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Patchwork: Sometimes gardening is for the birds

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Posted on June 30, 2011 |
By Eugenie Doyle



strawberries.jpg

Barbara took a risk asking me to write a guest column in this fine gardening feature, so full of descriptions of abundance, beauty and delectability. I grew up in a gardening family, my mother a genius with flowers; my great grandfather an orchardist from Sicily.

My earliest memories include abundant beans and tomatoes, beautiful red currants, delectable sweet corn. But for over 30 years I’ve been on the farming end of the food production continuum where things frequently go haywire. Crops fail and beauty remains in the eyes of the beholding customers who don’t see all the problems behind the scenes. I’ll add a touch of pungent and even (yikes!) bitter to this column’s sweet tone. (This realism may be genetic. When my great-grandfather moved to New Jersey his peaches were wiped out by blight.)

Strawberry Fool

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

1 pint organic strawberries

1/2 cup sweetener, or to taste

1 cup organic heavy cream (I like Butterworks Farm’s)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional

Method:

1. Hull strawberries, then wash them and chop into 1/4-inch-thick pieces. Toss with half the sugar, and wait 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they give up their juices.

2. Place half the strawberries and all the juice in a blender, and purée. Pour purée back in bowl with chopped strawberries.

3. Whip the cream with remaining sugar and vanilla until cream is stiff and holds peaks easily. Fold berries and cream together, and serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to two hours.

Source: The New York Times,adapted by Nora Doyle-Burr

Rain, rain, rain has been the story of this growing season, as you well know. On our farm’s clay soils the downpours create more than minor problems. Or do they? Every time we’ve had three inches and couldn’t till or plant we would hear of another farm with five inches, or totally flooded fields, flooded houses and barns, or hail or tornado damage. Sometimes news reports have made our ankle-deep mud seem minor. I don’t agree that misery loves company but seeing others’ worse misery certainly gives perspective. Our veggie crops were late, but our berries seemed plentiful. We were feeling lucky!

Then visitors arrived, lovely but suspicious-looking winged bandits. You’ve seen them too in your garden. Cedar waxwings are among our loveliest birds, but they are also incredibly damaging to berry crops. Last year they wiped out one berry grower in Burlington. This year they’ve descended upon Addison County. Every evening we’ve had to cover the two half-acre fields with bird netting; every morning we repeat the half-hour-long task. During the day we hope for enough PYO (pick your own) pickers to scare off the bold birds. My husband has considered more militant methods of deterrence. You’re not supposed to shoot them. In 1908, a Vermont farmer gave eloquent testimony to the state Legislature supporting “open season” on cedar waxwings because huge flocks of the birds had destroyed his cherry crop. The Vermont House of Representatives voted in favor of the bill. Members of the Senate, however, held a hearing to which the public brought specimens of the remarkable-looking birds. In the end it was said that, “beauty won the day.” The bill was defeated. Cedar waxwings are protected nationwide. They do love berries, but they also feast on insects.

So, we cover and uncover, incurring new costs in netting and labor. We even untangle the trapped birds and let the varmints go. They can’t help loving organic strawberries any more than we can.

In a recent column in this paper Bill McKibben also commented on the foul weather and sarcastically challenged us to “connect the dots” demonstrating that all of our crazy weather worldwide is a symptom of the climate change, partially caused by human’s outrageous greedy consumption of fossil fuels. Of course he is right. Although farming has never been easy, our weather problems have increased dramatically. Certainly we need to wake up and change our consumptive behavior. We need to change what we can or our gardening woes will worsen.

“Change what we can; accept what we can’t, and have the wisdom to know the difference.” That message attributed to St. Francis, an Italian family favorite, is also my take-home message from the beautiful cedar waxwings. Cover the plants, raise the price of berries a bit, free the trapped birds, and pray they go away.

I was asked to include a recipe if I wanted with my comments about berries. But with all the increased work this year, who has time to cook? My daughter, Nora, suggests making Strawberry Fool. I suggest eating the berries fresh and unadorned in your garden or at a neighbor’s farm. Eat them in the rare and precious sun, eat them in the rain. Savor every bite. Give thanks. Then let’s do what we can to lessen climate change.

Editor’s note: In spite of sometimes grim reality, Eugenie Doyle happily grows organic vegetables, berries and hay with her husband on The Last Resort Farm in Monkton. During the winter she writes fiction.

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