“Can I just pick one leaf to show her what it smells like?”
“Sure, go ahead!”
Shoulders looped with bags–perchance carrying snacks and extra layers for their morning outing–Grandma bends down to pluck a single cilantro leaf, holds it up for her granddaughter to sniff.
“This is cilantro,” the rolling Spanish sounds like to me.
“Thank you!” A friendly smile from the elder, and a shy glance from the younger. Grandma and granddaughter continue on their walk.
‘Twas a week of hundreds! 112 bunches of chard, 105 of parsley, 153 lbs of kale, 100+ heads of fresh garlic… and much much more… wow and wow. The thought of all the people, places, and plates the food we harvested is destined for is dizzyingly delightful. To nourish is a privilege.
Flowers and herbs, too, are flourishing. (Sage and rosemary mixed with lemon slices in water–a refreshing drink enjoyed at the Community Eats lunch that SOYL 2 prepared for us on Monday! Gourmet farmer hydration.)
Well, the definite highlight of the week was our first Garlic Harvesting Party! Weeding is profound and all; but sitting under a shady tent rubbing soil off of giant bulbs of garlic while breathing in awesome allium aromas… that is a whole new level of farming joy.
After loosening the soil with a digging fork, the garlic is pulled out gently. (I snapped a couple of the softnecks while trying to do this.) Everyone sits around a big pile of garlic and we use our hands to rub off soil and damp layers of papery skin. We keep the stringy roots intact, knocking off the soil, because they help with the drying process through water transpiration. Once clean, the stalks are tied into bundles of ten with twine–and are ready for hanging and curing!
We had a group of volunteers join in with the harvest on Wednesday. Together, we cleaned and bundled what I estimate to be 300-400 heads of garlic! (Mostly hardnecks, with some softnecks grown for braiding–another thing to look forward to!) As we worked, we had lots of fun sharing garlic stories–the wonder of garlic ice cream, the stomach’s regret after eating a whole clove raw (Farmer Scott recounted getting a bit too excited harvesting his first garlic crop!), the apologetic humour of telling a customer allergic to garlic that there’s nothing on the menu he can eat (Natalie worked at an Indian restaurant where all of the overnight-simmered sauces contained garlic!)
(There will be many more Garlic Harvesting Parties this month! If you’ve got some free time and want to join in on the garlicky fun, check out our volunteer sign-up page, here. We’d love to meet you! And it’s really quite relaxing.)
“With each layer that you take off, there’s one less layer of protection.”
Farmer Scott showed us how to clean garlic. Oftentimes it would require removing some of the skin.
You know that idiom about peeling through the layers of an onion to get to the heart of a matter (or person, idea)? Well, like onions, garlic is also in the allium genus. Sitting cross-legged at our circle, trying hard to remove as few layers off of the bulbs as I could, I realized that this metaphor could be understood from a different perspective.
As layer after soiled layer comes off, the garlic bulbs become cleaner but also more susceptible. Naked. Defenceless.
In a kind of reverse-analogy, this can be illustrative of the messy bare beauty of being true, and being known. Growing up as a perfectionist, people-pleaser, and “good girl” who always seems to have things all together, I know that I’ve constructed “layers” around myself–guards, facades, images, safe distances.
The more I allow these “layers” to be peeled off, the cleaner and closer I get to the smooth white cloves of what makes me who I am. Maybe it’s calling a friend for a talk. Maybe it’s facing fearful things through writing, or prayer, or quietness. Braving it out in weeks of being strung-up to dry in a dark storage container. Mustering the courage to let my true feelings and person be seen, and heard, and known by the people around me. The risk I take is vulnerability.
The garlic we harvested this week was first planted nine months ago. My first thought to that was, “Hey, it’s like a baby!” It was sown, it took time to grow and mature. Now, as summer is upon us, the waiting is over and it’s time for the “birthing” of harvest and new crops.
Time spent in caring, digging deep, cleaning, and waiting do pay off.
Garlic skin protects and guards, but it is only paper-thin. Underneath, the hearts of cloves (and people) are pungent and perhaps too strong to stomach (understand) for some, but when sauteed, pickled, roasted (listened to, connected with, held), the flavour is fine and the aroma reminiscent for many of home–grandmas and granddaughters, meals and stories shared in solidarity to mutual garlic breath…
…In soil, in community, in a beautifully imperfect world,
Intersecting lines of caring for the earth and its bounty, for ourselves and one another.