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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ammi Midstokke: When vegetables are the fabric of a healthy society

By Ammi Midstokke The Spokesman-Review

In a world where we are learning to speak openly about our emotional experiences, I am fascinated by those who navigate life in blatant resistance to this trend.

They opt instead for a kind of deferred, wordless intimacy through acts of coexistence. And in the case of my recent trip to Greece, with the exchange of vegetables and favors.

In fact, I think the reason they are all such incredible gardeners is because it appears to be an essential part of the social and familial fabric. What I have yet to learn is the symbolism behind each particular bunch of greens, fresh cucumber or bag of eggplants.

After a month of traipsing about the country, I have carefully bottled memories to carry home with me: azure blue seas; fresh ceviche from fish just harvested; the gentle rocking of a boat; the unexpected mountains casting their shadows before the sunrise; the variety of thistles and the variety of tools needed to extract them from my body. But what I can’t figure out how to box up and bring home is the way I feel when I am traveling.

It is argued by more than a few that we ought not travel so wide and far. (I’m looking at you, Lindholdt.) Thus, it is with a measured amount of climate guilt that I ride a plane halfway around the globe to collect specimens of culture, flavor, sensations and perspectives to put little pins in and hang on my wall of experiences. Will I collect enough that one day I am satisfied to sit within my four walls and reminisce? What is still missing from my collection?

Reminiscing is not enough. The exposure to other ways of being and thinking inspires me to bring them home, to fold the beauty of those ways into my own life and person. And because I need to learn to live with people who cannot talk about their feelings, I better grow myself a giant vegetable garden.

There was a story in the village about two inhabitants who argued one night at a festival. One of them was an illegal immigrant, and so the local cantankerous racist called the authorities to let them know a foreigner was about. The young man was put in jail for the night and shipped back to Albania where he promptly changed into his walking shoes and hoofed it back to Greece, to the same village, to spend the next 30 years in the same café with the xenophobe. No hard feelings. I’m certain many a zucchini have been left on the man’s porch.

If only I could learn to let it go with string beans and okra.

I’ll also need a vegetable garden to broach political divides. As far as I can tell, heirloom tomatoes and peppers are most effective for this sort of conflict, or perhaps anything in the nightshade family. Infidelities and betrayals may be resolved with any number of lettuce species, and family discord or inheritance disputes with potatoes. Personality differences: honey. So I’m going to need a lot of bees, too.

It seems to me we’re in a world that is losing its capacity for conscious discourse, that our wounds have become boils, our beliefs embittered.

Maybe we’ve all just talked ourselves into a mess and what we really need is to share the abundance of our gardens, appreciate the labor and love we’ve all put into being the best humans we know how to be. The kind that accept our differences while acknowledging the value in each of us.

I think that’s best said with anything from the squash family or a crate of peaches.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at