Sunday, August 1, 2010

Blueberry picking

Yesterday we took a drive to the closest organic blueberry farm to our house. It was a small operation, that grows only blueberries and blackberries and is run by an elderly couple.

Our first blueberry picking experience was at a farm that is close to home, but that clearly uses chemicals. While on the hay ride, we passed sheds labeled with danger signs and the fruit bore a white residue that made me nervous when River was picking it off the bushes and popping it into his mouth.

Since the organic farm is further away, I wanted to pick as large of a supply as possible. Mark came along this time, which nearly doubled the load. In an hour we managed about 6 pounds, plus a small container of blackberries, for a total of $23.

River, as before, mainly occupied himself by stuffing his face with blueberries. Whereas last time he didn’t contribute a single blueberry to the bucket, this time he contributed a good 5-10. As I started to understand how time consuming the process is, I understood the settler’s need for children as laborers. A bunch of kids would certainly yield a larger supply of blueberries. But if you have that many more mouths to feed, does the cost cancel out the benefit?

I recently saw a program on one of the major news shows, where they were profiling migrant families who use children under 12 as laborers. I think they were trying to make people shocked at the practice, but they failed to look at the options. If the whole family is out picking blueberries and the 10-year-old can’t come along, what is that 10-year-old or 8-year-old or 6-year-old going to do? Sit home alone? Watch TV? Be in danger of getting in trouble? Migrant families are unlikely to be able to afford a sitter. Why not be outside with the family and make a contribution, however small, to the yield, so that the family has resources it needs to feed, clothe, shelter and educate that child? If society cares enough about preventing the practice to offer childcare, or to offer material support such that the whole family doesn’t need to go out picking, that’s fine. But you can’t just prohibit something without considering that the other choices available to the family may well be worse for the child’s welfare.

I’m grateful that River doesn’t feel the stress of knowing the quantity he picks might determine how much the family gets to eat. That is a great burden for any child. But I get great pleasure out of seeing him occupied in this way. I think he knows more at the age of two about where his food comes from than I knew at the age of 20.

“No green ones,” he said, immediately upon arriving at the bushes. “Only blue.” He then proceeded to search them out with gusto and pop them into his mouth.

I don’t think there are many experiences more beautiful that one can offer a child than the chance to pick berries. The excitement of the hunt, the understanding of where food comes from, the sweetness of the reward crushed against the tongue, the time outdoors and the sense of accomplishment at having sought out the treasure make for a wonderful experience.

As a child, we had a cabin where wild red and black raspberries grew alongside the road. I vividly recall carrying a bowl and searching them out. I remember the mosquitoes and flies that bothered us, the red stain on my fingertips, the temptation to pick those that weren’t yet fully ripe, and the reward of a lush, juicy, fully-formed red or black berry. We got poison ivy several times by crawling back into the bushes, but that didn’t stop us.

I’m in the process of researching the farms and resources in our area, trying to figure out which offer the best quality at the best price within a reasonable distance. I hope that memories of picking fruit, flowers, vegetables and visiting farms for milk, butter, cheese and meat will help my children (yes, I’m starting to think in plural) make choices that are sustainable and healthy. I hope they will have an appreciation of where things come from. And I hope we’ll form memories of good times spent together in nature.

Have you taken your child/ren to a farm for their food? Do you do so regularly, or on occasion? Do they continue to enjoy it as they grow older?

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