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A Promise of Dinners to Come

In Italy, where my mother’s family is from, almost every place where there’s even a bit of dirt, people have vegetables growing. Small spots and of course enormous fields. But it’s the small spots I like.
I like them because I imagine that regular people do the planting in a simple way without worrying about buying specialized stuff to make the gardens perfect – an effort that can get overwhelming. And I like them because they show me that we’re not so far gone into technology that we’ve forgotten the most fundamental earthly magic: plant a seed and food will grow.
For years, I’ve noticed that the Hingham fire stations on both Main and North streets have gardens growing. Some late summers, they’re so full and lush you can easily spot towering tomato plants while driving past. The garden plots aren’t elaborate, they’re simply dug-up parts of lawn where the sun shines.
So, because there’s still time to put in some vegetables, and because eating your own tomatoes warm from the garden is one of summer’s true culinary pleasures, I talked to the guys at the fire stations about how they do it.
“Just keep them watered,” said Lt. Mark Shores at South Station (aka Constitution Station, or #2) at 847 Main Street. He and his group of three were outside near their long narrow garden when I dropped by unexpectedly late last month. The firefighters work 24-hour shifts in crews of four. With a schedule of one day on, three off, they essentially live – and eat — together at the firehouse about 80 days of the year. Their garden isn’t much to look at now. The tomato plants are about seven inches high and some of the cucumbers, zucchini, and beans haven’t even germinated yet. More than anything else, at this point, the garden is a promise of good summer dinners to come.
“We grow enough for the guys working here, there’s always something to use for dinner — tomatoes or squash,” said Shores, who brought in a load of compost for the garden after firefighter Chris Scholtes turned over the soil in their 20-foot bed.
“I just used a small rototiller from home,” said Scholtes, as he tried to remember what was planted in each of the short, two-foot rows marked with stakes.
Probing the guys for zucchini recipes, they made it sound easy.
“We’ll throw ’em on the grill with olive oil, salt, and pepper,” said Shores, who planted much of the garden from seed.
Over at North Station (aka Torrent, or #2) on North Street, progress is a couple weeks behind South Station’s.
“We just turned it over and threw in some ash,” said Firefighter/Paramedic Michael Krause when I stopped by the station outside Hingham Square. Ash is commonly used as a soil amendment in some gardens, still it raised questions coming from a firefighter. (Turns out the old station has a fireplace.)
“It’s nice to be able to go over and pick some fresh tomatoes or string beans for dinner. Whatever’s ripe is there for the taking,” said Lt. Michael Vento, commander of the working group that includes Krause.
At headquarters (aka Central Station, or #1), a couple miles up Main Street from South Station, Fire Capt. Joe Mortland said that his station is too busy for a garden. Still, he knows all about the gardens at the town’s two other stations.
“I’ll stop by and they’ll be having lunch with nice beefsteak tomatoes and I’ll ask where’d you get those and they’ll say ‘we grew them,'” said Mortland.
Either I’m looking with sharper eyes, or more regular Americans are growing vegetables, not just Michele Obama and the Hingham firefighters. Times are changing, as they always do, and people adapt. Sparing down and reprioritizing, our most essential human needs and resources begin to appear center stage. And, happily, when we really look, we can see that the stage is a garden.