A woman – a great photographer – came by and took pictures of my garden for a book she is doing on urban homesteaders. She was interviewing me and I said something like, “I think if I bought vegetables at the store at this point, I’d feel like a total failure!”
This was one of these things you say with the toss of a hand over coffee. It’s not strictly accurate, but the verbal flourish conveys the meaning more effectively than some wishy-washy but literal variant like, “I strive to produce as much as possible on site, given the reality of my land, time, and other commitments, and am in general very happy with how little we buy from the store.”
“Oh, excellent!” she said, scribbling my quote down, “that’s great!”
“Fuck,” I thought. “Now I’m going to be in print forever, quoted as saying I’m a failure if I buy carrots at Costco. I already buy fucking carrots at fucking Costco. Why did I just say that? Fuckfuckfuck.”
So why did I say that? Because it’s true. True in a Freudian-slip-style, it feels true, kind-of way. I’ve imbued my personal Golden Grass Fed Cow of urban homesteading with magical properties and strapped it to my identity one cheerful blog post at a time.
The Punk Gardening Angel of Reasonable Expectations pats me on my shoulder and consoles me: “It’s really okay…Carrots are healthy and your kids like to eat them, and you do buy the bulk organic bag, after all, and peel and slice them yourself. Beside, honey, everyone knows that life gets complicated and time gets short. Crops get planted too late or get eaten by maggots and that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to eat carrots. Just buy the carrots like normal people and stop worrying about everything so much!”
But then The Nagging Devil of Martyrdom and Perfectionism on my other shoulder says things like, “If you didn’t grow enough carrots you should just do without. Figure out ways to substitute beets. You have a lot of them. Don’t be a hypocrite – eat what you grow, grow what you eat. You’ll have no incentive to figure out how to grow good carrots on a large enough scale ever if you just pussy-out when the growing gets a little tough!”
Your thing might not be carrots. Carrots might sound trivial to you – hell, they sound trivial to me, though what they represent does not. But I’m guessing you have some area where you hold yourself to standards that are just a smidgen unrealistic too. I’m guessing you’ve had times when your knuckles were white from the effort of keeping everything in its place, moving it along, or holding it together too.
I love my garden, and writing this blog, and you my readers. Especially you, my readers. I don’t want to disappoint any of you guys, but this is the reality: if buying the bulk sack of organic carrots at Costco for $5 makes me a failure, then a failure I must be called. I cannot grow enough carrots to keep my family in carrots. Same with apples. We’re just not there yet.
And while we’re at this failure confession stuff:
- My son up-ended my pot of leek starts last summer and stomped them into oblivion and I’m down to a single storage onion. I will be buying onions at the store. Soon.
- In October I was so burnt out from caring for the garden, the animals, the kids, the home, the preserving and the various extended activities of the homestead that I wrote my friend that I wanted to take a blowtorch to the whole thing.
- Sometimes I feed my kids a lot of cheese, which is expensive and primarily not local or organic, just because I don’t have to go outside in the rain and pick cheese.
- One year I grew nothing – nothing – but weeds. I don’t think I even put in a tomato start from the big box store.
- I found a half a hot dog wrapped up in my purse a few days ago. No bun. It had been stashed there a few days prior after I fed the family at – you guessed it – Costco. We were there because we needed printer paper and toner, but not carrots.
It goes astray sometimes, this in-between life, and there are moments and seasons of failure. I have these insecurity flashes that I’m not good enough or I’m not doing enough. And then the useless guilt shows up, like a whiskey back following a pint of perfectionism porter.
But then I remind myself: eight years ago I wasn’t debating a homegrown-or-nothing vs. carrot-compromise situation. No, I was debating getting the whole Jack-in-the-Box appetizer combo or just the three pack of jalapeno poppers to start off a festival of drive-thru dining. Compared to molten deep fried fake cheesy sauce, I’ve come quite a long way, baby.
We all start somewhere. Sometimes, with a little perspective, failure starts to look more like a promotion.
Do you have reasonable standards for your garden and your life?