The Okanogan Valley, where I live, is an over-achiever at this time of year, producing an embarrassment of riches. My kitchen teems with pears and apples, squash and onions, peppers and potatoes, corn and chard, even a purple kohlrabi. More food than I can eat, freeze, or dry. As for canning? I can’t. Still, I revel in the guilty pleasure of abundant harvest.
When I first moved here nearly forty years ago, I was a frustrated locavore before the word was even invented. The Okanogan was about as close as you could come to a monoculture. Orchardists raised just two varieties of one crop: Golden and Red Delicious apples. Yeah, there was the occasional stand of cherries, peaches or pears. But the Red Delicious, perched on its distinctive, four-pronged pedestal, was Queen. (Until it wasn’t.)
I was living in a rural, agricultural community but had to buy food that came from everywhere else. Farmer and venerated writer Wendell Berry speaks for me: “I like to eat vegetables and fruits that I know have lived happily and healthily in good soil, not the products of the huge, bechemicaled factory-fields.” If you’re Wendell Berry, you get to make up words like bechemicaled.
Eventually, like a welcome rain on a dusty landscape, the farmers’ market phenomenon reached the Okanogan. Most of the farmers were backyard gardeners, selling their overabundance. Gradually full-time farmers emerged, offering a variety of crops and even CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) packages.
Then came farm stands. My car is hard-wired to pull in.
“This is probably the last time I’ll stop before you close up for winter,” I told Gene as I emerged from her stand last week carrying two bulging sacks of produce, including her sweet corn, famous countywide.
“I don’t want to hear that,” she answered. “You gotta come back for your pumpkin.”
I’ll have to add it to the two already decorating my front step. The day after stopping at Gene’s, I’d joined a gathering of women at a friend’s house. Before we even made it to the front door, one opened her tailgate, enticing the rest of us like a shady character luring children with candy. She offered pumpkins, plums, melons, squash and tomatoes. I demurred at the tomatoes, then watched longingly as another woman carried them away. I had more than enough tomatoes already but oh, gosh, it’s the last of the season and we won’t get fresh, local tomatoes again until next year—only those bechemicaled, plastic-like imitations in the grocery stores.
I accepted a pumpkin. She handed me a second. Aggressively. She’d had so much fun planting pumpkin seeds with her toddler granddaughter last spring, she got carried away. One hundred fifty pumpkins and counting. Most, she says, will go to the food bank.
I grow only one cherry tomato plant (because I love the scent) and a variety of herbs. The rest of my garden is flowers. For eating, I know I can count on the largesse of Mother Nature and her local gardening kin.