published Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Kennedy: It's veggie time in Tennessee

At my house, we've gone into farming.

By this I mean we have a single, spindly tomato plant on the back deck. On this plant is one green tomato approximately the size of a lug nut.

My 3-year-old son is in charge of watering the tomato, which appears to be shrinking, not growing.

"When was the last time you watered this," I asked him one night last week.

"Friday," he said, which is his all-purpose answer to any question involving days of the week.

"Which Friday?" I asked.

"I don't know," he huffed. "Yester-Friday?"

Everywhere in my mountain community, people are building raised planting beds and cultivating vegetables. I saw a fellow cutting off tree limbs the other day to create a shaft of sunlight for his tender, young tomato plants. If he's like me, he will turn pink faster than his tomatoes.

I guess people think if times get hard enough in suburbia, they can live off the land. But we're not exactly talking landed gentry here. Most of the backyard gardeners I see will probably do well to yield one cardbord box full of grub.

One of my co-workers was crowing the other day about his elaborate vegetable garden. I did some quick calculations on his labor and materials and predicted that each of his home-grown squash would end up costing him about $7.15.

He was not amused.

Don't get me wrong, I love vegetables. In the South, vegetables are the most efficient system ever invented for delivering essential nutrients -- specifically salt and animal fat -- into the human body.

My mother used to keep a copper canister in the bottom of our kitchen stove filled with bacon drippings. She made deposits and withdrawals daily to season our vegetables.

Properly marinated, green beans can absorb their weight in grease. (Note to BP: Air-drop a few hundred tons of snap beans on the Gulf oil spill and see what happens.)

My point is that when vegetables are in season in East Tennessee, you can back up a truck and feed an army for $50. Anyone who grows a backyard vegetable garden is a hobbyist, not a link in the food chain.

In the meantime, my children would soon die of starvation if presented with only vegetables to eat.

A vet once told me you could coax a dog to swallow a pill by holding his mouth shut and stroking his throat. I'm thinking of trying this with my 3-year-old son and a niblet.

Meanwhile, he will continue to water a green tomato he will never eat.

Now if I wrapped that tomato in bacon and dropped it in a Fry Daddy, it might be an entirely different story.

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about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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