Free Food at my Fingertips

By Nancy E. Roman, President and CEO, Partnership for a Healthier America

Date: April 21, 2020

COVID-19 has brought much to a standstill, but one thing it hasn’t stopped is me from looking forward to my garden. And fortunately, last year, I had the good sense to save the seeds from each piece of the tastiest produce that I had grown. Seeds from:

Just one tomato
Just one red pepper
Just one cantaloupe
Just one jalapeno

And so on.

While I have always sown carrots, kale, spinach and other cool weather crops right into the ground, I usually bought my tomatoes, peppers and other warm weather plants as, well, just that, plants. But this year, thinking there might be no plants to be had, I pulled out my warm weather crop seeds and sewed them two by two and three by three into little two-by-two plastic containers from last year’s impatiens plants. Cantaloupe seedlings

Cantaloupe seedlings

I kept them wet for two or three days, and how wonderful when they finally sprouted! Wonderful in the truest sense of that word – tiny green specks full of wonder. The red peppers, tomatoes, and zinnias were more like two green specks emerging from the dirt. The squash were quite different, arching up out of the earth before lifting the first leaf. They were all tiny and fragile, and I’m not sure I should admit this, but evoke much of the emotion of a mother toward a child: A desire to nurture paired with a ferocious instinct to protect.

Accordingly, I’ve been lugging them inside to avoid each wind or heavy blast of rain, while I have dropped, very gently, water onto each plant – human drip irrigation. And then I have taken them back out to the sun, newly aware that we all need Vitamin D. (The care I’m putting into this effort brings new respect to most of the global farmers who tease life out of the ground, violent weather and all.) Tomato Seedlings

Tomato seedlings

In any case, it is impossible to do all this nurturing and protecting and yes, even loving, without a renewed sense of awe at plant life. The tomato we ate last year holds the power of an entire season of tomatoes.

On a trip I took to Cuba a few years ago with a group of CEOs, one of the stories that the Cuban Minister of Health shared with us was about the Russian Government discontinuing their fertilizer supply. For a while no one had vegetables. But the Cuban people, craving produce, took to backyard gardening and became “the largest group of organic farmers in the world.”

Nurturing many dozens of seedlings from last year’s crop has made me newly aware of possibility. If there’s a silver lining in this challenging period, it is that food is taking a more central place in our lives. Many are beginning to cook at home, and some few are even growing a small bit of our own healthy, local food supply. It is my hope these incremental changes open the door to reimagining the bigger food system.