Our family immigrated from Ireland via Charleston, South Carolina in the 1650s. We were Hugenots originially from France but living in Ireland at the time. We came to escape unpromising conditions in Ireland and to take advantage of the Land Grant of King George the II. That whole deal eventually fell apart and our family ended up in Virginia. From there we spread to Alabama. We finally ended up in Florida when our great-grandfather came here to grow citrus.
The story long told in our family, is that our great-grandfather was making a decent living in Alabama. The local doctor told him he thought when his patients ate citrus fruits they had less colds and were generally healthier. They struck up a deal for grandfather to move to Florida to begin to plant citrus trees.
That was over 100 years ago and the family continues to farm citrus even though the industry has been hit hard by freezes and now, deadly viral infections. We farm other crops as well and some of us have entered the organic beef industry.
Our family belongs to the Florida Organic Growers Association. You can find more about them at their website at www.foginfo.org. What we particularly like is the ongoing education they offer. Although we've been farming a long time, there are always new, innovative ideas out there. We also like to share.
Our daddies grew up in a time where everyone in their community farmed. They might drive trucks, too, or own a business, but everybody farmed and grew some, if not all, of their own food. We remember heading down to the local market/hardware/gas/butcher/clothing store on the main road through town to drink a soda and shoot the breeze. They talked about their crops. They talked about their chickens and their cows. They sold and shared and stayed connected. We do this still today (only it looks a little different) which is why we chose to join FOG.
FOG hosts regular workshops for farmers. Their next one is June 15 at Coldwater Farms in Milton. The folks at Coldwater offer "glamping accomodations" for only $50/night. Milton is located up in the Florida Panhandle so you all from Central Florida might want to catch the shuttle from Gainesville Regional up to Pensacola. Coldwater Farms calls what they do "agri-tourism" and it's certainly not how our daddies farmed! Farming certainly has its ups and downs. Farming can be real drudgery. And it can be very rewarding and satisfying. Getting together with other farmers is a good thing to do.
Did you grow up with fruit that was picked ripe from the tree or plucked fresh from the ground? Did it ruin you forever for anything storebought?
We feel that way about watermelon. We were reminded of this the other day when listing to NPR and heard the story of the Bradford Melon. This is a delicious heirloom melon that all but dissappeared because it did not ship well and since most folks grew things to sell as well as to eat, this meant growing the Bradford became a luxury and not a neccesity. The Bradford melon is now being revived by the 4xgreat-grandson of the original Bradford who cultivated it. If you want to read about the Bradford melon you can go to www.npr.org/the sweetestwatermelon.
We related to the story of the Bradford Melon because we grew up eating our own locally grown melon. From the time we were kids (in fact, from the time our dads were kids), our family got all their melons from another family in the community. We're not sure of the name of the melon, but we always called them simply "Clyde's Melons" because he's the one who grew them. Clyde grew the melons until he was 92 and his last crop was harvested this very year after he past away. (Sad, I know, but we all have a time to go.)
We made sure we were there to buy some of those final melons. Now, seeds from Clyde's Melons are saved and have been passed along because nothing else any of us could buy in the store was going to satisfy us. We're sure our family members have passed the seeds along to each other in the past, but somehow it was always tradition to buy them from Clyde so we didn't bother growing them for ourselves. Now we do.
So, here’s a story about a buckeye seed.
One of our grannies was half Iroquois. She came from Ohio to live with cousins in Florida and she met our paternal great-grandfather when he was older and already a widower from his first wife. What made Granny unusual (besides her high cheekbones) was the small leather pouch she wore attached to her belt or stuck in her pocket. It was on her person all the time. It’s still on her person because it was buried with her.
The pouch contained three items: a lock of hair, a small gold ring and a buckeye seed. The lock of hair she took in remembrance of her daughter from her first marriage. She died when she was little. The small gold ring was her wedding ring from her first husband who had passed away. The buckeye was a talisman given to her by her father when she left home. He was Iroquois. Of the three items in the pouch, the buckeye seed was most fascinating to the children in the family. There was nothing quite like it to be found in their local woods. It was smooth to the touch and lovely to look at.
The Iroquois harvested the buckeyes in the early fall when they fell from the trees. They are poisonous when raw, so they roasted them, peeled them and then they pounded them into a mash to eat. The buckeye tree services the natives not only for food, it was also considered to have medicinal uses.
Another use for the buckeye seed was that of talisman. Once its outer coat was removed, the nut was oiled repeatedly until it turned richly dark brown. Over time it would harden and the butterscotch colored “eye” for which it was named would become more pronounced. A person would put it in his pocket as a good luck charm; it was thought to impart wisdom.
Granny and great-granddaddy never had children together; it was a second marriage for both later in life. Granny was warmly folded into our large clan and became one of our own and she told our parents about her life as a girl growing up in Ohio as a child of mixed heritage. She was a handsome woman, and a strong woman, but she was different from the rest of us, and that made her rather mysterious. The pouch she always wore contributed to that mystery.
She was often asked by the children in the family, “Why did your father give you a buckeye to keep?”
She replied, “The buckeye was given to me so that I would have wisdom in my new life. The buckeye also reminded to never forget from whence I came.”
We pass this story down in our family because we believe it is vitally important for our children to know from “whence they come”.
Review of a documentary called The Seeds of Time.
A documentary is a film with a message and the message of The Seeds of Time is this: We must be guardians of our food sources or we will starve.
The film features scientist Cary Fowler, a agriculturist, who is on a mission to save seeds collected from all over the world. To that end, Fowler established the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on an island in Norway. Their premise resides on the notion that both natural and man-made disasters could wipe out our food supply and subsequently, the seeds we need to grow crops. A country, let alone the entire planet, without food is unsustainable and will destabilize quickly. We have already see this happen in the world. The vault already contains over 800,000 seeds from all six food producting continents with a capcity to hold several million seeds. The theory is that the vault can be accessed as needed to reestablish crobs. Their website is fascinating. Click on the name above and take the tour.
We saw the film on NPR. If you find it no longer available online, try your local public library or go online and search the title. If you care about farming (or eating, or surviving) this is a must see. Whole countries have had their seed banks wiped out by natural disasters. This happened most recently in the Phillipines. We should never think it won't happen to us.
My grandmother told me the story of Mr. and Mrs. Trees when I was a young girl riding in the car with her from her house to the Farmer's Market help every Monday morning in Webster. (The market is still there, by the way, only now it is more flea market than produce market.)
We would pass through small towns with a general store and gas station and a church and a sprinking of houses. Many times we would see a house with two trees planted on either side of the pathway leading to the front door.
One day, I suddenly noticed this and I commented to her about it.
"Oh, honey" she drawled, "That's just Mr. and Mrs. Trees."
Of course, I didn't know what she meant by that and so asked her to elaborate.
Grandmother loved telling stories and she was one of the best teachers I ever had.
"You see," she began, "In the old days, when a man and woman got married and moved into their first ever house, they would plant trees on each side of the front door. As the years would go by, the roots of the trees would grow deep into the soil, and the trees would grow tall to the sky, and the love of the couple would grow just like that, too."
Years later, when my young husband and I were looking for our first property to buy, we found a house with several acres, perfect for a garden and raising children. This house needed some work, but the garden was in good order, with lovely mature trees, including, Mr. and Mrs. Trees.
I remember at the time we were first visiting the property, I mentioned this to the realtor, who looked blankly back at me. "I've never heard that," she said.
I thought that rather odd, afterall, my grandmother had told me about Mr. and Mrs. Trees and I never doubted it was true. So I went searching. And I found...nothing. Nada. Nothing about couples planting trees as a tradition when they moved into a new house. There are all sorts of other rituals, like burning salt and feng shui stuff, but nothing about planting two trees.
I decided then that grandmother must have told me this story because it was something she had A) known to be true where she lived, B) a flair for storytelling and it nicely explained why there were so many houses with trees on either side of the door and/or C) both.
I decided 'whatever' and we bought the house and it has been a wonderful place for us to live and grow food and raise babies and chickens.
We did have a bit of tragedy a few years ago when Mr. Tree (the one to the left of the door) got very sick. His leaves turned spotty, then yellow and fell off. Some of his limbs began to look, well..sickly. I called in an arborist. He gave it an injection. I hoped that with proper tree care by a professional, Mr. Tree would have a chance. He didn't. We finally had to face the truth that Mr. Tree would have to be taken out. Mrs. Tree became a widow. It felt so wrong. But it saved her life and she continues to grace our front entry to this day.
My grandmother passed away a few years ago and I decided in rememberance of her to begin a new tradition in our family. In the same spirit as planting Mr. and Mrs. Trees, I looked for and purchased a young magnolia tree and planted it in the backyard where I could see it from the kitchen window. We call it Grandmother's Tree.