Letter to the Editor: Waste Not Want Not—What Will the Garbage Pile Produce This Year?

Waste Not Want Not: What Will the Garbage Pile Produce This Year?

Dear Editor,

An annual rite of spring at our house is watching the garbage pile to see what mystery plants might pop up at its fringe—all volunteers from our kitchen waste.

In younger households, or among city dwellers, such wet garbage depositories get the classy name of compost pile … or box, or whatever form this recycling effort takes. 

Because we live in the country without close neighbors, ours is just a convenient place to toss the detritus of salad makings, spoiled fruit and leftovers. It is located discreetly in the side yard where visitors don’t go. It is convenient, clean (in a sense) and odorless.

One of the first discoveries in our magical garden looked like bok choy, which later expressed itself as cabbage. Tomato plants are easy to identify. Potato plants, likewise. But the first leaves of pumpkins, melons, squash and cucumbers all look the same. 

Production is always a little sketchy. One year, after careful watering and pampering, we did harvest a half dozen nice butternut squash.

Where it began…

Now in my eighties, many thoughts lead backward to my idyllic childhood on a family farm. I was the youngest of five children born to farmer parents who had made it through the Great Depression. From them, we all learned to scrimp, save and be self-sufficient. 

Then came World War II and its citizen sacrifices made with food and gas rationing. It was during this time on our small dairy that I learned many life lessons, not the least of which was appreciation of good, fresh food and those who produced it. 

Every year, my dad grew a bountiful garden with vegetables and berries growing in the rows of our family orchard with its diversity of plums, peaches, apples and nectarines. The garden produced cantaloupes, watermelon, pumpkins, string beans, squash, corn and more.

The summer season found Mom busy in the kitchen putting up sparkling jars of jams, jellies, sliced fruit, vegetables and pickles to help carry our family through the winter months.

Our farm also grew chickens—now gloriously called free-range—that supplied eggs and delicious Sunday dinners. There were pigs penned for fattening. Fall butchering brought us hams and head cheese (don’t know? don’t ask), proudly produced in our own kitchen. We had beef (worn out cows aren’t bad for delicious stews), homemade butter—super delicious when melting on bread fresh from the oven. There was always plenty of milk, even ice cream when the sugar stamps allowed.

Taking care of the rabbits was my daily chore. They either went to market nearby or into our freezer. Although I didn’t eat them eagerly, I must admit that Mom made some very good rabbit meals.

We didn’t have a compost pile back then. Excess food and waste went directly to the poultry and animals. They, in turn, cycled to our table… and so the circle went. Not a bad way to grow up and learn the importance of food.

Shirley Kirkpatrick

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