Monday, November 1, 2010

Growing Food in Unexpected Places

I talk a lot about my girls' dance school. It's a huge part of our lives, because it's an integral part of our community, and dance is very important to my girls.

The owner and head teacher of the school is a much older woman who spent many years as a professional dancer herself. She's been a dance teacher in Maine for three decades and had a dance school in another state before moving here. She has had an amazing life, and I just love to listen to her stories.

Among many wonderful traits is her (almost innate) frugality. Dance is not cheap, and she, more than anyone, understands this. Just the shoes, alone, are enough to break the bank, especially with three growing girls. The dance apparel can get a little crazy, too, especially as the girls advance to higher level classes and their needs change. For example, as it is now getting colder, the girls have taken to wearing long-sleeved shirts and light-weight zippered jackets during warm-ups, which would be fine if they were in intro classes (perhaps), but they aren't, and as the teacher needs to be able to see their body lines to ensure that they are positioned correctly so that they don't injure themselves, they can't be wearing these hip-length clothes. As such, our teacher has shown us some very cool tricks for altering clothes to make acceptable dance wear. This past weekend, she showed us how to make a "warm-up wrap" out of an old pair of tights.

She is pretty amazing and has such a wealth of knowledge and experience. She grew up poor, and as a professional dancer and dance teacher, is a shining example of doing what one loves rather than what can make the most money. From what I have been able to glean about her life, it's never been about the money. It has always been about the art (she's also a sculpture - with clay - and with some fabric, a pair of scissors and a sewing machine, she can make some pretty amazing costumes).

She's all about the Three R's, because she knows that this is what works.

But just because one recycles and reuses, does not mean that aesthetics can not be an integral part of the whole. In fact, as an artist and a dancer, she understands about creating and presenting beauty. This year, she (and one of the dance parents who has connections to a local greenhouse), planted window boxes around the dance school. In full bloom, they were beautiful and really spruced up the overall "curb appeal" of the school.

One of the plants she decided to add to the window box was, what she thought, was a purely ornamental sweet potato slip. Recently, when she was clipping back some of the dead foliage, she discovered a rather large bulbous thing in the window box, and realized it was a potato. So, she checked the other boxes. Out of five window boxes measuring approximately 24" x 6", she harvested eleven sweet potatoes - which is enough for her (a single woman who lives alone) to have half a month's worth of food ... from five window boxes ... half a month's worth of food.


Our dance teacher's window boxes just lend credence to the idea that food can be grown in the most unexpected of places. In this country, there are too many of us who believe that there is (or should be) a difference between an ornamental garden and a food garden, but that idea is simply ridiculous. Those sweet potato slips the teacher planted were not intended as food and were planted exclusively for their lovely foliage, but as it turns out, they are both.

With the goal being beauty and a harvestable crop, what other things could she have put in those boxes? What other things could gardeners across the country substitute for the purely ornamental plants they are currently growing? If we take it a step further, what could we be planting in our suburban lawnscapes that would both feed us and keep the HOA landscaping committees happy?

Or, better, what "purely ornamental plants" already established in our gardens are also food?

As for our very frugal-minded dance teacher, yes, she is totally taking those sweet potato tubers home to eat.

... which is exactly what I would expect from someone who can make a pair of tights into a shirt to wear during dance warm-ups ;).

1 comment:

  1. Many flowers are edible, but you need to know what's what — irises are toxic, for example. OTOH, day lilies and roses can be eaten. We have a vining "Mother's Day Rose" that has dozens of rose hips waiting for the first frost to finish ripening. We could have also tossed rose petals into salads if we were so inclined.

    Fruit trees, too…