Wednesday, July 18, 2007

National Berry Picking Holiday

Besides giving you an update on the bear(s) (and I guess the bobcat that’s been harassing our chickens), I was going to send out word this week about the drought we’ve been having for the past six months.

I was going to try to make it more than the typical farmer’s whining and fussing about the weather not being all it could.

And hopefully, getting across that what’s going on is a whole bunch scarier than what we are used to getting (or is that not getting).

Maybe even capturing a sense of how actually, truly, crazy the weather is.

Possibly finding someone out there who had a real working dance that would succeed in bring on normal weather again.

And then, Sunday night, we got hit, 71 one hundreds of an inch of rain landed on the farm.

Enough rain to keep your vegetables alive for another week.

Enough rain to let us take a break from the constant irrigating for at least a few days.

Which meant that the weather had lost a touch of its crisis aspect and would have sort of compromised a newsletter built around the ‘weather crisis’.

Oh well!

The truth is, though, healthy vegetables enjoy an inch of rain each and every week during the growing season.

Believe it or not, that’s what this area used to get most summers. This summer, though, we haven’t even rated one inch in the last month.

In the past 8 months we have had below average rainfall each month. In four of those months we have had the lowest rainfall for that month in the past decade (that’s as long as I’ve been keeping records).

I’m amazed that with this lack of rainfall. our vegetables are doing so well. It must be due to constant irrigating we’ve been doing.

15,000 gallons of water each day. Over a 100,000 gallons of spring water a week.

We’ve put over a 1,000,000 gallons of water, spring water, on our fields since the season began.

A lot of water.

However, nothing does a plant as much good as a nice gentle rain. And as the drought has worn on I’ve fallen farther behind. Meaning, its taken me longer to get around to watering the same field again than the plants would like.

But the truth is, we need rainfall. Regular rainfall.

Which makes me think of my favorite holiday.

A day where, if it were a perfect (or even halfway perfect) world, we’d close down the country.

Schools, offices, factories, fast food restaurants, airports.

Close them down for at least a day, maybe an entire week.

But, before I go into that let’s do the farm news.

Important day coming up.

Our annual come out to the farm, meet the other shareholders, see your farm and vegetables pot luck is coming up soon.

A hike up the top of the mountain to appreciate the view. One of the best scenic views within 50 miles of dc, if not further.

Then tours of the farm. Talking about the plants and fields, what we’re planning and what we’ve done. Answering questions and maybe giving a little history of this sort of farming.

Finally, the meal. A pot luck.

We will provide lemonade, sangria, spring water.

You bring either a main dish or a dessert.

No need to RSVP or to check in with what sort of dish to bring. it usually works itself out nicely.

Every year this is a pretty pleasant event. A time to see your vegetables in action and to meet the other shareholders.

You can bring a friend, or two, or three. And we should have a good time.

You will have as much fun as if my proposed holiday becomes a reality.

I’m talking about, of course, National Berry Day! (or week, or month).

Long time shareholders know about this holiday (or is that a proposed holiday?)

A day where everyone takes off work! (not charged against sick days, or vacation days) A free day off.

A day to head out to the woods and your favorite berry patch.

(what, you don’t have a favorite berry patch? Don’t you think your life is a little bit lacking? This is actually something our government could be doing for us, instead of paving over more and more land it could be creating wild berry habitat.

Places for the nation to spend pleasant summer afternoons on the edge of the woods, eating berries, napping, having picnics and just sort of lazily enjoying the world).

Right now is the time for National Berry Day. At least around here. The wine berries and black berries are ripe and ready to eat.

I’ve been walking up and down our drive, stopping every dozen or so steps to reach out to pick (and eat) a handful of sweet berries.

Sunday night’s rain did a great job of plumping them up, and while they had been somewhat tart because of the drought, the berries are now sweet and plentiful.

We need a people power movement. We need to demand a day off from work (and if not a week or month), just to enjoy the world outside of asphalt and concrete.

And if we can’t get an official holiday for berry picking we can at least do what rural people have been doing for decades all over the country.

Take an unofficial holiday.

You know about that holiday don’t you? The one that happens in the fall.

In the rural parts of the United States?

Where one day, all of a sudden, everything closes down.

The schools. The banks. Stores. Factories.

It’s a day where men and boys, and more recently, woman and girls get up at the crack of dawn and instead of getting dressed for work, put on their boots, get in their trucks and head out to the local national forest (or, if they’re lucky, a friend’s farm and woodlot.

I didn’t know anything about this holiday until I got a job teaching high school down in the Shenandoah Valley.

It was October of my first year and I was making up my lesson plans for the next week when the teacher from the next classroom came over and asked what I was doing.

I told her. “Planning for next week.”

She looked at me kind of strange.

“You’re not serious are you?” she asked.

“Why?” I answered. “Is something going on?”

“Well, next week’s hunting season.” she said as if that answered my question.

“And?” I asked.

“Oh nothing.” she said. “It’s just that no one will be here. None of the kids will be class. In fact, I don’t think many of the teachers will come to school either.”

When she said that I thought she was kidding me. Playing a joke. Talking down to me because I was the naive new teacher from the city.

But she was right.

The first day of hunting season came the school was mostly empty.

And so was the town.

In fact for most of the first week of hunting season very few people, students or teachers, bothered to come to school.

And when they came back they talked about going out to the woods. Going camping and sort of incidentally, going hunting for bambi. (though, later, after teaching in the same community for four years, I wasn’t so sure that the point of the unofficial holiday was to actually shoot bambi.

Instead, I think if you were to play anthropologist and deconstruct the holiday you would find that it was a celebration of one’s connection with the rural, wilderness aspect of our country.

But that’s no doubt more intellectual than anyone got while they were sitting up in their tree stand absolutely quite soaking up the natural world all around you.

And that’s what I think we should do with National berry day. It won’t be a day where people worry about how many quarts of berries they picked and toted on back home.

Instead it will be a day of just meandering through the woods, picking handfuls of berries and stuffing them in your mouth.

It will be a time of eating berries right off the vine and, if you’re lucky enough to be out their in the berry patch with someone else, sharing the best berries with your partner.

And that’s enough of that. I think there is just enough time to finish this newsletter, e-mail it out and run out and pick several handfuls of wine berries (my favorites) before I have to load the vegetables in the van and drive into the city for today’s delivery.

Before I go, though, let me give you the update on the bear.

Yesterday morning my neighbor, the last one down the valley before several miles of forest, saw a pair of bears in his front yard eating the grapes off of his arbor.

He says it was a mother and her son. The son, he said was almost twice the size of the mother, but you could tell, he said, the smaller bear was older and wiser by the way she acted and showed the other one how to pick the grapes.

My neighbor said he went out into his front yard to scare them away. “The larger one did run a few dozen yards but he stopped when the mother stayed put and continued picking grapes and cramming them into her mouth.

The neighbor said the picture of the bear I caught on my wildlife camera (if you want me to e-mail it to you, just ask) was the mother. “The son is a lot bigger.”

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