Strawberry Fields Forever

I found myself once more, alone in a strawberry field, picking strawberries. It’s my instinct to try and come up with a clever, witty pun like… ‘And there I was out standing in my field, my strawberry field… forever….’ but you’d have to be a Beatles fan to get that, so I won’t even attempt it.

June 24th was the first day of our CSA, and I was quite excited about getting things started, but it turned into a bit of a SNAFU. We always remind our members that for the first few weeks the boxes will be light, but I still want them to look as good as possible. To that end we start up the CSA season when our friend John Wise’s organic strawberries are ready. Beautiful brilliant red, organic strawberries with an amazing aroma definitely make a box of fresh organic produce pretty spectacular.

On the Sunday and Monday of that week all the forecasts called for rain overnight on Monday and then sunny skies on Tuesday morning, with the chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. So the game plan for Tuesday morning (CSA morning) was for Chelsea, our intern for the summer, and me to head to John’s first thing and pick strawberries while Michelle worked in the garden and got the lettuce and spinach and radishes ready to go. We had packed the garlic scapes the afternoon before because they last forever.

John doesn’t like us picking when it’s raining because it can spread disease in his strawberry patch.

So at 6:30 am on CSA morning, as I did my stretching exercises in preparation for my busy day, I listened to a steady, relentless, pouring rain, that had the sound of an “all day” rain. I had really hoped to provide our Napanee members with strawberries the first week. If I’d known that it was going to rain on Tuesday morning, I would have picked on Monday afternoon. They wouldn’t have been as fresh, but at least they’d be in the box. I regretted not having anticipated this possible scenario. If I couldn’t pick because of the rain, the first week boxes would be less than awesome. And so I had regrets.

Regrets are a funny thing. I used all the information I had at the time, and thought that based on what I knew I was making the best choice, but I was wrong. Nature/fate/a wild card had intervened and thrown a glitch into the matrix.

So how does one get over this whole ‘regret’ thing? In the big picture, this was a really a small thing. At the end of the season will any CSA member remember they didn’t get strawberries that first week? Probably not. In the big picture is this how I should be investing my limited emotional energy, freaking about not picking strawberries …  yesterday? Nope, not a good use of my time on the planet. I want to do really well with the CSA this year, like most things I do, but I cannot control the rain and I have to accept this.

I think I need to learn to meditate better. Those Buddhist monks probably don’t regret the whole strawberry thing… or giving up a traditional life for one in a monastery… do they? Or maybe I need to learn to take deep breaths and just assume things will work out.

An hour later I spoke to John and he said he had a section of the field that he would be plowing under this year so he wasn’t concerned about diseases being spread. So we hustled and got all the vegetables ready to go by 10:30 am. I was in the berry patch by 11 a.m. and by 1:15 pm I had picked 40 quarts of strawberries. It was a new world picking record. By 1:30 pm I was settled up with John and by 2:30 I was in Napanee in my allotted pickup place with a truck full of strawberries that smelled heavenly.  Things did work out. Michelle says they usually do and I need to start thinking this way.

As I pick berries my mind never shuts up. Is everyone’s brain like this and never shuts off? As is often the case my mind keeps asking me if this is the best use of my time and skills? I can write and publish books, I learned Final Cut Pro and can edit movies, I can use computers for electronic publishing and web design, heck I could probably get a job somewhere selling stuff. I’m good at that.

But then I ask myself; does the world need anymore people selling ‘stuff’? What the world does need is more people growing food at a smaller, sustainable, organic level. And that’s what I do. And I don’t have to commute to a city. I get to sit surrounded by green. And on the days that I pick berries I am surround by red. Brilliant, fragrant, strawberry red. I feel infinitely blessed to have 45 families that chose to be members of our CSA. I feel blessed to live in a place where I can work in a field and not worry about stepping on an abandoned land mine.  I feel blessed to have the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair and no other human being in sight I try to imagine another place, any where in the world that I’d rather be, or another activity that I would rather be doing and that noisy, chatty, non-stop brain of mine simply can’t come up with anything.


Chelsea and lots and lots of strawberries!

9 Responses to “Strawberry Fields Forever”

  • Hi Lorna. I think we measured all of our various garden plots that are scattered here and there and it was less than 2 acres in total. It’s amazing how much food you can grow in that much space! ~Michelle~

  • Hi Jim! We’ve tried growing strawberries on a number of occasions. We can’t keep up with the weeds and then inevitably the raccoons eat our crop! We’d prefer to let John grow strawberries on a much larger scale and support his organic farm! ~Michelle~

  • Jim:

    Have you looked for a moral to this story Cam?
    Maybe you need to grow your own “backyard patch”.
    My season being upside down to yours means I usually start picking at the end of winter in August. I have a bed of just 80 plants and I get the odd one several days a week for most of the year. Then by the first of September I usually start harvesting a punnet every day with a peak in mid October to end of December of 2 and sometimes 3 punnets a day. The summer heat usually reduces production back to less than a punnet during January and February. That is a lot of fruit! We freeze a lot but eat a punnet a day with home made ice cream between two.
    I plant runners in mid autumn soon after the equinox, keep the runners from forming more runners during their life (but if they do get away then do major prune at the start of the next winter) and the plants will last for 3 if not four years. I have at times had plants last 6 years before I have to replant.
    From those figures you might be able to work numbers up so you can have some for the bulk of your CSA season.
    I like perennial plants which produce for years with just a bit of maintenance in the meantime.

  • Lorna:

    Job well done! Since moving back home a few years ago, I have been considering the possibility of running a CSA someday. I currently ‘farm’ 2500sqft (sorry, American!) and sell extra produce at my hometown farmer’s market. It’s difficult for me to imagine producing enough to provide for 10 CSA shares at this point, let alone 45! Do you mind my asking how much space you farm? I’m ‘gathering intel’ to plot and plan for my future New England CSA 🙂
    Good luck with the rest of the season-we’ve been having quite a bit of rain here lately, but the mounded beds are handling the excess water well.

  • Terri Alice:

    We belong to a CSA and in addition are fortunate to have a wonderful Laotian family farming not to far from us. They farm 5 acres and while not certified organic, they are. Their strawberries are wonderful and they always are giving us big boxes of extras, a little overripe but perfect for jam. Strawberry fields forever indeed.

  • tiffany:

    Amen, Amen. You are an outstanding man in your field (or John’s for that matter). bless you for the work you do. I know from growing a big garden myself that it is not easy. The food you grow nourishes the next generation.

  • Tricia:

    Cool hair Chelsea! Picking strawberries is terrible grueling labor, in my opinion. Can’t believe you got all that done…super Cam:} Of course you forget about it a little when you’re eating fresh smoothies in January.

  • Gerrit:

    Nice recovery!

  • Wow, you are fast! My daughter, husband and I picked 24 quarts on Friday morning in about the same period of time. We had to keep stopping and taking a breath, lol. I tried several different positions–a little stool, a knee pad, scrunching along on the straw, and bending over. In the end, scrunching along on four paws was the easiest (especially after I left my stool with the water bottle and knee pad behind). Hopefully I’ll remember that next year–but I’m reasonably certain I told myself that last year…

    I am really impressed with your integrity. To do a CSA when so many more interesting things are possible is truly impressive. But in the end, it’s living off the land that counts–’cause that’s what we’re going to have to do in the not-too-distant-future. Might as well learn how to do it well now! You motivate me!

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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