Ruth Bass: Veggies will grow happily among flowers


RICHMOND -- We had the hippies, admired by some and scorned by others, believing in a peaceful, nonviolent world, often fairly or unfairly linked to drug use, holding weddings in fields and thronging to music festivals. Then came the granolas, a term that could also be both derogatory and admiring, ahead of their time in preaching new approaches to eating to an American public oriented to beef and conspicuous consumption.

We seem to have a thing about categorizing people. Some politicians in a fairly recent election, for instance, were convinced soccer moms were a like-minded voting group. What is true about soccer moms is that they spend a lot of time driving kids to practice, suffer through a lot of games and have a little time to chat with friends on the sidelines.

Now we have locavores. They might be, in fact, something of a voting group, and they have few detractors, except for those who mistakenly label them elite. They just want people to think about buying food that’s produced within 100 miles of their front door. They focus on food in terms of health, the environment and the economic benefits to their community.

The Oxford American Dictionary made locavore its word of the year in 2007, pointing out that the "vore" part comes from the Latin word for devour. So even if the term sounds a little hoity-toity when it’s bandied about, it’s for real.


Being a total locavore would demand considerable discipline. There are, for instance, navel oranges from Florida and pineapples from Hawaii -- not to mention the whole world of seafood that lies beyond our 100-mile limit. But it’s probably not hard to hit 50 percent in the Berkshires, especially since every year seems to bring another restaurant advertising locally grown food, another farmers market and another grass-fed beef farmer.

One of our favorites (and one of the smallest) is the recently reopened market in the center of West Stockbridge. Not everything offered is edible, but the vegetables are fresh and attractive and the Berkshire-made breads beautiful. In addition, Taft Farm was on hand last week with dozens of healthy plants for the home vegetable garden, everything from herbs to tomatoes.

And that’s where avowed locavores can expand past patronizing certain restaurants or buying lettuce at a roadside stand. They can plant things themselves. Then the 100 miles is reduced to just a few feet, and you don’t need a credit card. You can shop in your nightshirt, barefoot. You can change your menu at the last minute and just grab something from the back yard.

Nongardeners think gardening is very hard work. Fitness people list it was one of the great activities for the bod, although I see no pounds being left in the field. And my mother always said that if you were upset, pulling weeds was a satisfactory way to recoup. Must have been the yanking and the throwing that relieved her stress.

It can be hard work. Raising a wide spectrum of vegetables creates great eating for summer, fall and winter, but it takes time. The easy way, if you already have petunias and portulacas in patio pots, is to add a potted tomato plant or two. They all take water and fertilizer, and you can’t eat the petunias

Some purists may not be enthralled by the frilly dark green foliage and brilliant red orbs of a healthy tomato plant. The herbal route remains open to them. Golden oregano creates a bright spot near our day lilies, spiky chives with purple topknots have another spot. Greek oregano, pink flowering sage and glossy germander mix in with iris, phlox and coneflower as if they had no purpose except to be pretty. All can be harvested -- dried, too, if anyone wishes.

Never mind the promise of a chicken in every pot (Herbert Hoover), how about a tomato on every deck?

Ruth Bass gardens in Richmond. Her web site is


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