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Life at East: Down on the home farm

Summer brings swimming, sunshine and … fresh veggies.

One of my favorite parts of the season is tending to my family’s backyard garden. My family usually plants some flowers in pots on our front porch, but the fruits of our green thumbs can literally be found at the back of the house.

The “Ackerman Garden” has been an annual landmark of our lawn, and has followed us in various forms from house to house. In recent years, it’s grown from a few tomato plants to include zucchini, peppers, and – my personal favorite – kale. We’ve even grown corn and potatoes right in our own yard. This year, it’s the biggest that it’s ever been.

It’s so cool to just walk outside and be able to grab half of my dinner. The food we pick is a lot fresher than anything we could buy in any grocery store. Whenever we need a little something to spice up a meal, we can usually find it in our garden.

When I was younger, my sisters and I spent hours diligently weeding and watering, helping our own little plants grow. Still today, I love helping grow my own food. Sometimes, our neighborhood friends would come and help us out; at its peak there would be five or six of us huddled around the garden. 

Our friends are also there to take the extra crops when we get more than we can use. Usually by early August, we get overwhelmed by tomatoes and are practically begging people to take them home. Every year we try to find new, creative ways to eat them up. We even try new plants when we get inspired by recipes we come across. My mom’s homemade zucchini bread has become famous among our family friends – they are anxiously waiting for this season’s first batch, selflessly, in the name of helping us out. 

Despite our best efforts, not everything in our garden has turned out great. At age 7 or 8, I was heartbroken when I realized that my watermelon plant failed to produce any fruit. I’ve also planted many a peach pit, in hope of sprouting a productive tree during the course of one winter. Just last year, we had a batch of cucumbers that went bitter from the intense heat of the year. 

Some tips we’ve learned along the way: It helps to rotate the crops every couple of years, as the soil tends to wear out of nutrients; crushed up eggshells and ground coffee make excellent natural fertilizers; and every garden needs its own gnome, even if it’s just for decoration.

Although this year’s garden is young, I can almost taste all the great food that will come out of it. We already have the recipes lined up: tomato bruschetta, zucchini tacos, and kale with pasta, among many others. Once the food ripens, you can probably find me in the garden!

• Brigid Ackerman is a recent graduate of St. Charles East High School. She enjoys playing the trumpet, eating bread and writing this column, which runs every other Thursday. Contact her at

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