Life and Livelihood

I have been picking a lot of raspberries over the past month or so.  It is tedious, slow, hot, and thorny work.  It’s not my favorite garden chore, but not my least either.  I’m not quick about it.  I look under every leaf and branch, where they like to hide.  I wade into the hedge a bit to make sure I get them all.  Of course, I have to wear long pants, long sleeves, and gloves.  The majority of the berries go into our freezer and some to our restaurant for cocktails and desserts.  One particularly hot morning spent picking, I was pondering why I was there.  The obvious reason is the berries–fresh, chemical free, and nutrient dense. Raspberries such as these are worth a lot and having picked so many of them, I never begrudge local farmers the prices they charge.  It’s a bargain.  I could buy them locally.  Since I run a restaurant, I could also order them for a song through wholesalers.

I was trying to explain to one of my nephews this past week that picking them is not cost effective, but it is not about cost.  I don’t think I did a very good job, so I will attempt a clearer explanation here.  I can buy them much more cheaply, so why all the hard work?  We make our livelihood from running a restaurant.  My husband is the Chef and I am the farmer (and reluctant accountant).  We both wear many hats in our myriad roles of running the business, but my favorite “hat” is my gardening one.  I could have an employee out here picking berries, but I think that misses the point.  I want to be the link between food and customer.  If we looked at the restaurant as purely a business, hours spent per week picking raspberries are probably not maximizing profit.  However, that is not the goal.  Sure, we need to make a living and we try to run an efficient business.  More importantly, we try to run a business we are proud of.  We both feel strongly that customers are taking notice to the difference between restaurants that cook real food from whole (often local) ingredients which are few and the vast majority that are just assembling factory made pre-prepared food.

In the end, I would be growing these berries anyway. They are a small wonder and that is what it is all about for me.  Growing, harvesting, and preparing nutritious and non-toxic food for our family is my passion.  The work that goes into them is what makes them so special.  It is about creating a life, not just a livelihood.  We are so incredibly lucky.  A chef and a farmer that get to work together and pursue their passions while creating a real life.  For both of us, the journey matters the most.  If I was not out there sweating and picking I would not be witness to the small wonders around me–like this golden tree frog pondering his next move in the strawberry patch.  I hope some restaurant customers enjoy a raspberry chocolate mint mojito or a panna cotta with Small Wonder Farm berries and really appreciate the work behind it.  Even if they aren’t aware of the work that goes into it, we are.

Tragedy

This morning I rose early to get out in the garden before the heat was unbearable and my day really started (ie–husband and daughter awake).  I found some wonderful treasures–summer squashes, the first cucumbers, spring onions, and a few cherry tomatoes.  During my inspection of the cucumbers, I found a pink nose and tiny pink feet poking up out of the ground.  At first glance, I thought it was a baby mole.  As I uncovered, I realized it was a baby rabbit.  Below him, 2 others.  All dead.  They had not been wounded.  I knew instantly that they had drowned.  2 days ago we had the most intense storm I have ever experienced.  Along with strobe-like lightning flashes and hail, we received more than 3 inches of rain in a matter of hours.  Those poor rabbits, eyes still closed, didn’t have a chance.  The nose and feet sticking up out of the ground a sure sign that the little guy on top tried to find a way out.   Without thinking about it, I took a moment of silence for these little lives that had been taken away so soon.  One more reminder that life is fragile and miraculous at the same time.  For those moments, their passing was recognized by me and became part of my knowledge of this place and the story of this farm.  We all recognize how events affect us and perhaps others, but usually not how they affect the rest of the inhabitants of this planet.  Certainly many more lives were taken as fields and yards all around here flooded. 

Now, what to do with these little bodies?  I did not want them decomposing in my garden.  The logical thing to do was to toss them out of the garden into an area where the dog’s had access to them.  There was no reason not to let these rabbits complete the cycle of life into death into life once again.  And so, I did. 

Yesterday, Paco came to tell me that our outdoor kitten, Luciano, had caught himself a baby bird.  This chick was naked and his beak still ridiculously oversized for his little body.  He was very likely a victim of the storm as well and crash landed into the path of this 3 month old kitten.  The minute he left that nest, his demise was inevitable.  As we all well know, a cat, especially a kitten, will play with his supper.  And so, that is the scene we came upon.  The poor chick squawking pitifully as a very excited kitten batted him around.  It was gruesome to watch and I wanted to end the poor chick’s life swiftly instead of knowing he was tortured.  We talked about it–daughter, husband, and I, and decided the best course of action was to let nature take its course.  So, we went in the house, and let Luciano savor his prize.  His mother has been teaching him to hunt and I am sure he took pride in his first kill.

Surely, these tragedies are small.  Upsetting, yes.  But, in a bigger sense, I find them humbling and also reassuring.  Humbling in that they take me out of my own head and remind me that rain falls in every life–literally and figuratively.  Life itself is not an easy thing.  We struggle, we learn, and sometimes we lose  for no reason at all–and we keep on going.  I am reassured because I get to witness everyday that all the deaths and all the lives are connected and the cycle goes on and on.  I know this to be true:  all the answers to the big questions are in the very small details.  If you don’t pay attention to the tiny lives and deaths around you, no peace can be found.

Other tragedies are huge.  Gigantic.  Overwhelming.  Criminal.  The Gulf oil leak is emotionally overwhelming to me.  I do not understand why our species has evolved into beings with enough grey matter to poison the entire planet, but not enough spiritual and emotional intelligence to know better.  Money and control are always the reasons.   Money and control are mercurial and false goals.  If we raised our children to be in harmony in the world and not to “make a good living,” we would not be where are now.  I believe that so many people are out of touch with the real workings of the world and of themselves, they are lost–lost in a sea of TV,  fast food, and shopping where they feel no real connection to anything and are simply looking for their next fix.  People who have a connection to the land and what it gives and takes, could never make the decisions that have brought us here.

 I don’t know that I can feel hopeful at this point.  I am unsure if money and politics can be overcome in the final hours and we can save our planet and ourselves.   What I do know is that I can honor all the small wonders that I encounter and raise a daughter who can understand what really matters and what does not.  I can feel hopeful about here and now.  With some luck, I will be around to witness the cycle of life and death on this farm for a long time.