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Letter from America

Sullivan County,

New York

May 3rd, 2012.

ellen Neumannellen NeumannGrowing up in the Catskill Mountain area of New York State I was taught to respect the land, learn about and enrich it, in order to reap its rewards. My grandparents were third generation dairy farmers (well, my Pop was: Nana a transplanted New York City girl who became the farmer’s wife). They grew most of the hay needed to bed and feed their dairy cattle. They also kept a large vegetable garden. The Dillon Farm was basically self sufficient when it came to food products. A large vegetable garden provided a bounty of fresh and healthy food options which fed the entire family. All family members contributed in one way or another to the gardening effort. We small children worked hard and diligently alongside our Nana and Pop. There was fertilising and cultivating to be done; rows to hoe and seeds to plant. There were weeds to pull; pests and varmints to be exterminated. I remember wondering to myself on a hot summer day as I sweat my little bottom off while pulling weeds or hoeing between the rows “Oh my! Is all this work worthwhile?” Today I know the answer: “Oh yeah it was!”

Thomas Dillon my Great-grandfather 1910Thomas Dillon my Great-grandfather 1910

“Those were the days my friend…” as the saying goes! I close my eyes and drift back to “that cherished place in my mind” often. Nothing compares still to the taste of a big juicy red tomato plucked ripe and warm off the vine although the smell of fresh cucumbers being prepared for pickling runs a close second. The knowledge that our hard work had contributed to the creation of these wonderful things made them all the sweeter. In early summer tiny wild strawberries grew in the cow pasture, naturally fertilised. Strawberries have a short season of maturity and had to be picked quickly when ripe. We watched and we waited for them to ripen. When they did, we entered a strawberry picking frenzy. Berry pails in hand, we would scurry off to the pasture, fling ourselves to the ground and wallow around excitedly. Soon our pails were full of the sweet little red berries; our knees stained crimson and our mouths showing telltale signs of the berries that never made it to the pails. Later in the summer it would be blueberries, basically the same routine except blueberries (huckleberries we called them) grow on bushes.

Sunshine, rain and a little bit of luck were the only ingredients added to our human labor. The very best part of my youthful gardening experience was the harvesting done in late summer. Corn on the cob, all sorts of potatoes, pumpkins and peas, cabbage and beans burst from the soil. We were rich in the currency of Mother Nature. The earth provided us with a wealth that could not be measured in dollars and cents.

That was a long time ago. The huge veggie garden exists now only in my memory. I grow a few tomatoes and herbs nestled into my many flower beds. I am passionate about my flower gardening. I enjoy every plant and bloom. The fragrance and color, the different shades, heights and shapes of the varied leaves on each plant are a wonder to me. My perennials are like old friends. I welcome them with a smile when they pop up and multiply each year. I live in a place on this earth that has a short growing season and harsh long winters. As the years go by it has become harder for me to prepare the ground for the new plants each spring. The weeds seem to cling to the soil tighter than they used to and fight me to let go when I pull them. I now hire someone each year in the spring to turn the soil as I prepare the gardens for planting. I have four very special little helpers (my granddaughters). Together we plant, weed and generally care for the gardens all summer.

I take great pride in the fruits of this labor just as I did when I was a child. My children and theirs, in different degrees, share with me a passion for gardening and a love for the land. I look ahead to a time when my little ones are the grandmothers, showing the next generation how to plant a garden and sharing the same joy we are now experiencing. I will smile on them from heaven (I hope so!) They will tell their little ones tales from their childhood as they pick the blueberries or eat tomatoes juicy and warm from the garden. The circle of life will complete itself for another generation.

“Inch by inch,

Row by row,

It’s time to make

The garden grow”

*I was inspired to tell this tale after reading the section on gardening published by the Irish Food Board on the Bord Bia website ( This site offers free advice, locations, food sources and more, not only pertaining to gardening but many other topics as well. It is one of my favorite reference sites; so helpful and friendly if you need to enquire about a topic. It is a fountain of knowledge. Visit the site when you have a few moments to spare and enjoy all Bord Bia has to offer.

by Ellen Neumann

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Living - Life & Style - Living in USA

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