We recently harvested our first-ever crop of sour cherries, which I figure took about ten years and four hours to produce. We planted and nurtured the tree for a decade, and this was the first time there were enough cherries to pick. With ladders and buckets, it took us most of an hour to pluck the cherries by ones and twos.
We’ve had a great deal more success with berries. This year, we have a bumper crop of black raspberries and the usual onslaught of red ones. I now know first-hand why raspberries command such a high price in the store. It’s not because they’re hard to grow, but because they’re labor intensive to harvest, and they spoil fast. When the kids lived at home, I had eager child labor for this farm task. As an empty nester, this chore now falls to me.
As soon as the raspberries are over, the blackberries and blueberries start coming in. I spend a lot of the summer picking berries, eating berries, and freezing them. Processing berries is easy: we freeze them on trays, bag them, and tuck them into the chest freezer. Processing cherries is more labor intensive. They need to be washed, stemmed, pitted, then sugared and left to macerate for an hour or so.
I pitted cherries all afternoon on the back porch - half the batch with an old-fashioned cherry-pitter Tim brought into the marriage and that’s been knocking about a kitchen drawer ever since. But it was slow going, so I finally just peeled the remaining cherries open with my thumbnail and squeezed out the pits.
The task allowed me time to think about the economics of farming and food, and all the machines used to harvest, process, package and transport it. I thought about all the time farmers invest in their cherry trees, and the years they spend waiting for them to bear fruit. And I thought about the carbon footprint of fresh cherries from the Pacific Northwest. Given how relatively inexpensive cherries are in the supermarket, I wondered how farmers earned a living at all.
Growing our own cherries certainly isn’t cost-effective. But that’s not the point. Growing our own food adds value not just to what we eat, but also to how we live.