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The garden that got us through the winter months

By Rick Houser –

It was safe to say that a person’s garden was the essential ingredient to making it through the winter. I have said before my parents raised big gardens just like many other families of that time. Dependency on your garden yield was mandatory. In the 1950’s and 1960’s items bought at the grocery store were much different than today. Items that couldn’t be grown had to be bought and the farmer’s wife bought the ingredients that were used for canning or seasoning.  In those days, things like flour, coffee and sugar were always needed.
Now if a person was a “town” resident the rules were different as one couldn’t raise a garden on concrete. These people had to buy from the store and that was okay. I know when my parents moved from the farm to the edge of town they continued to raise a garden. But it seemed different than those days on the farm when Mom would can vegetables in volume and freeze many vegetables as well . Farmers’ wives cooked in bulk for the farm hands and this consumed a lot of what Mom had in her pantry and in her freezer.
When my family moved near Bethel, she first raised a garden the same size that filled all the pantry shelves and the freezer, but unlike on the farm not near as much was needed anymore. The old habit of a huge garden continued for several years and Mom and Dad worked harder at giving fresh vegetables to the town’s folk as a gift.
My wife and I raised gardens but never of the huge size. We still do raise enough so we that can have some potatoes, some green beans (with a little ham in them for flavor), and a few tomatoes, cabbage, and squash. The garden was grown in size determined by what would get the family through the winter months and to the next year’s crops.
There are still big gardens grown, but not near as many. For starters, there are fewer farmers around. Also, farm products are much more available in the stores than in the past.  More and more roadside stands and farmer’s markets are around these days. With quicker access to fresh produce. a family can buy it cheaper and quicker than if they had grown it on their own. (Less labor for sure.
I am reminded that as a boy I disliked having to pick strawberries, and green beans and anything else. I couldn’t see any reason to break my back for a vegetable. But when winter came and the world became cold and bleak, those garden products I had helped to harvest began to make sense to me as I was dipping out some mashed potatoes to put on my plate next to the green beans and peas. When I reached adulthood, I realized the need for a garden and made my attempts at raising one. There still is a satisfying feeling about serving something you grew yourself and of course, it might even taste a little better.
As time has passed and grocery stores have grown in size to handle all of a person’s needs and desires, the call for the garden has diminished. Yes, there are still many people who can and freeze but the majority of the world works many more hours away from their homes and their homes don’t have the land to grow. So, instead of filling the pantry with home-grown items we take our grocery list and buy canned items at the store to fill that pantry. One thing that hasn’t changed is that we all try to get and keep that pantry filled so when winter does come, good meals will still be cooked and served.
Until recently I always took the garden for granted. It was always there and my parents were working in it a lot. When they moved to town, I thought the garden was gone but it was too much a part of who they were for them to stop gardening.  Even though I didn’t give it much thought at that time, I began growing one also.
Mine wasn’t the largest or the one with the least weeds, but I was still raising one. Somehow through my parents’ work all those years, I became hooked on a smaller scale but none the less hooked. It can be hard to imagine something as pretty as a well-grown garden being one of the main parts of a family’s survival, but it was.
The world has changed a lot since my youth, some for the better and some for the worse.  We took for granted back in the 50’s that if more potatoes were needed, all we had to do was go to the potato bin and grab a few more potatoes to throw in the pot. Today if we are cooking for a crowd and more vegetables are needed we just go to that part of the Kroger store and load up the shopping cart with all the name brand canned goods you require, and we do it without a thought as to where  it came from. Today you see that part just isn’t important like it was in the past.
Today instead of me complaining about bending over to pick the beans, I fuss if I have to bend over to get the cans off the bottom shelf. I guess things have changed.

Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at houser734@yahoo.com.

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