Saturday, September 19, 2009

An Unexpected Community Event

Chris’s enthusiasm for the garden never entirely recovered from the tomato blight. The long row of carrots and the sweet potato patch were, I think, looking like more work to him than fun. It didn’t help that the last batch of carrots was a bit bland, and the individual carrots were small and a pain to clean.

But we have made a habit of inviting the neighborhood kids over to help themselves to raspberries. They know that we are eager to show off whatever is growing. (Here, try a green bean! Take a squash home with you! Do you know what ground cherry looks like?) A taste-tour of our garden has become a regular destination for some of them. Chris and I have shown them what a turnip looks like when yanked from the ground, what asparagus looks like when it grows up, and what watermelon looks like when it is only the size of a golf ball.

Today, we invited them over to help dig our root crops.

I volunteered once at the Food Project during the sweet potato harvest, and plucking the giant tubers from the ground was so much more fun than I had expected it would be. I thought the neighborhood kids would at the very least find such an experience to be novel and educational. After all, just a week previously, when I had pointed out the leafy sweet potato patch, one of the pre-teen girls had asked where the sweet potatoes were. I had to suppress a grin when I said “under the ground”. She smacked her head in a silly-me-I-knew-that gesture, but the fact remains that she, like myself and so many others in this culture, had never seen a sweet potato – or a beet or a squash or a green bean - as a whole plant.

One of the funnier people-disconnected-with-crops moments I had was a few years back, when the topic of pineapples came up when talking to a friend who, like me, had spent part of her youth in Hawaii. She had a memory of pulling a pineapple out of the ground, and so assumed that they were root vegetables. I think what she pulled from the ground was a pineapple top that someone was attempting to root.

I find it quirky that although canned, and even whole pineapple are readily available across the continental US, that even in Hawaii it isn’t common knowledge how a pineapple grows.

The kids today were so curious about our root vegetables that they arrived at a run, and I can’t adequately convey the enthusiasm they generated as they dragged their fingers through the soil for those sweet potatoes. Every pitiful, under-developed root was like a buried treasure. Clumps of carrots pulled up by the handful made them giddy. The sheer weight of the carrot-filled basket had them in awe.

Chris later pointed out that he would have been disappointed in the underwhelming sweet potato harvest had the kids not made the event such a delight. It would have taken him five times as long, and he would have come in the house afterward dusty and weary. Instead, when he waved goodbye to the gang, he was giddy. We sent our helpers home with sweet potatoes that don’t compare to the scale of the ones in stores, and carrots that we suspect may be (like the previous harvest) a little lacking in taste. But, I suspect, the kids will be far more excited to eat these vegetables than the perfect ones that arrive miraculous and dirt-free from the store. Perhaps we have inspired one or two of them to cook. Or maybe, we hope, some day one or more of them will start their own garden.

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