Thanks to NPR, I recently learned about “Cottagecore,” an Internet movement driven mostly by young people who want to escape modern living and return to the simple life with nature of the idyllic old western agricultural days. Cottagecore has surged as a result of the pandemic isolation with teens posting videos of canning, foraging, needlepoint, and painting in forests.
I’m enthused about this yearning from the younger generations to seek out simplicity, sustainability, and frugality in this time of high stress and anxiety. I didn’t wear prairie skirts and flowers in my hair as I grew up, yet I found great purpose as a suburbanite, from D.C. to Boston to L.A. and now to Hartford, in growing my own vegetables and herbs, in composting food waste, in home cooking, and in being mindful of my footprint.
My kids grew up watching their mothers haul the kitchen scraps to the compost bin in the corner of our yard day in and day out in all types of weather. They had to listen to me talk excitedly each year about the early spring tradition of digging up the cooked compost from “the pit” and moving it to the vegetable garden, followed by moving the uncooked compost from the bin into “the pit” for next spring, and finally cleaning out and repairing the bin to begin anew. The smell, the worms, the browns and greens, all of it they have heard every year for their whole lives. And once the compost was dealt with, they have watched both mothers fence off the garden plot and start the process of planting early seeds. So simple, so special, and so amazing.
We would all watch in the weeks following as our watering and the daily sunshine would bring shoots of arugula, spinach, and lettuce to the surface. Then the young plants go in, which are mostly varieties of native tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. After that, it’s all hands on deck for the next few months to water, weed, and pick the vegetables and salad greens we planted along with surprise squash that grows up from the compost. We take pride in chasing off the squirrels and chipmunks and praise our cat Teddy Bear for doing the same. We have great stories about trapping squirrels—and one time a skunk—and dealing with the many other ups and downs of vegetable gardening in New England. They get how meaningful it is to me and that it’s at my core. It goes back to my mother hiding kitchen scraps under the bushes at my childhood home and from them, creating the most incredible summer garden for the neighborhood to admire.
This harmony with nature that’s part of who I am went uninterrupted when our family went into crisis with Julia’s eating disorder. Our lives were thrown upside down and staying true to our values was important, even if it felt like a chore at times. The compost still went out, recycling was not neglected, the garden got planted, and home cooking continued every day. It’s hard to know how it helped Julia since she seemed to be in an altered state for so many years of her young teen life. It helped me though feel a sense of success when few could be felt at that time. I was able to feed the family and honor the earth and that was something positive. It grounded me and kept me rooted in what mattered (puns intended).
Today, Julia and her brother appreciate the earthiness of their mothers, especially in the summer when our vegetable garden is overflowing. They’ve had the opportunity to try many new recipes as a result, some already shared here on Nourish and others to come including pesto, stuffed peppers, fried green tomatoes, pico de gallo, and tzatziki. I can only hope that in their future, wherever they live and whomever with, they’ll continue these homegrown traditions. Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.