It was a picture-perfect North Fork spring morning in April 2021 when I first met Jodi Sweetbaum and Jamie Carse in their backyard vegetable garden at their home in Cutchogue. I have a local business called Yard Crop where we design, build, plant and maintain custom home vegetable gardens. We had been hired to do a collaborative planting session with the goal of maximum growing efficiency and our excitement was palpable. Like many garden sessions with clients, I quickly learned that the reason the Carse family was growing food wasn’t solely for bodily nourishment.
Sweetbum, a mother of four with a career in branding and advertising in Manhattan, had zero gardening experience before March 2020, so, when her husband and adult children decided to build a pandemic garden their family took on a serious labor of love. Sweetbaum went from being a self-proclaimed “serial plant killer” to an avid gardener channeling a newfound sense of wonder in her garden. She found a new hobby in preserving bountiful harvests into sauces, pickles and various other fermentations — even making her own tonic water with fresh lemongrass from the garden. Jodi also became a lover of composting, an example of the “trickle effect,” as I like to call it, that gardening has.
I’ve noticed through my garden coaching sessions that when homeowners on the North Fork become more aware of their effect on our precious local land, they begin to take better care of it. When they watch the transformation of a tiny seed into sprout, and tender seedlings into vibrant crops, home gardeners tend to gain a newfound respect for the hardworking farmers that provide the ultimate avenue for clean living. This is one of the many reasons I feel gardening in farm country helps support our community. While Sweetbaum’s initial inclination to grow food was because she loves to feed her family with fresh homegrown vegetables, she soon realized the garden provided much more.
“The vegetable garden has become the connector of the family to this place that is our true home of 26 years. The community that gardening provides for my family and friends is very present at our home. Everyone is invested in the garden. If you come to our house, you go in the garden,” Sweetbaum said.
When asked about what feelings the garden evokes for her, Sweetbaum was quick to say that the garden provides a sense of calm. “The garden is peaceful and inspiring, it is bigger than us. It definitely is nature at its finest. I love that birds drop shells into the raised beds, strawberries start growing again the minute the sun comes out, and we plant pollinator flowers for the bees. It’s not just about the food for us.”
Sweetbaum also told me stories about her husband, Jamie’s, connection to their vegetable garden. She told me, “I don’t think we understood how much it would mean to him. He sits in the garden in his chair and listens to the birds. He finds comfort and solace in the garden.” The Carse family has an unbelievably fond connection to Carse’s late father, Dr. James P. Carse, who passed away in September 2020. Dr. Carse was a historian, author and religious scholar. He was also an avid gardener. “We didn’t get usual gifts from him, we got gifts from his garden. Dilly beans, jams and it was all year round,” said Sweetbaum. Growing and making things from their garden has become a way to stay connected to Dr. Carse. For Carse, the legacy of gardening goes deeper than just his father. His mother was German and a major gardener in the community gardens of her village. Gardening was a way of life.
Through honoring loved ones, and creating a stronger connection to home, the garden has become an anchor for the Carse family. Sweetbaum ended our garden chat by telling me, “Our hearts are here, even though we’ve raised our family in the city, this is our home and the garden represents that.”
Learning about North Fork gardeners and the reasons why they garden has become a true passion for us at Yard Crop. Through this new monthly series, I hope to encourage and inspire you to grow something, too. Perhaps you might also find a deeper connection to the land below your feet.
GARDENING GUSHING with Jodi Sweetbaum
FAVORITE PART OF GARDENING: I love learning about the cycle for everything in our lessons together. I love the ecosystem of planting, the life cycle of the plants and how they work together. I love composting.
LEAST FAVORITE PART OF GARDENING: Weeding, I hate weeding.
FAVORITE CROP: I love our lettuce, kohlrabi and beets. I love cherry tomatoes and Jamie loves the big tomatoes. It all tastes exceptional.
LESSONS FROM THE GARDEN: Patience. Lots of patience. Trust. Wonder. I always marvel at what’s happening. I love when we have rogue plants that pop up from the compost. There’s not a whole lot of wonder left in my life. The garden is a constant source of wonder for me. It’s incredible.