This article triggered me to articulate something I've been mulling over since harvest ended. Here goes...
We moved from home (Montana) to Quebec City about 1 year ago. We didn't know any French, and only 2% of the population speaks English! We crossed international and cultural borders, and immediately realized how little we understood Canadian and Québec systems. On top of it all, I didn't know much about living in a big city, either. But we were fortunate to discover the community gardens of the city, and literally dug right in. Considering the countless days of sweaty armpits, frustration, and situations where humility is the only thing on the day's menu - daily life when learning a new language and culture through immersion - having a garden was a godsend.
When my husband left for 3 months of field work, the garden was my connection to what I knew and valued from back home. Thanks to the universal nature of gardens, I worked alongside new friends. I learned the French words for all kinds of garden vocabulary and varieties of veggies. Perhaps more importantly, the earth, the plants, even the "pests" were familiar. They were known factors, welcome aspects in a largely foreign place.
Without a desire for local food, the transition from newcomer to habitant would undoubtedly have been more narrow, lonely, and isolated. In order to make pickled beans, one needs dill, and our crop failed this year. Being compelled to seek out something as simple as dill heads resulted in a "survey" of the city's farmer's markets, and the discovery of other seasonal bounty - enough hot peppers to pickle those, too; a screamin' deal on tomatoes; hand-picking blueberries and raspberries for pies and homemade jam; cranberries for the first time ever...
Months later, it is the honest-to-goodness dead of winter here - several feet of snow on the ground, and more falling thickly today. And yet, we are still enjoying our homegrown pommes de terres (potatoes), hand-dug from local soil beginning to take on autumn's chill. The last few spaghetti squashes still wait in the pantry, and our freezer and cupboards are loaded with fruits, veggies, herbs, and venison harvested and preserved last autumn.
Combined with a local buying club which sources only foods produced within 100 km (~60 miles) of the city, the end result is local cheese, eggs, milk, meat, fruits and seasonal vegetables year-round. The length of the growing season here is similar to Montana, unless you get a head start indoors. Mind you, we don't completely exclude things that haven't been grown in the province. That said, the buying club, where business is only conducted in French, adequately supplements our home-preserved food and locally made beverages. This is our way to bridge the calendar gap.
Knowing I participate in a local food system speaks volumes to me on days when I still feel like a total outsider here. After living for nearly three decades in places where my community and networks span the length and breadth of the state, transplanting here has been a big adjustment. The concept of growing and preparing food as a way of perpetuating culture, and one's sense of self, has taken on a whole new meaning for me.
As always, opening a jar of home-preserved food is a significant act. This morning, opening apples we picked last autumn, just outside the city, has taken on added meaning. It means more than seasonal fruit, more than a lower-impact lifestyle, more than a balanced winter diet. These jars of apples attest to our efforts to become part of this multi-cultural community. Harvesting, preserving, and now eating those apples is a blatant act of citizenship. We are finding our niche - the soil those trees grow from is the soil we walk upon daily. The weather that nourished, buffeted, and ripened these apples also warmed and soaked us. This might not be the "home" from back home, but we eat here. We live here. A little more with each bite, we belong here.