Foodie Tips Courtesy of Yuri Gagarin by Sherry Morris

Photo by Lukas Langrock on Unsplash

An earlier version of this story was published online and in print with the Scottish Book Trust in 2017 for their ‘Nourish’ theme. It is available in audio here

I remember the day I got my plot at the local community garden. I felt a mixture of fear and excitement. Fear because I wasn’t sure I could grow anything. Excitement because if I could grow something, anything — be it potatoes, spinach, peas, broad beans — it’d be very satisfying to eat the food I’d grown. I knew there was something else in this mixture, something deeper. I couldn’t name it then, but I could feel it.

I’d already been working at the site six months. The land had previously been used as a dumping ground, but with council permission and money, it was now a new green space with individual plots for members. The first task was to clear the land and prepare the soil. I spent months of Saturdays alongside other volunteers, removing utensils, plastic bags, old clothes and broken bottles from the ground. One day I dug out a telephone. I thought of all the buried conversations and wondered what had become of them.

We cleared the space, removed the contaminated soil, added new to enrich the ground. By nourishing the earth, it would nourish us in return. At least that’s what I thought would happen. I was given a prime plot against the back wall. It was sheltered from the wind and received sun most of the day. I was now ready for the growing to begin. I started by digging. I used a pitchfork and shovel to turn the soil over and over, marvelling at its blackness, its richness. Then I studied the weather. Then I wondered what to plant. Because for all my eagerness and ready-to-go-ness, I realised I was afraid of starting.

The truth was I didn’t know how to start. Which was kind of funny, because I excelled at starting things. All my life I’d started things. Living in five different countries, fifteen different cities and two continents made me good at starting things. Even in this city, I’d moved eight times in as many years. Settling didn’t come easy. I didn’t seem to be able to put down roots. I kept turning the soil, watching it move and shift. How could I possibly know what to plant, what would successfully take root?

But I had to do something. Anyone who neglected their plot couldn’t keep it, so I brought an old bookcase and propped it up against the wall. I put pots, seedling trays and bags of potting soil on its shelves. I brought a large bright pink tub, filled it with soil and sat it next to the bookcase. There, potatoes could grow.  Then I brought a disco ball — the glitter and shine would keep the squirrels and birds at bay so tender shoots and berries could mature. I surveyed my plot. It looked pretty good, though I’d have to do something about all that naked soil. I doubted I could get away with saying brown was the new green. I decided a birdfeeder would help and set off for the local garden centre.

I came back with a lavender bush, raspberry canes, a bay tree, strawberry plants, marigolds, and some purple calendulas. I invited my friend Russell. An experienced gardener, he surveyed the space.

‘You have the strangest things growing on your plot,’ he said, uncovering a Phillip Stark lemon squeezer that was supporting raspberry canes.

I asked him if he had any advice.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘your disco ball looks healthy, but I’d keep an eye on that bookcase –might be prone to woodworm.’

I understood what he was saying. I didn’t know why I was reluctant to begin planting, to get growing. Why I felt indifferent to what I had just put in. I decided I was restless. I’d been spending too much time at the allotment, I needed a break and went to a nearby park.

There, I discovered a statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, marking his visit to the UK in 1961. I didn’t know much about the cosmonaut, but I knew Russian cuisine: borscht, rye bread, boiled potatoes, stuffed cabbage rolls, beetroot salads, garlic cloves, and nearly every dish covered in sour cream or mayonnaise. Heavy food for a man whose mission was to soar through space amongst the stars. Funny he could consume all that heaviness and still fly. Then something occurred to me: maybe it was possible to flit about and still remain connected. It didn’t have to be one or the other. Looking at that statue, a seed was planted. I didn’t need to fear I was giving something up. Instead I’d be gaining something — my very own space. I smiled, ready to start.

So this is what I grow on my plot: beetroots, potatoes, radishes, carrots, onions, parsnips, garlic. Other things too, like berries and flowers and herbs. But the majority are root vegetables. I can’t see them, but I know they’re there, keeping me steady and secure, gently helping me take root. When the vegetables are ready, I harvest and eat them. They’re tasty and filling. Nourishing. They make me feel solid, grounded. But also, lighter, happier, content. Helping me learn to stay tethered in space.

About The Author

Originally from America’s heartland, Missouri, Sherry Morris writes flash fiction, short stories and monologues which have won prizes, placed on shortlists and been performed in London and Scotland. While she loved her allotment in London, she now lives very happily on a farm in the Scottish Highlands where she pets cows, watches clouds and scribbles stories. She sits on the Board of Directors of Northwords Now, an acclaimed Highlands literary magazine, and reads for the wonderfully wacky Taco Bell Quarterly. Her first published story was about her Peace Corps experience in Ukraine. She posts her work on http://www.uksherka.com and tweets @Uksherka.

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