Kia ora I’m Lila, and last October, after many years of being a Country Trading Co. customer, I took on the role of looking after Country Trading Co. retail customers here in Auckland. As I write this, it’s day 14 of our COVID-19 lockdown, and I’m not able to look after anyone but my bubble.
The last thing the excellent front line staff, working in organic food stores, want to do right now is talk to me, so in a bid to connect, I’m writing. If it strikes a chord with you, I’m glad.
This is me, all dressed up for a lockdown birthday. I'm usually getting about in shorts and singlets but as we were in lockdown and didn’t have bubbles in the house let alone oysters, I requested that we all dress up.
How did you react to the news of the lockdown? I felt incredibly anxious for the first week. Every time I ventured out to get groceries and found empty shelves and other stressed-out people, my anxiety rose.
How do we collectively react? Instinct kicks in. We try to gain some control by doing what we think we can to keep our nearest, dearest, and ourselves, safe. I’m still puzzled as to how that translates into stockpiling toilet paper, but hey, no judgment. It’s strangely contagious, right? My bathroom cupboard is stocked now too.
With an asthmatic in the home, we started our lockdown early, keeping the children home from school and the husband home also, working remotely, because we could, and because it felt like the right thing to do.
My biggest concerns were around feeding everyone when it felt like food was becoming scarce. Thoughts of food rule my world. It’s no accident I became a customer of Country Trading Co.; I am by definition a grower and a maker. I live in the city, but I’ve always grown something.
Flatting in an urban first-floor apartment with no outside space but a teeny-tiny balcony, I had herbs and salad veg in pots. Seven years ago, we moved to 800 sq m. of wild suburban jungle, long un-loved and choked by ivy and jasmine. I had dreams of a Lynda Hallinan type suburban ‘garden of eatin’, putting in garden beds and a decent compost system.
Two more children, work, and life’s twists and turns have come along since then, and in January, I declared that the vegetable garden, a.k.a. my happy place was going to be sacrificed as one of those things I no longer had time for.
The untreated macrocarpa garden beds I had bought to lift the gardens off the clay, were falling apart and disintegrating in places, now barely held together by found bits of wood screwed on. I thought I’d just let them rot into oblivion, kind of like my dreams of self-sufficiency.
It wasn’t a hard decision. They were overgrown with browning marigolds and tomatoes. The courgettes had succumbed to powdery mildew. My helpful toddler picked all the fruit off the cucumber vines and the puppy dug up my strawberry patch. Everything was parched, and the only bit that looked ok was the cheeky kumara vines grown from a few babies left in the ground last autumn.
Then COVID-19 came, and the only thing my anxiety-riddled mind could think about doing was growing food. I wanted to get into that garden and bring it back to life!
The big kids, 6 and 9, have taken over one of the beds. After clearing, adding compost, manure, and (sort of) tilling the soil, they constructed two teepees each and planted sugar snap peas. I threw rocket, chives, and silverbeet seeds around the gaps.
My resurrected Vege beds may not look pretty, and they won’t give us anything much for some months yet, but they’ve already brought me some calm and focus. They’ve also provided another learning area for when I’m wearing my new home-schooling hat.
Ms. 9 is photographing them at the same time every day and plans to do a time-lapse video of their progress to show her class. They planted the seeds day five, and tiny shoots are now up and growing like little green rays of promise.
I do my best to provide my family with the best food I can. As we’ve grown, so have the compromises, but I will always prioritise healthy food made from scratch. And chocolate.
A person who knows about these things said to me recently that with homegrown food, you taste the nutrients – and you do. I think there’s some science in that, but even if there isn’t yet, if ever you’ve grown your own, or are lucky enough to be given freshly dug, picked, or foraged produce, you know it’s true.
Wherever you are in the world, I hope you can find some comfort in activity close to your heart at home, unless, of course, you are one of our essential front-line people, in which case you won’t have time to read my ramblings.
I thought I was going to tell you about how strange my compost looks with all of the compostable home packaging I’ve been loading into it over summer, but it turns out I needed to talk about how I feel, thanks for reading. Lx