Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Storm Lake: Kids, Community, Hot Peppers and Holy Basil

April 12...May 26.  The merry-go-round has taken a few turns since I was last here. Orioles are back, dandelions have come and almost gone, gardens are half planted. So I want to write about kids and gardening.

Back there in April, Rich and I drove over to Storm Lake, Iowa, so I could visit with kids there about writing, revising, where we find stories and what we do with what we find.  I had a wonderful time. The kids were enthusiastic and engaged. They had read many of my books and wanted to tell me their stories of snow or what they wished they could do (often a story starter). They wanted to ask about Will Allen and the red wiggler worms, Alice Waters and the car that smelled like fish.

I am always amazed at the ability of kids to sit next to each other in a crowd in a huge gymnasium and focus on one person. They were great!

And I went back in the evening and met their families. So many parents came that the parking lot was filled with cars. We talked about the importance of sharing family stories as a way of spending time together and giving our children a vigorous sense of who they are.

During a visit with Diane Jones, the librarian, she told me that her husband is the owner of Jones Nursery and Garden Center in Storm Lake. He wanted to grow some plants that people in the Hmong community in Storm Lake might use in their cooking. Diane contacted some Hmong parents who live in that community to ask them what kind of plants they would like to grow for their traditional dishes. They gave her a list. Her husband found the seeds and started them--Holy Basil, Thai Hot Peppers, Round White Eggplants, and more.  This year his nursery is full of flowers, thriving tomato plants, bell peppers, all the usuals. And it has some new strains. That's the exciting piece.

We all know that growing plants connects us with the natural world. There's an article on urban gardening in the NY Times  in which the gardener makes that very point. In Storm Lake, growing plants connects cultures.  I'm  sure Hmong gardeners will be glad for these plants. And I'll bet a few other gardeners in Storm Lake will be curious and decide to try them--and will try Hmong recipes to see what they can do with them. Kids all over Storm Lake may be eating a new kind of pizza flavored with Holy Basil. And that would be something holy. 

Mr. Jones sold Rich and me two peppers and one eggplant. We bought seeds for Red Stem Basil and Holy Basil. The leaves on the basil seedlings are the size of the o's in this type-face, but I have confidence in sunshine and rain and Iowa soil.  Hmong plants in the garden center in Storm Lake, Iowa, give me confidence that it is not always us and them, sometimes it's us, the us who like to tell stories, the us who like to watch plants grow and eat what we have grown.