs and they passed their gift on to my mother, who is an amazing gardener. Every time I come home for Christmas, her garden looks like an open-air supermarket, bursting with fresh summer flavors and colors. It really is one of the highlights of the holiday season to be able to head out to Mom’s garden to pick and harvest her summer bounty.
Lettuce, tomatoes and herbs for salads. Strawberries, raspberries and boysenberries, all soaked in sunshine and ready to be the crown jewels atop the pavlova, corn freshly shucked and grilled on the barbecue and fat and juicy stone fruits picked straight from the tree and devoured. Mom says it brings her tremendous joy and satisfaction to see us enjoying her literal labor of love. I love exploring mum’s garden, but I never really liked the hard work aspect and thought it was a lot of effort for something so fleeting.
Up until this time last year, my gardening experience was pretty limited to growing a few herbs, kale and silver beets. My partner and I have been meatless and mostly plant-based for almost six years now, and fresh vegetables are the main star attraction on our plates. It was a trip to the supermarket where I discovered that a package of old-fashioned iceberg lettuce was priced at $6.
It was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. I decided to try to save some money and start growing green vegetables myself. I thought I would start with a few basics like salad greens and a tomato plant. As I started figuring out how to get started, I quickly found myself down a rabbit hole. I blinked, and suddenly Bunnings and Miter 10 became my new favorite haunts. I was hooked.
There really is something immensely satisfying about growing your own food, especially when you master the art of growing something that starts with a small seed and results in an abundant supply of free food. I was unprepared for the other side effects growing my own food would have on my mental health.
I have lived with clinical depression and anxiety for a very long time and have had to take medication to help balance the chemicals in my brain. When I started learning to grow my own food, something changed in me. Being outside with my hands in the dirt has forced me to detach from much of the noise of everyday life that can so easily be all-consuming and overwhelming. As an avowed tech enthusiast who relies heavily on screen time for my work, an embarrassing part of my days can be spent indoors on my phone and laptop.
My newfound passion for tending my “vegetable garden” was the first time I didn’t have separation anxiety from my gadgets. I am fully immersed in inspecting the leaves for pests, watering, pruning, weeding and feeding these plants which in turn thank me by providing me with the best products. It’s humbling when a control freak like me discovers that nothing in the garden is predictable or promised, and you constantly have to compromise and adapt to whatever surprises Mother Nature throws at you.
I wish it hadn’t taken a global pandemic and the rising cost of my weekly grocery bill to finally force me to learn how to grow some of my own fresh fruits and vegetables. We love a good silver lining, I guess, and this summer I’m planning on having a bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes, served with a generous side dish of enough satisfaction and serotonin for good measure.
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