The beet lovers of Onigamiising2012 Vegetable of the Year selection for the “One Vegetable, One Community” gardening and food preservation activity is: The Beet. The beet was chosen for this honor sometime during the fall (succeeding kale, the 2011 choice), but the selection was kept under wraps until the official New Year announcement.
Winter is beautiful here in Onigamiising, and like each season it changes a little every day in preparation for the next. Although the gardening and growing season is still months away, here in the Northland the daylight hours have very recently begun to grow longer, and every day brings us closer to planting time. It is not too early to begin thinking about seeds, seedlings, flowers … and growing vegetables.
Just this past week the Duluth Community Garden Program announced that the 2012 Vegetable of the Year selection for the “One Vegetable, One Community” gardening and food preservation activity is: The Beet. The beet was chosen for this honor sometime during the fall (succeeding kale, the 2011 choice), but the selection was kept under wraps until the official New Year announcement.
The Duluth Community Garden Program encourages gardening, including urban gardening, for all, and developed “One Vegetable, One Community” to encourage and provide gardening knowhow. The program office is in the Damiano Center, and next month free starter kits (which include beet seeds) will be available for anyone who would like to be part of this fun, healthy and delicious activity.
My grandson Max and I have known about the beet selection for several weeks, ever since some avid and happy vegetable gardeners inadvertently let it slip when we were at the Northern Prints Gallery. We assured them that the secret was safe with us, and we kept our word.
Like many Onigamiising-ininiwag, I love beets. This goes back to when I was a little girl, dawdling over my supper one day. My mother Pat, always creative in her childrearing, didn’t tell me to eat because other children didn’t have beets, or because they were going to get cold. Instead, she said brightly, “Eat your beets: they’re red!”
I took another look. She was right: They were a deep shiny red and shone under the kitchen light like rubies. I ate every bite, and have loved beets ever since. They look like jewels and, like all root vegetables, taste of the mysteries of the earth.
Although I have had them only as pickles, in a salad or as a side dish, and although I haven’t gardened in some time, this year I might till a small garden plot and try beets in new recipes (the community garden program members are generous with ideas). If beets are as easy to grow as they are to cook, there should be plenty to cook, pickle, and to share.
Many American Indian tribes, including the Ojibwe, cultivated and gardened. Corn, beans, pumpkins, and many other vegetables and fruits that are part of an everyday healthy modern diet are indigenous to North America, and were introduced to the immigrant settlers by American Indian people who generously shared not only their food but also their knowledge of sustenance, including gardening. (Potatoes are indigenous to South America, and were brought to Europe by Spanish explorers.)
Immigrant settlers brought with them to North America some hardy vegetables that were easy to transport and to grow: one of these was the beet, which probably originated in the Mediterranean. In a way, this story parallels that of the American Indian and immigrant people themselves, doesn’t it?
Beets, like carrots and potatoes, are root vegetables that can be successfully grown in a variety of climates and locales, including the sometimes challenging terrains and seasons of the Onigamiising region. For one without a place or the space to garden, the beet is a small plant suitable for a bucket garden. Bucket gardening is not difficult: all you need are a large bucket (with draining holes, and a tray underneath), dirt, seeds, water, and sunshine.
Congratulations to the Duluth Community Garden Program on this great choice for 2012 Vegetable of the Year, and congratulations to our immigrant friend the beet, as the recipient of this well-deserved honor!
Monthly columnist Linda LeGarde Grover is a professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth, an award-winning writer and a member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. E-mail her at lgrover@ d.umn.edu.