Sunday, April 8, 2012

Foraging 34: What Was and What Can Be

Can words describe the fragrance of the very breath of spring? – Neltje Blanchan

What appears dead is actually ready to burst with life.
An apt metaphor for this Easter Sunday.
There may not seem to be very much interesting about the photos in today’s post. That’s because most of us look but do not “see.” If you look with your mind and heart instead of just with your eyes, you’ll see the past, present and (I believe) the future in these photos.

April in Nova Scotia is an amazing time. The “bones” of the land are laid out for all to view. Often when nature is in full flush we miss what is right in front of us. When the world is stripped bare is when we can truly see.

As I write this, today (Saturday) is a glorious day. You can smell and almost taste Spring. It’s a perfect day to walk with your dog (or another that you love) and reflect.

Henry—our Bouvier—and I often take a route through a field and gravel pit to go to the beach in the village where I grew up. Today we couldn’t cross the brook leading into the pit and it looked far too boggy in there for any kind of “pleasant” walk anyway.

So we took the other available route along the edge of a connecting old field. Now I had been in this field hundreds (if not thousands) of times before but for some reason today I actually stopped and thought. It was that kind of morning.

The field is part of an old homestead. Lining both sides of the field, spaced about 30 feet apart, are apple trees – old, gnarled and bent with age. Stripped bare of fruit and leaves they stand out starkly against the skyline and green firs and pines behind. It really made me think.

A very old apple tree, bent and twisted, and still bears fruit.
Farming as life, not a "way of life"
I’m not all that old, but I remember when I was young there were still several families that didn’t hold 9-to-5 jobs but lived off their land. Farming wasn’t always “big business.” Not too long ago in Nova Scotia many, many people looked after themselves via subsistence farming.

That is what this field is – a remnant of a subsistence farm. The owners are descendants of one of the two founding families of the village. In fact, the first marriage was between an ancestor of theirs and one of mine. My family was the second family to settle in the village.

As you can imagine, at the founding of the village there was lots of land to be had. Back then a family farm needed enough land to grow vegetables, raise chickens and some other livestock (cows, pigs, & steers to help work the land), a hay field for hay to over-winter your livestock, some timbered land for harvesting (both for fuel and to sell), and an orchard.

The apple trees are spaced about every 30 feet.
You can see remnants of these farms all across North America if you know what you’re looking at. In the case of this field – which was used to produce hay – they had lined it with apple trees. The apples need sunlight to grow so planting at the field margin was the most sensical thing to do. Waste no land and double the use.

Many varieties of apples were planted in these family orchards. Some early apples, some mid-season and some that stored for long periods of time. The same was true of vegetables they planted. They had to do this to survive. The grocery store was not just around the corner.

Why I titled this “foraging” is because in the Autumn I have availed myself of these apples that the trees still produce. No one minds. They’re not harvested anymore, nor have they been for several decades.

Either crisp right off the tree or carried home and put in a pie, I have found Macintosh, Russets, Spy and other old apple varieties around the abandoned trees in the village. It’s sort of sad to gaze on the relics of those times. The old barn still stands down by the road. But the stalls and coop are empty and the land is no longer worked. I wonder if it misses the loving touch of the farmer’s hand?

The old barn still stands, but is empty of animals
but still maintained, if abandoned in use.
Our future is in our past
We should take cues from these silent witnesses to “what was” because I truly believe it is the way to “what can be.” We are far too disconnected from what we consume, and our "just-in-time” food distribution system balances on the tip of a pin. It’s a system ripe with potential catastrophe.

Now I’m not saying that we all need to abandon our jobs and live off the land. It is definitely toil and for those hardy souls who do it now it must be a labour of love. But have you thought about planting a small vegetable patch this Spring? It would definitely aid your bottom line financially. Gasoline is currently $1.46/L in Nova Scotia. The impact that will have on food can’t be too far behind.

Or if you don’t feel like planting vegetables, how about apples, pears, plums or peaches? All grow in Nova Scotia’s climate. Don’t plant that Japanese maple in your front yard. Stick in a cherry tree instead.

So many of us live from paycheque to paycheque it is imperative that we take back some control over how we distribute our money. How to do that is in assuming some of the responsibility for our own food. 

My father had a vegetable garden nearly  the whole time he and my mother were married except for the last decade when his health was in decline. And my parent’s home doesn’t sit on a huge tract of land. It’s about 1/2 acre.

If you can’t grow some of your own food, support those locally who do. Buy from a local farmer’s market or any place – roadside or small store – that supports local farmers. Plan your meals by the season. Not only does it make gastronomic sense but you also usually save money buying vegetables and fruits that are in season at any particular time of year.

It’s on all of us to look after our families (and friends if we can). One way to do that is to look back to the past for the way to a brighter future.

And all of this came flooding into my mind by simply staring at an old apple tree at the edge of an old field, on a sunny April morning. By the way, Happy Easter to you all.


If you like this post retweet it using the link at top right, or share it using any of the links below.
Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks?

No comments:

Post a Comment