I have had an amazing summer, most of it enjoying the bounty of the Peace Country. I have been to Elmworth eating raw vegetables around the fire. To Berwyn picking sour cherries. I traveled both ways on the Goodwin Road, one direction to harvest vegetables and in the other direction in search of wild blueberries. And right in my backyard I have harvested enough fruit and vegetables to fill a freezer. My basement cold room is full of pickles, salsas, jam and fruit juice all made from local produce. My pantry and my spirit are filled to overflowing. I am ready for fall.
While I am not necessarily out to achieve perfection, Masanobu Fukuoka speaks to me because of what I learn/remember when I’m in the forest, garden and kitchen foraging and preparing food. They are simple lessons but somehow between fall and spring, if I’m not careful, I can begin to forget them.
1. The first lesson comes from the raspberries. Each year, with very little encouragement other than some basic pruning of old stocks, they vigorously share their gifts with me. I call this lesson unconditional love. I have done nothing to “deserve” the raspberries, they simply do what they do and yet I get the privilege of picking them and sharing them with my family. I am reminded that students are like the raspberries, full of amazing gifts to share.
2 and 3. The second and third lesson come from my favorite crop, the tomatoes. I start the seeds early in March and by May I have a decent sized plant to put in my greenhouse. I am careful about watering and “feeding” these plants as well as keeping them safe from a late frost. But all of my efforts with the tomatoes are lost if I forget to open the windows of the greenhouse and make sure the bees make their way in to pollinate. And once they start growing, there is very little I can do to make the tomatoes ripen, each variety seems to take it’s own time and the weather can speed things up or slow things down. I call lesson two and three community and diversity: there is a universe that works together to make things grow and each plant will produce at different times and in different ways, not unlike my students.
4. Lesson four comes from the peas. If you leave them on the vine too long they will over-ripen and taste bitter. If you pick them too soon they don’t have substance. You need to pay careful attention to each pea when harvesting to know if it is ready as well as taking care not to rip the vine from its attachment to the fence. It is much easier to harvest in subsequent days if you are careful as you go. I call this lesson differentiation: the peas tell us that they must be harvested in stages, each pod when it is ready even if they were all planted at the same time. Age should not define our students.
5. Lesson five comes from the wild blueberries. They have so much more flavor than the ones you buy in the supermarket and trying to find them is like searching for treasure. When you come across a great patch you feel like you’ve hit the jackpot. You have to keep your wits about you as there may be bears lurking and its easy to wander some distance into the woods. But if you pay attention, you’ll learn to look for a certain kind of “forest” and foliage and before long you’ll find them. Unexpected, yet totally worth the effort…I call this lesson engagement: adventure is an important element in learning.
6. Lesson six comes from the kitchen. I have spent hours this summer canning, juicing and freezing food. If I calculated the hours and paid myself a wage (not to mention a travel allowance) it would be a very expensive enterprise, collecting all this bounty. Yet when I look in my freezer and cold room I feel so good about the food I’ve collected because I know where it came from and I know the unconditional love that went into growing and preparing it. I call this lesson gratitude. I appreciate this food because it has called my attention to the conditions that need to occur for things to grow. It was grown in my community by my friends on the land with the help of a variety of contributing creatures and weather phenomenon. Without food and land to grow it I would not survive. Without students I could not teach. I am grateful for each one that I have the privilege of working with.