For me, fall is a time to pick apples and pumpkins and summer a time to pick blackberries, strawberries and cherries. Picking or harvesting your own food enables you to see how food is grown, and it helps teach others.
When a sixth grader in an urban school is asked, "Where do eggs come from?" and answers they come from cows because they are in the dairy section of the grocery store, you know our country has challenges. When kids and adults don't understand that everything they eat comes from a farm field, it means humans don't know where their food comes from.
There is a disconnect between farm, food and the consumer. It's not so different from the disconnect between purchasing products and not knowing that natural resources like oil creates plastic, sand creates glass, minerals create metals, and trees create paper and 5,000 other things, and overusing and abusing resources creates nothing. We don't tend to think about it, we just purchase things.
How many kids or adults know how things grow -- that the peanut is actually a root legume, meaning it grows underground, not on a tree, and that soy is in an amazing number of products? Can you trace the ingredients of a pizza to the farm field?
"There is a disconnect between farm, food and the consumer."
Predominant crops grown in Monroe County are soybeans, corn and wheat, but popcorn and tomatoes are the No. 1 crop in Indiana, and Indiana is No. 2 in the production of ice cream!
We must understand the farmer and the agricultural world because life depends upon the soil and plants. Whether that farmer is hired by a doctor or a teen who has a herd of cattle, or someone who has two jobs, one being farming, we must appreciate the farmers who hold our health in their hands and hope that more food will be grown without pesticides and herbicides.
Depending on your local produce, picking your own is less expensive and quite fun, if you're not doing it for a job that is. In college I took a job picking apples at a local orchard because I thought it would be easy money. Grab a basket and just pick, but not all day. No, I wouldn't make it as a farm worker. I completed the job but not without aching arms and a lot of sun. For days after, I did not want to see an apple.
"We must understand the farmer and the agricultural world because life depends upon the soil and plants."
While cherry picking in Utah, I carried my youngest in a backpack and my oldest stood close by. In Utah the cherry orchards are rapidly being developed, as some of the new generation think value the price of the land, not how priceless it is. However, that day we filled two buckets with cherries and, of course, ate along the way. Cherry stains galore!
Upon arriving home, I parked and dashed into the house to the bathroom. My oldest son remembers this well. He probably has never seen his Mom run so fast! My youngest was still in his car seat tired from the picking and, fortunately, fast asleep. The only screams came from Mom in the bathroom. Greed and gluttony are not wise on any level.
However, there's nothing better than picking your own, whether it's the pumpkin for Halloween -- to be used not only for decoration but for those tasty seeds and delicious pumpkin pie or other produce -- or vegetables and fruits during the year. The best are the ones you've grown yourself. In the summer my sons and I have regular snacks picking blackberries in our yard. Store-bought just doesn't compare.
Co-ops and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) are the next best thing. Check the Web for seasonal U-pick options. Some places allow you to bring your own baskets or buckets, while others provide them.
Co-ops and CSAs are opportunities where, for a fee, you choose your own seasonal produce. Food can be delivered to your home or a central pick-up location. Check out IndianaLivingGreen.com.
Taste-testing different varieties at local farms, farmers markets or in your own home is fun, and you can cast your vote for which variety you like best.
When you pick produce from your yard or a farm field, you will know that strawberries aren't grown on bushes, pumpkins don't grow on trees, and farmers are not people in big hats and overalls, with big, dirty hands and muddy boots.
Let's all get our hands into nature and do a little picking!
Elisa K. Pokral is Media and Education Director at the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District. She can be reached at email@example.com.