Sunday, July 21, 2013

I never want to buy tomatoes again...

...instead, I want to grow them myself.

We're all aware of the importance of eating our greens, but I want to talk about how good it is to grow your own greens, and reds, and purples...and how great it feels to feed them to your kids!
My son holding a tomato plant he grew from a seed
We live on the 22nd floor of a high rise in Panama City. Our apartment has a balcony with a view of the Pacific Ocean and the Panama Canal in the distance. Every day thousands of pounds of produce come in ships and containers through the canal. It is then delivered to Panamanian supermarkets. Chinese markets in Panama carry high-quality imported produce, and only a lucky few can purchase it. These grocery stores charge about $8.95 for a basket of 1/2 lb of strawberries, $4.95 for a tiny pack of blueberries, and up to $9 for a 5-oz bag of baby spinach.
Our spinach
What about local production? According to Debora Rivera, a Panamanian Environmental Engineer, Panama has one of the lowest restrictions of the use of pesticides in the world. In an informal conversation with the Country Representative of the Inter-American Development Bank in Panama, he explained that in Panama, the incidence of cancer most likely caused by the use of pesticides (for both farmers who handle the chemicals and those who consume the produce), is rampant. Some residents of Panama are taking matters into their own hands, reacting to disturbing legislature that approves the use of very unhealthy pesticides, and created organic farms in Panama. Some sell their organic produce in the city, at high prices.

It does not surprise me that Panamanian farmers have to use a lot of chemicals in order to grow broccoli, cauliflower, and tomatoes, for example, because these plants are not native to Panama's hot and humid climate. Panama's average temperature is 82 degrees and its average humidity is 81.5%. In addition, there are tons of tropical bugs around. This is a rainforest, after all. Needless to say, many plants don't do well in that environment and the most effective way to grow luscious green lettuce is to spray on nasty chemicals.

Armed with this knowledge, I decided to try to grow my own tomatoes, spinach, carrots, zucchini, and herbs, among others, while avoiding the use of pesticides. The result is that after two months of planting, watering, and nurturing seeds and seedlings, I harvested my first spinach leaves yesterday.
Our first spinach harvest
We live in a world where food is manipulated, genetically engineered, and tainted with chemicals in order to survive a long voyage from farm to table. I personally don't like the idea that the produce I'm feeding my children travels from a farm in California, through the Panama Canal, and onto my table. I wish the trip was shorter, so I started my own garden...22 stories up.
Our veggie garden high up in the sky
I close my eyes and imagine a spinach leaf that I nourished from infancy, and love the feeling of envisioning that it's doing good things to my body. I made baby food for my son with that spinach (chicken stock, black quinoa, potato, spinach and kale), and loved knowing exactly what was on those leafy greens.

As an anthropologist, I like to think about what we decide to feed ourselves as humans. We are, after all, what we eat.

I couldn't resist including the Candide reference...sow your own garden. Don't mind if I do!

From seeds...