Dirt Cheap?

Essay & Photos by Jill O'Brien

Like many of you, over the last month I’ve been salivating over the perfect images
of fruits and vegetables in the seed catalogs that I’ve retrieved from the mailbox and have started to dream about “this year's” garden. “Last year's” garden had to be downsized for a variety of reasons. I planted half a dozen cherry tomato plants and a few varieties of herbs. This seemed manageable and I thought for certain I'd have the time to care for thembut I was wrong. The fruits of my labor equated to harvesting one cherry tomato a day for a few weeks. Still, that single, sun-warmed, red globe that burst with juicy goodness when I popped it into my mouth gave me great pleasure.

Two miles down the road at Jilian & Colton’s (daughter and son-in-law) home, their “last year's garden” flourished. Their lives are equally, if not more, full with work on the ranch and at Wild Idea, plus they have two little ones to care for. But still they put the time in—filling nights, weekends, and holidays with gardening duties.

Providing quality food for their children, that is free of all pesticides and herbicides is a huge priority for them, and last year they had a bumper crop of goodness to put up to feed their family.

Gardens BountyJilian & Colton Jones

Their garden success has not been without complaint or devastating loss. I've watched Jilian squish potato bugs, one at a time, from large leafy greens to keep the plants healthy. I have also witnessed a healthy garden one afternoon and the same garden the next afternoon half-eaten and crawling with grasshoppers. 

Indeed there have been many learning curves. In addition to sunshine and water, having a better understanding of plant placement and soil health (and how to maintain it) has been essential in their success. The soil acts as the immune system for the earth and if the soil is under attack, what it produces is more susceptible to disease. The amount of care, time and labor required when growing food is enormous and when quantified in dollars, is most definitely not “dirt-cheap." 

The buffalo are gardeners too. They prune and fertilize naturally as they graze, tilling the soil and planting seeds as they gokeeping the soil in optimal health, so it in turn produces an abundance of food (rain permitting) for them to eat.

In a recent interview, I was asked what I thought was the most important factor in becoming more aware of our food choices? I replied with something like this, “We need to look behind the veneer of packaging and create a relationship with where food comes from. We need to start realizing that our food is "dirt," as all natural food comes from dirt. If we could make that mental switch, maybe we'd care more about how our planet is treated, how our food is grown and what's at the root of the meat we eat.” 

Garden Carrots

Dirt is not cheap, it’s how we treat it that makes it that way. This philosophy trickles down into our food. It shows up with bargain price tags, but leaves eco-systems, the planet and us unhealthy - complete with an IOU for which we will all be responsible.

My “this year's” garden is looking like it will be a lot like “last year's” garden. So my contribution to the earth is going to be planting native wildflowers for the pollinators, as they have to eat too.

I hope to hit up the neighbors for my producemaybe get a smoking good deal - by bartering for babysitting? A good deal for me for sure!


NOTE: Jill’s interview mentioned above can be found on:
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  • THOSE garden stories warm my heart! Most of my childhood was spent in the garden and greenhouse with greatest of joy I pulled my carrots out of the ground ri,we with garden hose and eat! Peas well they were best right off the vine and into the mouth!

    Thank you for the walk down memory lane! So much gratitude for all you do for planet earth and human beings! Oh yeah… And ME! I survive the winters by eating your beautiful easy to digest Buffalo meat!

    Thank you so much!!

    Donna Hohman
  • when i gardened in arizona(flowers only) those grasshoppers would invade. i went out early every morn before work and cut their heads off with scissors. 1 morn i decided to count, i could do 100 in 30 min-very satisfying. every year i bought myself a new pair of scissors. you get them from the front since their eyes look back! not that i am back in florida, we do not hav many, but still get them with the scissors. love your writing

    Terry Justison
  • Truth. Food comes from dirt. Love it. Our entire food chain does, essentially. You are so right on about ranchers as stewards of land and the importance of range management and “growing” soil. The images and the quality of life conveyed in this article really hit home.

    Eirik Heikes
  • Thank you. The organization Food First will also enjoy your pictures and narrative.

  • Love all this articles and pictures from Wild Idea. Where I live in Georgia there is a farm doing everything right to enrich the soil, raise grass fed animals. It is White Oak Pastures, Bluffton, GA. Wonderful place just like Wild Idea..

    Ellen Olander
  • My gardening now is quite limited, primarily devoted to trying to grown native wildflowers so important in maintaining biodiversity. Our Grow Native Massachusetts non-profit has made significant strides in raising awareness among all gardeners in these parts of the need to garden with natives.I recommend Doug Tallemy’s book, “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants”; all of us can do our part in our own gardens. Of course, I’m preaching to the choir here. All your “natives” will thrive, I am sure, just as the photos show those little two-legged "natives are!

    Linda Clark
  • Love your writing, Jill. Gardens are indeed a labor of love, but I wouldn’t trade. I have a day job, so I’m forever trying to remember to keep my fingernails clean. They certainly are not clean after my usual day digging at the earth! I keep learning; I keep getting disappointed. But the garden gives back. We are always healthier when eating food from the home garden. And I don’t think there is a more complicated question than, “Is it worth it?” I couldn’t tell ya, but I’m hooked and I keep doing it.

    Dan Page
  • Excellent article! A couple of ideas: Baker Creek has awesome heirloom seeds, which can also give back to the soil, depending on what’s planted (beans for nitrogen fixing, etc.); and if grasshoppers/locusts are invading, I’ve heard you can catch the li’l buggers (using nets?) and get some nutrition back…they are edible. Just have to be careful to remove the wings (they’re about as nutritious as fingernail clippings, and could be sharp-edged) and the back legs where the spikes are (they are sharp). From what I understand, they can then be prepared like shrimp, since that’s pretty much what they are, only on land. Revenge!

    Or, maybe, fine-mesh netting can help prevent such attacks in the future, or birds getting to crops?

  • Thank you, Jill. Great photos (especially the harvest bounty on the table and the kids). I was going go sit out gardening this year, but your insightful comments encourage me to try again and be more aware and involved. If we all do a little something, we might see a difference. Take care.

    Cheves Leland

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