Joy in Picking

Dec. 10, 2010

An organic gardener finds redemption, joy in the season

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

As I write this, the numbness of my hands has barely subsided from picking greens in the garden.

This time of year, as life outside our windows seems to be slowing down, and the “festive season” careens toward fever pitch, it seems that people are going against the grain of nature.

I thought of this as I picked in the garden. Normally, on “picking days,” when Annette and I pick, wash and pack produce for shipment, we’re up before sunup.

The sun will be rising with the temperature already starting to soar in what is considered the “normal” growing season.

Those hot, sweaty days filled my thoughts midday today as I blew on my hands and kept sticking them under my jacket to thaw, awaiting warmth in vain.

(Gloves are of no use; you must feel the stalk to pinch off the leaves. Gardening is tactile, and we share this precious life-and-death moment with the plant – the plant giving a part of itself, and sometimes its all, so that we may live. Surely, we should honor its sacrifice and feel the life, and the decision, in our hands.)

The summer’s drought had showed the resilience of the plants. I remember standing in this same patch, but with beads of dew heavy on the leaves, little pearls adorning a greenscape, and trying to pick around the wasps and honeybees.

I laugh at the thought of it, this morning, as my breath rises like thin, foggy prayers in the dry, wintry air. I hear something and look up. Wheeling high above in the crisp, blue sky are Vs of snow geese, calling, buffeted by unseen winds. I laugh again: “Lord, this is good.”

Around me, I marvel again at the resilience of the plants. Where the field is in shade, the mustard greens are slumped over as if in death, their epitaph scattered diamonds of frost.

But where shining, the plants are reviving, as if reborn, reaching for the pale warmth of the winter’s sun.

Those were the ones I picked; their leaves warming in my hands, as the frigid juices in their stems numbed my fingers, their life cold as the hardened soil. But how tenacious they cling to it!

Oh, but the mustards were hot compared to icy chunks of turnips in the ground! Those did me in. My hands and back said: Enough!

So, maybe we pick a little less this morning. Time for the garden and the gardener to slow down. And give thanks.

Stumped on a Christmas present? Give the gift of healthy food with a sustainable food plot. The “Jim’s Plot” 4X8 garden like we’ve discussed in this column is a great gift to give someone, especially an elderly person who may not get out much. For now, just write up a card saying: “Garden of Love.” And when it’s time to plant in the spring, till up the plot, and plant easy-to-care-for items such as herbs and greens. Mulch it real good so weeding isn’t a problem (or throw in “weeding” in your gift, too!).

My grandmother, like most some 50 years ago, had a “kitchen garden” just outside the back door of her house with leeks, onions, herbs, etc., in it.

It wouldn’t cost but a few dollars in seeds and maybe one hour or so a month to weed or dig.

But if it’s your mom, grandmom or elderly neighbor, it can make the biggest difference in the world: The gift of health. Not to mention, showing someone who may really need it that you care! Give ’em a “Jim’s Plot.” Only, of course, put your name on it.

The Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference and Tradeshow will be held Jan. 13-14 at the Natchez Convention Center in Natchez.

Participants registering by Wednesday will receive a discounted registration fee of $75 for two-day attendance. It’s $50 to attend only one day. Special hotel rates are available at the Natchez Grand Hotel and the Natchez Eola Hotel until Sunday.

For more information, see http://www.msfruitandveg.com, or contact Paige Manning at (601) 359-1163 or paige@mdac.state.ms.us

Contact Jim Ewing on Twitter @OrganicWriter or EdiblePrayers, or Facebook: http://bit.ly/ cuxUdc.

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