I GREW up tasting the varied flavors of the earth. My grandparents knew the magic of turning brown-black soil into fresh-picked sweet corn, sugary bumpy berries, and tender, young asparagus. They were farmers. My mother canned and froze their summer's bounty so my father, sister, and I could feel the warmth of sunshine in her strawberry jam or blueberry pies, even when it snowed. I wanted my children to share this heritage. It would take some doing since my grandparents' farm, along with much of the New Jersey farmland I remember from childhood, had been sold and developed. Our family's livelihood now depended on disks and hardware, not rain and sunshine. My husband programmed computers.
It was probably a yearning for farmland that influenced the purchase of our first house in Arlington, Mass. The house rested on a sturdy rock foundation that originally supported a barn. The backyard had been a field whose clearing resulted in the rock wall that bordered our property. Three trees, a cherry, pear, and an apple, remained from the old orchard. In the spring my husband, Alan, broke the ground and I set out with my son, Eric, then only a toddler, to plant a garden.
Eric poked the small seeds into the soil and helped water with the hose. He ate his first vegetables from that harvest, a food group he had consistently rejected since babyhood. Each year for several years the garden expanded. There was enough produce to freeze and can.
When our second son, David, was born, time compressed into the multitude of tasks caring for a small baby involved. The garden lost ground, became half its size. We ate vegetables of the plastic-wrapped, frozen variety.
The house, too, seemed to have shrunk. Several years later we moved to a bigger house with a shaded, rock-strewn lot. Our yard proved as resistant to planting as David's two-year-old temper tantrums were to reason. I gave up on the idea of gardening.
Yet, I felt badly for this gardenless younger son who, like the typical second child, did not have the benefit of all the experiences his older brother had had. To help him realize that eggs don't spontaneously generate behind glass refrigerator doors and that pears and cherries don't come from the backroom of the grocery store, I began taking him and his brother to Drumlin Farm, a farm designed for this purpose and run by the Audubon Society.