Fresh Fruit for Plotting Vegetables: Al Grossi, The Punk Rock Farmer
Activism, Outreach and Education
While Aldine “Al” Grossi (aka Aldine Strychnine, aka the Punk Rock Farmer) shows me around his garden in Millcreek, the devotion and love given to tending his eggplants, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes is apparent. Plants in various stages of growth are neatly arranged in rows by type under the partial shade of plum and peach trees flanking both sides of a chicken coop. The bounty from this slice of paradise is something Grossi believes even urbanites with a small amount of space can achieve.
Alongside Lara Jones, Grossi hosts “Punk Rock Farmer Fridays” on KRCL’s “RadioACTive,” a segment dedicated to issues like homegrown food, companion growing and how local gardeners overcome pests, drought and other harsh Utah conditions. Grossi visits the gardens of local growers such as Marybeth Janerich from Wasatch Community Gardens and talks to local food activists on subjects around avoiding big agriculture as well as practical solutions for things you can grow to eat healthier, such as Shannon Barham from Green Phoenix Farm.
Grossi and Jones met and became friends through Salt Lake’s punk scene in the ’80s. Their rapport on “RadioACTive” is symbiotic, as both share a passion for the punk ethics of DIY. Jones approached Grossi to do the homegrown-focused segment after Grossi posted a Facebook photo of a giant tomato with the caption “One Big F’n Tomato!” For six years, the goal of “Punk Rock Farmer” has been to cultivate SLC’s home-growing community.
“The bounty from this slice of paradise is something Grossi believes even urbanites with a small amount of space can achieve.”
“I want everybody to know where their food comes from,” Grossi says. “I want people to go out and turn a little piece of their backyard.” He’s found the community of growers in SLC particularly helpful and says that there are resources abound for beginners. Grossi loves to contribute to seed exchanges—which can help everyone, especially lower-income folks, start their own food garden.
Grossi takes pride in his cooking and plans his garden around produce he loves to eat. “I really love to cook,” he says. “I cook out of my garden [and] I grow things I know [I’ll] make dishes out of.” Grossi’s favorite dishes are a nod to his Italian heritage—eggplant parmesan and sauces that he makes from the unique varieties of tomatoes in his garden, specifically Abruzzese.
For Grossi, being able to grow and eat healthy food is not only empowering, but can improve overall quality of life: “It makes your gut happy; it makes your thoughts happy; it creates a collective consciousness that can change everything,” he says. “If we all just eat good food, we’ll all feel a lot better and we’ll all think a lot better.”
“I want everybody to know where their food comes from.”
While Grossi’s life has always been enmeshed in farming, punk rock was equally vital. “I moved [to Salt Lake] in ’78, and I heard KRCL when it started in ’79,” he says. “I heard some punk music that Brad Collins [of Raunch Records] was playing on the radio. ‘Behind the Zion Curtain’ was the name of his show … It was Zounds from England, and the message really got me.”
Grossi has played in many punk bands, including Poison Idea, The Suburbs and Maimed for Life. For him, the ideas of farming and punk rock are mutually sustaining. “Going against authority, it’s big punk rock shit,” he says. “I think it’s the most punk rock thing about growing your own food and going against the system. You can do it in your own backyard, and that’s the beauty of it.”
“Punk Rock Farmer Fridays” airs on 90.9FM KRCL on Friday evenings on “RadioACTive,” 6–7 p.m. You can find Grossi’s Punk Rock Farmer blog, which includes prior episodes, at krcl.org/blog/category/punk-rock-farmer.