Planting Seeds Of Change And Connectivity

I’m not a farmer, not even a gardener, but I have been planting seeds. Below is a picture of ground cherries, a food I’d never seen until a few years ago and never dared try until the summer before last. But of late I’ve made a point to try just about everything available to me from local farmers. My thought is, if I can I can eat something that’s grown locally by small farmers, I’m not sending my money to Bill Gates or big business. I’m not buying something that exploits third-world labor and I’m not shipping fruit thousands of miles when I have tasty watermelon available just down the road. This may sound like a fruitless endeavor, but I assure you I’ve been richly rewarded by the experience. Ground cherries have become a mainstay of my diet this time of year, my daily work snack.

A supervisor noticed me eating some a while back. She remarked how she remembered that her grandmother used to give them to her when she was a child. So of course I gave her a bunch to take back to her office, and she walked away wrapped up in the comforting nostalgia that food is able to provide.

It was not long afterward that a fork-lift driver drove up next to me and inquired about where I had gotten the ground cherries. It seemed he had seen the supervisor eating them and she said she got them from me. So I shared some with him and offered to get him some from the farmers market, an offer he gladly accepted. He is planning on planting a few of the seeds so that he can grow them for himself.

I offered one to another co-worker and he was rather suspicious of the unusual looking fruit. It is closely related to the tomato, so it is a fruit. In fact, it is much more easily recognizable as a fruit than your typical tomato is, sweet almost like a cherry. But curiosity got the best of my co-worker and he popped one in his mouth with a degree of hesitation. Followed quickly by another and then another. He too demanded I buy some for him the next time I was at the farmers market. The ones I bought for him he shared with everyone around him, and he was pleased to tell me how much they all liked them. He too is going to make the attempt to grow them.

Here I must tell you that I work in an area that was until a generation or two ago mostly a community of small farmers. The era of small farms has all but vanished nowadays. I was talking to someone I work with and he told me that to be even a small dairy producer nowadays you’d need a herd of at least 400 cattle. Farming is still very much in the blood of many, but it is not in the cards. Many people do it as a hobby, some as a part-time gig, but very few are able to make a living off it.

So many people have fond memories of how life was. My coworker Pat saw me eating something, I showed him what it was, and his eyes got wide. I’d never seen him so excited before. I immediately gave him a handful of ground cherries and he received them like a kid receiving candy on Halloween. So of course I offered to get him some and he very much said yes. He ate them all in a day and I must confess it’s been a while since I received such gratitude. “Jim,” he said, “I haven’t had ground cherries in 30 years. No, 40…no 50 years. My mother had a plant behind the garage, and my brother and I would go back there and eat them.”

I am planting seeds, reminding people of their culture and the food that the local area is capable of providing. Rather than eating pears grown in Argentina and packaged in China (such things do happen), a few people are eating local produce that they can grow themselves.

Many of you will say that what I do is accomplishing next to nothing and is merely playing around at the edges of the immense problems of a global supply chain dominated by corporations that have no concern for the immense use of fossil fuels, the destruction of small family farms, or the unhealthy food most of us consume.

Having grown up in the suburbs of Chicago, I know nothing of farming. But even I know the concept of seeds. They start tiny, but they grow. Sometimes they need to be carefully tended, but given the right conditions they can grow of their own accord. I imagine the art of growing food from seeds is comparable to watching a miracle unfold.

With every ground cherry I hand out, I am helping to fuse consciousness with tangible evidence of alternatives, demonstrating that there is a reality and a way of doing business living outside of the grasp of a global corporate system. People can still feed each other without Whole Foods or Walmart getting in the middle. They can even feed themselves. I suppose a miracle is nothing more than something someone previously believed impossible.

My, I wonder what else is possible?

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