I live in an apartment house that’s shaped like a “U” around a central courtyard that we all share. Some of us have flowers. Hibiscus, jasmine, roses, coleus, elephant ears, petunias, spider plants, geraniums, aloe vera, and tall red canna lilies. But this year some of us have taken on growing a little food.
Among with the tomatoes and squash and peppers and beans one of my neighbors has plunked one little strawberry plant in a large pot filled up mostly with marigolds. Everyday I’ve been watching the tiny white star-shaped flowers turn into little green nubbins and then blush red as they gradually ripen. Everyday I taste the sweet memory of strawberry as I watch them grow.
I think of the morning when I was a very young child visiting my aunt and uncle and I slipped out at dawn, alone, and feasted on my uncle’s strawberry patch, plucking every red one in sight! I think of the story of the zen monk about to either be eaten by a lion or fall off a cliff whose last act was to reach out and pick one sweet strawberry – and savor it!
I think of the strawberry pie I invented when I was the baker for a restaurant. Everybody loved it. I wouldn’t tell them the secret recipe. It was strawberries, cooked up with a pinch of cornstarch to make it hold together, poured in a baked pie shell and chilled, served with a dot of whipped cream. Nothing else. But they were really good strawberries. They wouldn’t have believed me.
This one little plant wakes up all my strawberry stories like nothing in a basket from the store can do. Then one day the two strawberries that I’ve been watching are gone. Were they sweet? Were they savored? How precious were those two berries?
We used to joke about our ten dollar tomatoes when I was growing food for my family. When you count the hours, the hard work, the garden tools, compost, mulch, seeds, water, prayer and deer fencing, it feels that way sometimes.
But there was much more to it than that. What I gained, besides the food, was exercise, wisdom, experience, pleasure, vitamin D and fresh air. I was also teaching my children (and their friends), sharing with my neighbors and inspiring anybody else who was thinking about trying it. I was improving the soil in that spot, too.
What I was not doing was putting more CO2 into the air because of trips to the store, gas for the trucks that brought it in, environmental degradation from commercial farming methods, and making more profits for big agribiz, wholesale food corporations and (gasp!) Monsanto.
So, I would say, in light of all that, that each homegrown strawberry is an engine of social change, a contribution to global healing and, of course, a celebration of the sweetness of life.
To plan for some sweetness in your life Seeds of Change is a good place to start. You can sign up for their newsletter, The Cutting Edge, and get a free catalog. Another good place to get (and give) the best seeds is the Seed Savers Exchange – a non-profit organization of gardeners dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds.
If you don’t find what you’re looking for there, you can go to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service and look under the Organic Seeds Suppliers Search, a very complete database of certified organic suppliers of seed. Good gardening – and seed saving – is a year round activity. Any time is a good time to start.