Hand Picked

Posted on Sep 27, 2011 in Featured, Food | 0 comments

{This is an old draft from a couple of years ago that I never posted. But I like it so here it is today.}

blueberries

As we pull in, the sun glints off the only other car in the gravel parking lot. It is early but the day is already warm and the sky is a brilliant blue. It takes a couple of minutes to disengage: unbuckle carseats; gather ourselves; make sure keys are in hand, not ignition, before shoving the door shut with my hip.

We make our way through the opening in the hedge and up a path to a little market stand. The cedar shake roof is long and low and one wall is open to the fresh air revealing a wide counter and a cooler with vats of ice cream: raspberry cheesecake, bubblegum, maple walnut, moose tracks. There is no one behind the counter but after a minute, a woman calls out from the side of the building. We find her sitting at a picnic table playing cards with a young girl. She tells us that the best picking is to the right, anywhere we like.

We clatter off, the four of us and our odd assortment of buckets. Noa, our thirteen month old daughter is not walking yet but we brought along her push toy: a bright yellow, orange and purple wagon with big wheels, a handle and a storage box under the seat. She toddles after us determinedly pushing the wagon over the gravel, falling every few steps but always quick to rise and push on. She has not yet figured out how to turn the wagon; her tactic whenever she encounters an obstacle is to look back at us with a grin and wait for help, one hand still resting on the handle. However, today she will need no such assistance. We have come to a pre-walking, wagon-pusher’s paradise: a blueberry farm. Our four year old son Rain runs ahead to choose our row. After a moment’s wait while we turn the wagon into the wide alley between waist high blueberry bushes, Noa is greeted with the longest unobstructed straight stretch she has ever seen. We set her free.

Noa is instantly distracted from wagon pushing paradise when she notices the marble sized berries on the bushes. They are a deep dusky midnight blue and covered with a light powdery film. I am not sure that Noa has ever had blueberries and she has certainly never seen a blueberry bush. Call it human instinct; she drops to her knees, crawls to the nearest bush and begins to fill her mouth with berries with both hands.

In fact, this is pretty much the reaction of all of us. We are all diverted from our intentions by the sweet, slightly sour fruit. I love the tanginess of the berries that still have a red blush to them. It takes a few minutes before we are able to get down to work, overwhelmed as we are by the plenitude on each bush, blueberries hanging in clumps like grapes.

Eventually, we settle in. The rows are wide with freshly mown grass between. It is the perfect work space for a mom of young kids. Fully fenced to keep out the deer, bushes dense enough that it isn’t easy to get into another row, vast enough to provide a sense of freedom for roaming as far as they like and provided they stay in my row, I can always see them. Rain wanders off, imagination and monologue running a mile a minute as usual. He has a yogurt container laced on to his belt loop but he picks directly into his mouth.

The only rule: Fill your bucket or fill your mouth but once the fruit is in my bucket, hands off. The small competitive spark in me flares up as I make it my goal to fill my large pail before we leave.

Aaron and I begin working on opposite sides of the same bush so we are facing each other. Noa stays close for the most part, filling her belly or pushing her wagon beside us. She occasionally crawls over to the fence to check out the horse on the other side, squealing “Puppy! Puppy!” Rain spends some time picking into the storage box in the wagon but between him and his sister, the berries don’t last long in there. As Aaron and I start to pick, the lovely plump thud of the berries falling into my pail makes me feel like a kid in a candy store. When the sound disappears, I am spurred on by the realisation that it means the bottom is covered and I focus in. My attention narrows and I am now looking at the berry farm with my mind’s macro lens. Grass, leaves, berries, stalks, spider web, dew.

I don’t have to worry about my children. I can hear them, see them out of the corner of my eye. They both check in periodically or I raise my head to double-check. They are safe. Rain’s yogurt container is empty every time I ask how much he has picked.

Aaron is busy picking. I can’t see his face; only a hand or a shoulder sometimes, after a rustle of the plant. We fall into conversation and spend a glorious hour chatting uninterrupted (without having to leave our babies with a sitter!). We discuss parenting, we strategize, we gossip, we dream, we make idle chit chat. Hands busy, words flow easily. Sharing pleasurable work, we connect in a way we haven’t in a long time.

The weather is fine. The sun is bright but the day is not yet hot. It feels good to be up and out of the house so early. We are happy to have the field mostly to ourselves. We already feel rewarded by the act of harvesting our own food. Touching it. Picking it. Knowing where it came from. Everything about this day feels so right, so wholesome. Doing the work to pick our own food, together as a family, everyone involved and present, even the very youngest. I imagine a time when this is what it might have meant to go to work: not working 8-10 hours a day separated from our families to be able to buy food but working together to grow food.

Rain begins to whine that he is ready to leave and I am reminded that I am being idealistic. We get him settled with his sister for a picnic; they share a bottle of water and some rice crackers. They keep each other occupied for another precious fifteen minutes, long enough for me to fill my bucket.

We pour our buckets into a big gallon pail and our bounty fills it almost to the top. I gather the children and Aaron carries the pail to the farm stand to be weighed. We have brought in ten pounds of blueberries in an hour, a leisurely sunny hour in the company of our family. We get ice cream cones for the ride home. Rain is deliriously happy. Noa falls asleep in her carseat.

The berries have not been sprayed: no need to wash. We eat all ten pounds that week—on cereal, in cobbler, pie, frozen, fresh, by the handful—and we head back the next weekend for more.

I know that one idyllic morning is not the reality of growing all of your own food or of sustaining your family in the current economy but I feel happier than I have in weeks for having reconnected in this way with the outdoors, my family, our food and the concept of working together. The paid work I have known in offices, retail stores, grocery stores did not connect me to the bare essentials of what we need for survival—good food, fresh air and community—in the way that this Sunday morning at a u-pick blueberry farm did.

Now that the leaves are starting to fall, we have to ration the few bags of blueberries we have left in the freezer. Rain is back at preschool. Noa is walking on her own without the wagon. We are planning for the winter, pulling sweaters and mittens out of storage and hoping that our first attempt at growing a winter garden will be fruitful. Aaron has started baking our own bread. They are little things but it feels good to keep that blueberry picking feeling year round. When we look back over the summer, Aaron and I agree that the few hours we spent at the u-pick were some of the best of the season.

How do you connect with the food you eat and what are you storing away for the winter now?

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