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Letter from The Publisher

Peggy Malecki

On a recent evening, I was washing lettuce, arugula and other greens I’d just picked from the garden. This spring has been pretty unfavorable to backyard gardens­—cool, wet, foggy, record rainfall and temps lower than normal. Much of what I’ve planted is off to a slow start, with a few tomatoes, peppers and eggplants still waiting in their pots for some dryer soil. (Yes, these are the same tomatoes and peppers I started indoors in March). But, the lettuce is doing great.

               As I stood at the sink marveling at the incredible colors and shapes in the lettuce varieties, I recalled the freshly picked lettuce from the gardens of my childhood. I remember my mom rinsing leaf lettuce at the big, white, porcelain sink that spanned the width of the kitchen windows. We had too much shade in our northwest side backyard to grow a lot of veggies (available sun was delegated to the tomatoes), but my grandparents on both sides had far more sunshine in their yards, and with that came an abundance of lettuce to share.

        Salads were simple when I was a kid, and not the elaborate, multi-vegetable entrees I favor now. My grandparents grew basic green leaf lettuces. Early in the season, I recall that the lettuce was augmented by a sliced, store-bought cucumber and perhaps some croutons. The first garden cukes appeared in late July; initially sliced paper thin, and as the crop increased, added to the salad in large slices. Late in summer, green peppers and tomatoes enhanced the salad. Likewise, no fancy dressings. Choices at home were typically French and Catalina (my dad’s favorite) and a variety called Viva Italian! No store-bought dressing at my grandma and grandpa’s table; they relied on whisked sour cream, vinegar, a dash of water, plus salt and pepper.

        Gardening and growing food is proven therapy to lift spirits, calm us, connect us with others and nourish body and spirit. The act of coming together to grow our own food in backyard or community gardens builds bonds and common experience. I believe that no matter how big your garden is—be it herbs in a windowsill container, a few peppers and tomatoes between your house and a neighbor, raised garden beds in a large space, or a community garden—the experiences you have and the food you enjoy will create lasting memories. For those without a garden, visiting or helping in another’s garden and enjoying the harvest also makes an indelible impression. Farmers’ markets, CSAs and other places to taste and share local food all build our communities and communal memories, as well.

        Vegetable gardens are part of the larger conversation of local agriculture, and the importance of building and maintaining a healthy local food supply accessible to all of us. Sure, homegrown veggies taste great, but they also contribute greatly to our overall health and the well-being of our communities. I’m pleased to say that urban and suburban agriculture take the spotlight this month in Natural Awakenings Chicago, with fresh perspectives on where and how we produce our food these days—and why it matters to us on so many levels.

        What are you growing in your gardens this summer, and how have you adapted it to the season’s unpredictable weather? What are you enjoying from our farmers’ markets this summer? Do you have a favorite recipe to share with us? Please be sure to let us know by emailing [email protected] and contacting us in social media (while you’re on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, be sure to give us a like or follow). As always, I ask you to please step outside every day, marvel at the long twilights, look for fireflies and savor our Chicago summer.                                          

Here’s to an amazing and joyful July!