Here is an excerpt from Seed Savers-Lily when she first sees Arturo’s back yard.
Arturo called out ahead of us. “Abuelo! Lily is here.”
We walked straight through the house and out the back. An old man was rocking in a wicker chair under a hastily-made awning. He wore a straw hat and held a pint-sized dog. The man turned and watched as we came through the door. “Buenas tardes,” he said, nodding.
“Papa is still at work—”
Arturo stopped midsentence as he turned and saw my face. My eyes had wandered from the old man to the yard. I had expected something different. The way Arturo talked about his garden I’d imagined something … well … something beautiful. Instead, the yard resembled an abandoned lot filled with weeds and junk. My normal poker face failed to hide the disappointment. Arturo’s eyes, too, betrayed him–registering his own disappointment in me.
“Come, Lily, look. Look close.” Arturo grabbed my hand and pulled me after him, off the concrete slab and out into the yard. “You see?” he urged.
I saw weeds. I kept looking.
“Here,” Arturo said, breaking off a flowering plant and putting it first under his nose and then under mine. “You know it?”
It was familiar, one of the herbs I’d grown, but which one?
“Cilantro,” he said.
“Yes, of course. It make seed for us to save and plant more.”
I looked around, trying to spot familiar plants. “Most of these are weeds, aren’t they?” I asked.
“¡Ay! What is a weed? A weed is only a plant that is unwanted where it grow.” Arturo pointed to the multitude of blooming dandelions in the yard. “People eat these for hundreds of years. Is good.”
I stood and stared. Could this be true? People ate weeds?
“You don’ believe me? Here,” he plucked a flower, then a leaf. “Taste.”
I took a nibble. “Bleh.” Not good.
Arturo laughed. “Sorry. Is no so good, now. Better before the flower starting. But I like. And is good later, after the cold tambien.”
Arturo moved through the tangled yard like a ship in familiar harbor, pointing out vegetables I hadn’t noticed and weeds he said were edible. In the stacks of tires and old sinks, vegetation of all sorts spilled out. Arturo raised his eyebrows, nodding toward an unfamiliar and luscious green plant.
I remembered potatoes. I had read about them but hadn’t planted any. I had no ‘seed potatoes’ to get started. From what I recalled, potatoes had been an important staple in countries around the world and were still grown here and used in our processed food groups. They were an underground crop. Arturo definitely had my attention now and he knew it.
“How … ” I didn’t know what I wanted to ask.
“You want to see?”
Crouching down Arturo put his fingers around the base of the plant feeling in the dirt. “Ah,” he said, “a nice one. Abuelo,” he shouted back at his grandfather, something in Spanish. The old man laughed.
“Good one,” he told me, “big. I am surprising Abuelo miss. He like to steal some new potatoes during the summer.”
Arturo grabbed my hand, pulling me down, then placed it in the dirt onto a firm round potato, its red skin slightly showing aboveground. “Potato,” he said, close to my ear. “Papa in Spanish.” The whisper in my ear sent goosebumps scurrying across my shoulder blades and down my arms. Our hands were together in a treasure chest of gold. My heart beat fast and I felt warm all over. I wasn’t sure at which moment my excitement over the potato changed into an awkwardness at my nearness to Arturo, even though his hand no longer covered mine but was off searching for more potatoes. He was pulling them out of the ground, dusting them off.
“Go on, Lily, try to find.”
I gathered myself together, concentrating on the garden rather than my emotions. I dug around, but all I felt was dirt.
“Try another,” he said, pointing toward other potato plants I now recognized growing in old barrels and appliances.
“How?” I faltered, finding my voice at last.
“Like I show you. Feel near the plant, how you say, soft.”
“Yes,” he smiled, “gently.”
My fingers poked down at the base of the next plant. I didn’t mind the dirt pressing under my nails. I moved my hand out away from the base and hit something hard. I felt out the shape of it. “I found one!” I called. I remembered the time Dante pulled the first carrot from the ground. More buried treasure.
Seed Savers-Lily is the second book in the Seed Savers series. The series takes place in a future where gardening is illegal and real food unknown by the younger generations. Find out more here.