There is more to growing food than simply planting, watering and tending a garden. As my guest Dan Morrison has quickly learned, a whole new way of cooking develops when you find yourself overrun with your own squash, tomatoes and other fresh goodies. Dan and his wife, Neva, have had such a prolific experience as first time gardeners that they’re even providing fresh food to their local community! Whether you aspire to garden on a grand scale or just hope to keep your herbs alive (me!), you will enjoy Dan’s insights on how things have changed at his house all because of a “small” plot. Dan also shares a favorite recipe from his mother-in-law, Rebecca Adamson, known to her grandsons as “Grandma Beki.” (Dan’s photo, right, was taken in his home garden by Rebecca Adamson; photo of Rebecca Adamson taken by Dan Morrison)

Dan Morrison knows a thing or two about solutions and change. His DC-based venture philanthropy non-profit, Citizen Effect, was built upon the idea that anyone can make a real and significant impact in the world. By leveraging communities and networks, Dan’s organization has helped provide basics like clean water or steps to a more sustainable life, to those in need. Citizen Effect began after Dan went to India in 2006. That is also when he realized he knew nothing he needed to know to live. He was a bad cook, had no idea how to grow food, and was completely reliant on corporations to produce, package and provide his meals. At that point, Dan committed to making personal changes towards supporting a more sustainable lifestyle and planet. Keep up with Dan’s latest adventures by following his blog here.

What three items are in your refrigerator at all times?

Tomatoes – we have them coming out of our ears. Garlic, garlic and garlic. Is there anything that doesn’t taste better with garlic? Feta cheese – Neva loves it and it’s great on our fresh salads (spinach, cherry tomatoes, avocado, pine nuts and craisins if we have them, with a sweet honey mustard dressing).

What is your favorite thing to cook for your family?

We are still trying to move our two boys (and ourselves!) over to a healthy diet. But Neva makes a very simple yet delicious quiche-thing. The boys get the egg and cheese version. We throw fresh veggies into ours. If it is just Neva and me, we like stuffed green peppers using our homegrown peppers and tomatoes from our own garden.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Neva’s mom, Grandma Beki, is the MacGyver of cooking. She can take whatever is on the counter or in the fridge and turn it into a culinary masterpiece.

Tell us about your garden. You are now producing an impressive harvest! How has growing your own produce affected your cooking?

We didn’t think 1/20th of an acre was that large… oops. We had squash coming out of our ears with a total of 15 squash and zucchini plants. They were prolific. Next year, we will probably only plant five. Get the squash early and don’t let them grow too big or they lose all flavor. When they are small, you can eat right off the plant. Then we had tomatoes. For Christmas, I bought Rebecca 12 heirloom varieties that we grow from seed, along with some beef steaks. Tomatoes also overran us and we were not able to keep up with the weeding and pruning. But we did have some amazing tomatoes, especially the Cherokee Purple (local restaurant Foode bought those up and put them on their hamburgers). Next year, we’ll aim for better laid out tomato beds and more attention to pruning. The best plants in the garden were our green bell peppers. Consistent, tasty crop all year. Throw in a few onions, habanero peppers and a potato field with five varieties and that was the early harvest. I just planted radishes, carrots and beets and we are making raised beds for mix greens this fall.

We are learning to plan our meals around what is available. If I know the peppers and tomatoes are ready, I just pick and cook. If we are at Grandma Beki’s house, she will cook depending on what was picked that day. Nothing is more amazing than that.

I understand you are supplying a local restaurant with food from your garden. Tell me a bit more about that.

One of our favorite local restaurants is Foode in Fredericksburg, VA. One day we were sitting there talking to one of the owners and told her we grow vegetables. She said we should bring some by. I dropped off a basket of squash and they asked for more. Now, we tell them what we have on Sunday, they say what they want on Monday and we drop it off Tuesday. It is awesome seeing our veggies on the menu!

What were weeknight meals like when you were growing up? How has this experienced influenced your cooking today?

My mom was a high school teacher and we were all involved in extracurricular activities. While the food wasn’t French Laundry, she did make sure we sat down as a family every night, turned off the TV and shared something we learned that day. That has stuck with me and something we are looking to replicate in our house (we are getting there…).

You are sending a powerful message to your children in growing your own food. What do you hope they will learn from observing your gardening and cooking?

We are losing our connection to food. For many, food is no longer something you care for and grow from the earth, but something you buy in a package or at a fast food restaurant. We talk to our boys about the importance of food, where it comes from and why it is important to take care of Mother Earth so she continues to give nutritious food in return for treating her right. And cooking is even in a worse state. People now think cooking is heating up and nuking. They have no concept of how to take raw ingredients and cook a real meal. That is invaluable cultural knowledge that we may lose if people do not reconnect with their food and their land.

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