Friday, September 7, 2012

Pickin' Peaches at a Polyface

It was a grueling hot day, when you step out of the car and sweat beads on your lip, when we went to pick peaches in mid July. I had hoped yearned for blackberries, but although the guides said they should be in season, there were none to be found. They had either shriveled or been knocked over by the recent golf ball to softball sized hail. Farming: Not for the faint of heart.

So my sons and I got out, sacks in hand at Berry Creek farm. Immediately the whining ensued. Air conditioning, it turns out, has ruined all of us. I am beginning to wonder why it has become such an entitlement and whether it's prevalence is actually altering our internal temperature tolerances. I am also wondering whether using it all the time justifies the level of resistance I am increasingly getting when I ask my children to go play outside. [Note to self: Challenge yourself before next summer to check out Stan Cox's Losing our cool: Uncomfortable truths about our air conditioned world (and finding new ways to get through the summer]. But even on hot days, I remind, someone is working hard to grow and get our food. (Guess what darlings, today that someone is you.)

Berry creek farm is wedged on fourteen acres between a small town downtown and municipal ball fields. Here the Hocking family has been making their living at farming for the last ten years. They offer an assortment of peaches, grapes, strawberries, apples, and mixed vegetables for fifteen Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares as well as enough to fill his OSU OKC farmer's market stands every week where his cheerful grandfather face makes it quite clear he has a soft spot for his pint-sized customers. This is pretty cool, especially considering that vegetables make up just one acre of his farm. Fruit and grape trees are about another four acres. Larry was, in fact, the first farmer I met when returning to Oklahoma from college in California who was using the, then innovative to Oklahoma, model of CSA.

Standing on top of his hill-you can get a good view of his bounty. The apple orchard is on the north. Down below is the peach orchard, the hoop house, the many kinds of vegetables and strawberries growing side by side with the plums and grape orchard on the side. Like many small scale organic farms it truly is a polyface farm. Here every creature has a purpose. Many chickens, geese, and guineas are free range on the property doing triple duty as insectivores, fertilizers, and protein source while moveable A-frames provide shelter and coops.

We go down to the peaches. They are fanned out in open center design where the branches hang low and even my children can reach much of the fruit. Some of the fruit is also grown in close spacing transverse Y-angle. Everywhere the air is saturated with sweetness. We gently grab the tenderly firm fruits that slip easiest from their calyx shoes.  The grass and weeds make up an understory that keeps moisture and soil in while providing cover for beneficial insects. We find and marvel over a friend, a beautiful orb weaver spider in the middle of his zippered web waiting patiently to do his duty in insect control.

We pick for over an hour, admittedly eating a few.  Then Larry's high school "farm associate" lets the boys have a joy ride with him on the farm cart. Woo-hoo! Celebrity treatment! The boys get to harvest a few pounds of grapes, learning how to proudly wield the cutter tool themselves.

Finally we take the fruit to the scales while a darling grey tiger kitten named Huevos rubs against our legs begging us dwell a little longer. Our afternoon is ending, much more enthusiastically, but our processing to peach sauce, canned peaches, and peach pie filling is only beginning!

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