In "Why Bother?" in the New York Times Magazine yesterday, "food detective" Michael Pollan laid out a persuasive case for why we should do something about climate change, however miniscule the deed—whether it's giving up beef or going entirely local. But the point he really wanted to get across was the importance of growing your own food, citing how, as recently as World War II, Victory Gardens supplied about 40 percent of the produce Americans ate. "Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do—to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind," he writes.
Walking around the packed Union Square Greenmarket Saturday afternoon, I like to think that New Yorkers were heeding Pollan's plea. It's too early in the season for loads of produce—I eyed heaps of root vegetables and some ramps—but it seemed like every other stall was selling herb starter containers. And people were snapping them up—whether for the fresh, full flavor only just-picked herbs can provide or for the economic efficiency of snipping just the leaves you need instead of paying $3 for a batch from the grocery store, or whether it's all in the virtuous name of climate change. (Note: I like to think all three are intertwined.)
Whatever the reason, I was astounded by the variety of herb and plant starters available, especially from Hunterdon County, New Jersey's Oak Grove Plantation, whose stall is on the west side of the market. I spotted about a dozen varieties of basil, including the spicy, anise-scented Thai Siam Queen. What's new for Oak Grove this season: Broadleaf thyme (typically found in Jamaican cuisine), Mexican cilantro, and Chinese Toon, whose young shoots and leaves supposedly give off an onion-y flavor when stir-fried. But I didn't get a chance to pick up any Toon—my hands were full of all the other herb starters I'd grabbed.