Sweet globes of fruit, in any of many forms they may take, are as necessary as drinking water on the hottest days of summer. We found ourselves coordinating mid-morning melon (eating) sessions as part of the bi-weekly harvest routine, or enjoying a late afternoon graze through green grape vines, standing in the sun pulling bites from bunches again and again. Summer saw everything alive, beckoning, bellowing, as branches in the orchard cracked and fell to the ground heavy with more ripe plums than my mind could have imagined. For nearly a month this summer the constant knock of small, dense wild plums fell onto the roof of my aluminum trailer, splatting and thumping me awake from well-earned rest. Now, deep into autumn, any sounds on the trailer’s roof are of eager wood rats attempting to get inside or heavy raindrops, constant and cold. I wonder, already, about where I’ll find myself the next time fruit matures. Without fully realizing it, I’m strategizing ways to dwell in a place where the orchard is a short walk from my doorstep, where the melon and tomato vines flourish and berry bushes resemble small wild fires at their peak.
But all of this excitement took a good amount of time and energy to cultivate. As we lovingly planted the melons in late spring, whether plant by plant from starts in the greenhouse or by laying seeds in shallow furrows in groups of three (plant security), I was beckoned into a world of sweet diversity, patiently awaiting the promise of fruit gifts. We planted 10 kinds of melon, waited patiently for 78-90 days to pass, and only then were invited to enjoy the fruits of our labor. The promises held true this year, even exceeded my expectations, of summer and juices, fragrance colored in clean greens, delicate pinks, fruity and bold reds, orange, yellow, like small statements from a flower’s nectar, so different from the next, beautiful, a celebration.
Transplanting, my nose was covered in dirt before too long: have you ever thought to smell the soil block, a tangle of roots in the farm-made potting soil mix, from a melon plant just before the moment of transplanting it? Impossible to replicate in any artificial manner, these fragrances were so completely unique to me. The subtle fragrance differences mirrored the equally subtly unique color spectrum that the mature fruits possess: from pinks to greens, pale orange and yellow hues, colors ranging from bright to sleepy, loud to delicate, playing along in the same raised garden bed.
This summer I was designated our melon harvester – not in charge of watermelons, which have a different list of ripe-factor criteria altogether – but the proud and delighted monitor of the Earlichamp, Earligold, Arava, Earlidew, Honey Orange, Krenshaw, Rockyford, Sharlyn, San Juan, Lilly, and Ambrosia honeydews, cantaloupes and musk-type melons. There were weeks, in late August, when I’d find myself in the patch for hours, making trips back and forth between the garden and processing area with wheelbarrows piled high with dirt-covered balls of every size and color. We streamlined the harvesting process a few times: Seth stood in the lane catching what I would toss his way, setting it in his wheelbarrow quickly and with precision before running that load to the processing area while I remained hunched, peering through vines for treasure. And while there were so many perfect melons there were many, too, that were slightly damaged from rot, hungry gophers or rodents, or some that simply grew less than perfectly, misshapen or small in a way that left us less than proud to send them to our CSA members. I would try my best to eat these rejects, delicious often despite their imperfections, cutting around large areas when necessary and taking more time to carve the fruit than to actually consume it. But the volume of culled melons adds quickly. They would sit in boxes perused after lunch, at first, then ignored for a good while until rot and fermentation processes, which care nothing about time or our thoughts, took hold with vigor despite best attempts to slow them. Finally, when the fruits were soggy, oozing, squishy, moldy, or a combination of these factors, one lucky person would get to toss the melons to the pigs.
Sometimes I’d approach this slowly, heaving one melon in to the pigs at a time, watching them fight for the biggest pieces, or any piece, for that matter. Other times I’d throw many rotting fruits over the fence all at once. They would go berserk with excitement, running from one fruit to the next thrilled by their newest discovery bite after bite.
We feed the pigs any and everything we don’t eat ourselves: the rotting melons, green tomatoes ruined by frost, eggplants and peppers so plentiful this year we couldn’t give them away or use them fast enough, leftovers pulled from the back of the fridge a few too many days after its first preparation, nearly all kitchen scraps with the exception of onion skins, leek tops, and other allium-related refuse, and parsnip greens (who knew?). It’s quite beautiful to feed two systems at once: the food we take great pains in cultivating and harvesting gains an extended life as it is passed on to the pigs and the pigs, after many months of time, assistance, and companionship, become, again, food for us. Eliminating inputs from sources off of the farm and making the best use of what we have here helps close a sensible, more sustainable, life-cycle circle, a core concept for biodynamic farms.
My interest in growing melons in the future, complimented by my new love for pigs (and pork, I have to admit), plus combined with a desire to start up and operate exciting, sustainable businesses, caused me to look back to experiences in Brazil I had a few summers ago. In every park, on many street corners in cities all over the huge country, and alongside highways, too, vendors sold coconuts. Not the shriveled brown variety with cream inside that we often see at grocery stores in the States, but young, green coconuts, served very cold, with a hole adeptly drilled through the top of the flesh and a drinking straw quickly tucked in to that hole. The drilling and serving of this popular fruit/drink are gracefully executed and I would recommend asking for a coco gelado just to see it performed. This is a vessel and a refreshing sports drink at the same time (coconut water contains lots of potassium, very little sugar and calories, and naturally occurring electrolytes). The empty coconut is, of course, compostable when facilities exist to collect and deal with them.
The whole experience generates nearly zero waste with the exception of the thin, plastic straw used to extract the water and the fuel in the truck used to bring the fruit from point A to B. So…If I grew melons, somewhere in the Hudson Valley, for example, and could transport them by sailboat down the Hudson River to a park in New York City or, better, set up shop at an even closer park in whatever town may be closest to my Pig and Melon Farm, then I could serve simple, beautiful melon slices, as they are: no plastic, no paper, no fancy value-added gelato deal, just a slice of melon in the middle of summer. I think it would be enough! The finished rinds would, of course, be collected, packed up on the boat and taken north to the pigs on the farm again. Seasonal, sustainable, wind powered sailing work sounds good to me.
As the farm crew and I here at Live Power Community Farm brace ourselves for the end of the season, busy with harvesting still while balancing clean-up projects and field prep, we’ve thrown ourselves into research to see what else is out there, possibly determining where we may end up next. I’ve been drawn to the many examples of cooperative fruit orchards growing in places all over the country: in Portland, Chicago, St. Louis, Missouri, Oakland, San Fran, and a service that will tell you where to find fruit wherever you are.
I am fascinated by these projects because, I wonder, if we all had access to fresh fruit while it’s in season, and preserved seasonal fruit to eat throughout the other seasons, if we’d find ourselves a bit happier, healthier, more content with the naturally occurring rushes of nectar and less likely to drink soda, bottled and shipped-from-everywhere -juices, and other sugary, artificially or overly sweetened foods that play on the same need that fruit fills. When communities live alongside or on the same land that they are empowered to steward then we are one step closer to meeting our collective food needs.