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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Self Sustenance

This is an entry in this month’s contest “What Inspired You To Start Growing Your Own Food?”.  Be sure to rate this article!

My life has been a constant sea of change. I was born third in the line of what would eventually be seven kids to Dominican/Puerto Rican parents. We lived with my Mom’s parents – a very common occurrence in Puerto Rico – and this is where I got my first introduction to living off the land.

My Grandma grew up in the mountains of Puerto Rico. She knew about edible plants, herbal medicines, wild game and small farm animals. She married a city boy and they settled down in a small town, but she still practiced her mountain ways.

They owned an acre of land which they used very productively. The section nearest the house held the chicken pen, which provided us with fresh eggs and fresh meat, and on occasion, a fresh laugh for Grandma, who loved to parade the freshly butchered birds around the house while we Grandkids ran away, screaming and giggling.

The central section of the acreage held all sorts of tropical fruit trees such as guanabana, pana, coconut, mango, lime, wild cherry, plantain, banana, orange, papaya, kenepa and guayaba. Alongside those trees grew various kinds of tropical root vegetables such as yucca, yautia and malanga. At the far end of the acreage was a small plot of beans and a milk goat or two, the milk of which Grandma used to prepare hot cereals and hot drinks for us all.

We lived at my Grandparent’s place until I was around 4 years old. By then, my parents had had 3 more kids and life was pretty cramped for us all. My Dad, a nurse by profession, wanted to pursue his life-long dream of becoming a doctor and had his eyes fixed on a medical school in northern Mexico. His plan was to move us all to south Texas where he would proceed to study in Mexico during the week and work in Texas during the weekends.

We moved to the U.S., all right, but we didn’t head to south Texas right away; in fact, it would be five years before we would finally make our way down there. Our first stop was Florida, then Virgina, and then back to Puerto Rico when my mom learned that she was pregnant again. After the birth of my youngest sister, we headed back to the U.S., this time to Long Island, where my dad drove taxi and my siblings and I bonded with cousins in the area. Just when we thought we were there to stay, my parents took a two-week trip to Texas. When they came back, my Dad made the big announcement: we were moving to Texas! So the summer of my 9th birthday found us making our way down to Texas in our family’s station wagon. It would eventually come to a halt in front of a trailer in the Rio Grand Valley.

My parents had gotten a good deal on the trailer, which came with an acre of land. The place just so happened to be about a mile or two from the Mexican-Amercan border, a strategic move. The single-wide trailer was in great need of repair and the acreage itself was overrun by tall, woody weeds. We worked steadily for about 2 weeks, breaking down walls, breaking up floors, laying out new carpet and mowing down huge weeds. It was hard, dirty work, but my parents tried to make it fun by buying us something special after each day’s labor.

That trailer was home for the next 7 years. My family went through some significant financial struggles as my Dad went back and forth to med school. Because money was tight, we started up the family garden again, gleaned cantaloupe from nearby fields after harvest time, and drove to South Padre Island to fish off the pier using our homemade bottle-and-line fishing gear (Yes, they worked marvelously! We always managed to bring home lots of fish for mom to fry up and make fish head soup with!) Additionally, we baked loaves of fresh whole-wheat bread, which we sold to eager neighbors and church friends.

My Dad never was able to finish medical school, but during that time, I learned some valuable lessons on how to put food on the table when the going got tough.

Fast forward 25 years until today. My life has continued to be a sea of change. I have moved over 15 times since Progreso, Texas to places all over the U.S., Puerto Rico and Mexico, and I currently live in Central Pennsylvania in the heart of Amish country. Here, I enjoy farm fresh eggs, delicious goat milk, and fresh sweet corn from these friendly and gentle country folk. I supplement these things using food growing/retrieving techniques that I have pretty much put into practice where ever I’ve lived: I sprout different beans, nuts and seeds in my kitchen, plant small edibles in containers, go out into neighboring forests and pick mulberries, red raspberries, wild cherries, wild apples, crabapples, wild plums, acorns, walnuts, dandelion greens, etc., and help my neighbors with their gardens who in turn provide me with green beans, strawberries, and many other fresh fruits and vegetables.

I continue my baking, I make my own yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and naturally fermented sauerkraut, and I keep educating myself on anything that has to do with self-sustenance – which is why I’ve been drawn to this great website, by the way!

So, what inspired me to start growing food? I would say that it was at first just life, then liberty, and finally, the pursuit of self-sustenance.

The prize for the winner of this months contest is valued at $100 and includes a copy of the “Grow Your Own Groceries” video set, “Alternatives To Dentists” video set, and 3 months of free membership in the Core Community.  If you want to enter this month’s contest, write an essay on “How You Got Started Growing Food” and submit it here at this link: http://growyourowngroceries.org/contribute-here/

Danalyn Merino

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