by Ruth, a.k.a. Momma Frizzle
Harvest comes early to my home state of Florida. Around here, we enjoy two growing seasons each year – early spring and fall. So, right now, our garden is bursting with produce. Down the road, my friends Kristen and Scott West opened their U-pick blueberry patch on Saturday.
Named after Scott’s grandfather, who first owned the land, Tom West Blueberries represents the third generation’s re-purposing of the family farm. Neat rows of ripe blueberries line hills that used to brim with citrus trees. Actually, our home on the shores of Lake Apopka also sits on land that used to belong to the West family. Our backyard garden flourishes where West citrus groves once did.
The new blueberry farm spreads over 10 acres on the old West family homestead. Gone are the “No Trespassing” signs. Now the whole community is welcomed to pick and enjoy the fruit of their land. From the happy hum that rises from the fields, we are all glad to be here on the first Saturday of U-pick. Children call to friends. Adults chat between rows of ripe blueberries. Laughter rises. Women hum as they pick. Strangers seem familiar.
Such a companionable spirit lends itself to sharing on a deeper level, as I soon discover when my children start discussing what’s really on their hearts. Contemplative Twin shares her discouragement at being treated “like a baby,” even at the ripe, old age of nine. She chafes at her older sisters’ comments and misunderstandings. She picks berries absentmindedly as she shares her frustration. Then, suddenly purged, she runs off to play with her little brother and his friends, who are racing between blueberry rows, which leaves the Youngest Twin and me.
Our white pails are more than half full when we move to rows covered by mesh netting to keep out thieving birds. Adults must stoop to enter these green tunnels. The image of bent over pickers, even in these happy fields, pricks my youngest child.
“Mommy,” she says in a whisper. “What about the slaves?”
We spent most of February reading books about that reality in America. I crafted learning experiences for my children to grasp a small taste of the horrors felt by millions in our country. Now, my child is trying to reconcile the happy harvesting she sees with the harsh slave labor she’s learned about.
I say, “Imagine you had to pick blueberries not for a couple hours for fun, but all day for someone else and you’d get in big trouble if you didn’t pick the amount you were supposed to. Would you like picking blueberries then?”
“But throughout history, harvest has also been a happy time. Why do you think that is?” I asked. My youngest child and I pluck purple orbs that grow magically up from the ground and talk about the joy of growing things and of the good food we’ll make from such plenty.
As if to flesh out my daughter’s query and illustrate my answer, we pick up behind a beautiful brown-skinned woman, who smiles a greeting before sighing and saying, “Isn’t this wonderful? I’m here because it’s good for my soul. My husband has the kids at their games, but I said ‘I’m going to pick blueberries’ because I needed to do something for myself. I don’t want to leave. See these little miracles God has made?”
Her pail is full to the brim with the largest berries I’ve seen that morning. “That’s exactly what my daughter and I were just talking about,” I reply, before asking what she plans to make with the berries.
Nearly all our jams are made from the fruit we’ve picked and my neighbor Vanessa has canned. So, I share Vanessa’s trick of halving, even quartering, the sugar called for in the recipe so you can taste the fruit better. My new friend is happy for the tip. Her attempts at peach preserves last fall had been too sugary, she says.
We chat and pick companionably. My youngest daughter seeing in real life the answers to her questions lived out. Past is not future, necessarily. Harvest is hope, undoubtedly. These aren’t all the conversations or lessons from our morning in the blueberry fields, but they are a taste of why picking produce is so satisfying to the body and soul.
If you live in the Orlando area, meet us in the fields at Tom West Blueberries, Saturdays and Sundays from now through May, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.