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Overwintering: What Harvesting Parsnips Taught Me About the Sweetness of Community
This weekend my gardening gal buddies and I harvested some overwintered parsnips. It’s a fun way to start the gardening season; usually the beginning of the season is filled with a lot of prep work, but by overwintering the parsnips we are able to leave early on with some delicious produce.
This reminded me of an essay I wrote a while ago, all about community and overwintering parsnips. So, today’s post is going to be a little bit different, let me know your thoughts in the comments!
As a lifelong city dweller, I never would have imagined that I'd be working with goats and gardening in my late 30s. After an unexpected move from Paris to Colorado, I found myself searching for a sense of connection and purpose in my new home. I realized I wasn’t living in a city anymore; it was actually a small town. There were coupons giving you a bundle of firewood if you buy an extra large pizza.
It’s naturally beautiful here; there are open spaces with lots of wild animals and mountains. It’s a common occurrence to see bald eagles flying overhead. I can take a bike ride past dedicated farmland and not see another person for miles. As a young child growing up in California, I’d see farms on the side of the freeway as I was heading from one city to the next, and would always wonder who lived in places like that. Now, after spending a near-decade riding the Paris metros, it turns out, I did.
Having never lived in rural areas, I wasn’t quite sure how to create community in my new home. In Paris, I felt connected to everyone even if they were strangers. The close proximity of bumping elbows on the metro was now replaced with long drives in the car or time walking alone in the solitude of nature. Passing a herd of cows on one of these walks it occurred to me that I had never thought of all the energy and time it takes to care for these animals, and I realized that I had also not thought much about food production. I decided to immerse myself in this new environment, and started regularly attending the farmer’s market, talking to vendors and learning about the different types of agriculture that were happening in the area.
These curiosities led me to volunteer at a raw milk goat dairy farm. At first, it was a huge learning curve. I had never worked with animals before, and I was completely inexperienced when it came to farming and gardening. I didn't know how to use a rake or a shovel, and I had to learn all about the different types of tools that were used on the farm (hint, you can’t use a rake like a broom). But as I spent more time on the farm, I started to feel the sense of connection and purpose that I had been missing. I loved spending time with the goats and getting to know them as individuals, and I enjoyed the physical labor of caring for them.
My community slowly expanded. I eventually befriended two women from the farm and was invited to join their gardening group. On the first Spring day that we met to plant seeds, I was surprised to see some greens sprouting in one of the beds. I thought maybe they were weeds but it turned out they had been planted in the Fall and had been purposely left in the beds all Winter. I was shocked that something could survive the long, cold winter with no tending whatsoever. My friends told me that leaving root vegetables in the ground to ‘overwinter’ actually made them sweeter, with an almost caramel-like flavor. This was my first introduction to parsnips, a vegetable with which I now have a special connection.
Thinking about the parsnips that I had discovered in the garden, I realized how nourishing it can be to just sit back and let your own sweetness grow. Just like the parsnips needed to be overwintered to convert starch to sugar, I too needed a season of transition to embrace my identity in a new community, acknowledging a time for rest and a time for growth, each playing a crucial role in the cycle of life.
As I continued to work on the farm and in the garden, I couldn't help but think about the old English saying, "fine words butter no parsnips." Gardening with my friends, sharing the harvest and giving each other recipes to use for our bounty, was a way for us to connect and bond in a deeper, more meaningful way. It was a way to put our words into action and create something beautiful and nourishing together.
Through my experiences on the farm and in the garden, I have discovered a sense of connection and purpose that I never would have found in the city. And through my connections with my community and the natural world, I have learned to embrace my own sweet, resilient nature. It's a reminder of the interconnectedness of nature and the power of adaptability in the face of change. By caring for the goats and the land, I have found a new way to care for myself.