Heritage Foods: The Importance of Biodiversity
(Page 5 of 9)
Out by the service entrance near the trash bins sits my station wagon, filled with a grower’s paraphernalia, the clutter of a market gardener: buckets overflowing with bits of string, torn gloves, salvaged vinyl siding for tree labels, coolers, hand tools, and lists of recently planted row crops. Wads of cash from the farmers’ market lie hidden under a towel and in the glove compartment—not a good idea in our neighborhood, where once I found someone rummaging through my car at 5:30 am and chased him across the schoolyard next door, wondering what to do if I caught him. From April to November canvas tarps cover the pale beige seats of my Subaru Outback, a car purchased without farming in mind.
In practice my new enterprise is more like a collaborative community project than a working “farm,” because it’s pieced together out of a broad patchwork of shared land use and reciprocal arrangements. When I need a clean, licensed space to set up a cider press, I wrangle a deal with a friend who’s renting a commercial kitchen. If picking a few dozen bushels of apples justifies owning such a nice little press, I team up with one of Karla’s friends, the owner of a recently abandoned orchard a few towns away. All of these arrangements are informal, based on goodwill and handshakes, even for borrowed fields planted with dozens of rare fruit trees, so they depend on hedged bets and diversification. Such casual partnerships can feel tenuous and difficult, but in the end there’s a kind of beauty in the way they weave food production into the community.
There are advantages and disadvantages to borrowing land and equipment like this. On the positive side, while building connections and creating partnerships (and letting me live in the city), it keeps costs very low. There’s no need to rent a commercial kitchen, own a van to transport food and nursery plants to the market, or buy a tractor, rototiller, and mower. I make use of these things by tapping into the right networks and looking for win–win situations. If this sometimes feels precarious, cobbled awkwardly together rather than organized around a clear plan, it has the benefit of keeping me focused on what matters most while the business grows. For the time being, borrowing equipment and land helps me avoid unnecessary expenses, and saves time that can be put to better use.
It was never my goal to become a farmer, and that’s not exactly what I’m up to here. This project is more like an attempt to come to grips with an old obsession, to find a way to connect biodiversity to something larger than my own gardens. It’s as much about collecting rare varieties of fruit trees, berries, and vegetables as it is a working farm. Call it an effort to bring regionality, cultural difference, and flavor back to the plate, and discover what place these foods deserve in the modern world. I’m trying to make good on plans embarked upon long ago in Washington State and nearly forgotten, to discover meaning in unusual and forgotten foods by building something of value around them.
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