Growing up OC – the original organic food source

Back in my day, we got our food the old fashioned way.  We grew it!  These young whippersnappers today have no idea where food even comes from, let alone that it can grow and thrive in your own backyard.  And all this food shipped in from Chile and Peru used to be grown right here in California, Orange County to be specific.  Why, I oughta…

Ahem.  Sorry ’bout that, I got a little carried away.  It’s true though.  It does seem like kids growing up in OC today have no clue where their food comes from, and the concept of fresh food is practically passé.  The growing of a backyard garden has been relegated to the old fogies, granola crunching environmentalists, and right wing survivalist nut jobs.  The agriculture industry in America, in California, in Orange County has been outsourced to countries south of the border where labor is cheaper and growing seasons near the equator are more favorable to American demands for plums and grapefruits out of season.

However, back in the day, my family had a backyard garden.  It thrived on the rich farm land where our house was built (oh progress!) and I am certain it saved our family a lot of money.  We grew beets, Swiss chard, carrots, green onions, tomatoes, radishes, strawberries, zucchini, yellow squash, artichokes, parsley, and probably more I am not remembering.  We also had a tangerine tree and later my parents planted a lemon tree.  

Having come from parents who were well oriented with home grown foodstuffs, plus the fact that their parents had survived the Great Depression (i.e. they were frugal) and my dad started his own company, having a garden made a lot of sense to us.  In later years, my mom worked for The Irvine Company, at that time one of the largest agricultural companies in the area.  They had fields all over Irvine, and once the fields were no longer commercially viable, employees were invited to a company pick.  Basically, a whole bunch of people showed up at o-dark-thirty in their grubbies with baskets and boxes in the backs of the station wagons that lined the field roads.  We all picked and dug whatever the crop was and at the end of the day you could take home as much as you could carry.  Well, having a Ford LTD station wagon, we could carry A LOT.

Our family dug asparagus, picked green beans, corn, strawberries, and others but these picks stay in my mind the best.  I don’t like asparagus so I was particularly resentful of digging in this big field all by myself for the shoots of green bitterness.  Strawberries were equally hard on the body, not because I didn’t like the result, but because they are low to the ground and it’s hard on your back to stoop, pick, put in your basket, repeat.  Green beans were pretty easy because you could stand up to pick them.  Corn was really fun actually because you could hide among the stalks and get lost in your own little corn world and it smelled so good.  After one corn pick, I remember the wagon back seats were folded down and that car was filled from the back of the front seats to the tailgate, and all the way to the ceiling!  We sat on the tailgate and ate corn right off the cob, uncooked.  It was so sweet, juicy and crunchy!  I’ll never forget it.

The benefit of the company picks and of our backyard garden was that my resourceful mother would put up whatever harvest we had just brought in.  I recall us shucking corn, and her boiling ear after ear of corn, then cutting the corn off the cob and putting it in these special plastic bags.  She had one of those heat-sealing machines and an enormous freezer in the garage.  We had fresh corn, beans, and yes, probably asparagus, all year round.  She made strawberry jam, strawberry purée and fresh strawberry ice cream.  To this day, I cannot eat strawberry jam.  It was all we had for many years and just the thought of it is too much. 

We even grew our own Christmas trees for several years.  Around Christmas, those little trees are available at the hardware store.  Well, my dad would take one out back and plant it in this one part of the yard.  After a couple years, it would be 6-7′ tall.  If you have ever gone to the choose & cut places, you know how much money we saved just with a homegrown Christmas tree and it was something we had helped to grow over the years, making it all the more meaningful at that sentimental time of year.

Back in my day, we were the original organic family but we were the rule, not the exception.  Today I miss the fresh produce that we took out of our yard.  It would be nice for young people to realize the benefits of growing their own produce.  You hear it all the time “it just tastes better!” and that’s just one aspect of fresh-from-the-garden food.  Maybe one day with Melody I will grow a crop of something.  I’m pretty good with tomatoes, even though I cannot stand them.  We’ll see.  I want her to know where her food comes from, to understand that someone has to plant it, tend it, harvest it and ship it, all before we wander through Vons and buy it.  I want her to know that those cute little white strawberry stands are all that remains of Orange County’s great legacy of agriculture.



9 thoughts on “Growing up OC – the original organic food source

  1. The Christmas trees came home from Northcut school for Arbor Day a couple of years in a row with me. They were little twigs about 12 inches long. I was a picture last night of one of those trees.

    I didn’t mind the picks so much except for the corn. I was allergic to the pollin and would break out in a rash if not fully covered from head to foot. Learned that one the hard way. Incidentally, did you know those long stands of eucalyptus along Irvine, Sand Canyon, and the like are to cause wind breaks to prevent the Dust Bowl effect.

    The tangerine tree came from Aunt Ginny when they moved out of La Palma. It’s name was Tammy.

  2. We (and by “we” I mean Dave, I’m just the “Field Superintendent”) plant a garden in our backyard every spring. We don’t have the benefit of your climate all year round so our growing season is limited. Tomatoes grow really well here, but sadly I don’t like them either. I was just lamenting the fact that not only do I have no clue how to “can” but we don’t have the space for it. I never thought of those heat sealed plastic bags. I may just try that this year.

  3. You know MB, I was reading a very old magazine article about canning (what a surprise, I was reading something 19th century!). The methods are pretty much the same. You cook the items until they are mostly done, put them in sterilized jars, let them cool and then cover them. Wow, pretty simple. The bags are a LOT easier though and very similar to the frozen stuff that is now becoming so popular that steams in the bag.

  4. Great post!!! We didn’t do this growing up, but I remember OC being more earthy back then. We were surrounded by strawberry fields and orange groves. It was in the air.
    We did try to grow our own christmas tree, to save money. I think we did that just one year.
    I love these posts. I would love to see some pictures from “back in the day” if you have any…

  5. This may be the only place EVER where
    old fogies
    granola crunching environmentalists, and
    right wing survivalist nut jobs
    were ever united and in agreement. Heck, I don’t think they’ve ever shared a SPACE before without a fight!

    This was a great post, Miss Martha. I remember growing up with a big garden, and I have TRIED to recreate it, but failed spectacularly. I am going to try again this spring, by gum, or die trying. Please bury me someplace nice.

    — Laurie @ Foolery

  6. Laurie, you raise a good point about the three gardening factions I mentioned. I’m pretty sure you are right. And I’ll put in a good word for you to keep you out of the fertilizer pile.

    Suz, I agree, it was more earthy and I loved the smell of the orange groves in blossom. I could stand and breathe deeply forever just to absorb that beautiful fragrance! I’ll search for pix, too. My sister has a lot but I know I have some of my own somewhere. :-)

  7. Did you know that the very first two orange trees that came to California are now located at the Mission Inn in Riverside, CA? Trivia, what a wonderful thing. I’ll look for the old pix. I saw one the other day of one of our Christmas trees from the yard.

  8. You know who actually cans stuff? Gramma. She could tell you how to do it if you ask. I have some yummy lemon marmalade in the fridge right now. You need to put wax on top to seal it. I think it’s really easy. I would only do it for jams and jellies now. The freezer bag method is better for veggies.

  9. Reminds me of the character portrayed in Gran Torino. The do it yourself (or grow it yourself) kind of guy… I feel kind of sad that I won’t be able to experience that, and that generation of do it yourselfers is dwindling away.

    P.S. I like the family tradition of homegrown Christmas trees.

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