Maybe that's why I get excited about helping small farmers harvest, like the lavender, wine grapes, and walnuts I've cut and gathered this year.
It doesn't hurt that there's usually good food involved in exchange for a day here and there helping out, like my recent weekend in pastoral Willamette Valley between Salem and Silverton, Oregon.
When I get invited to spend a weekend on Mary Lou and Benjamin's family farm to harvest walnuts, I say heck yes! Despite the late October damp chill and the roosters crowing at zero dark thirty each morning, I sleep surprisingly well inside my cozy tent pitched behind the old barn. (Well...the walnuts pelting the barn in little explosions when they dropped from the overhanging tree did scare me a bit at first.)
|It didn't start raining until the morning I packed up and left.|
Come Saturday morning, Mary Lou has been up early fixing breakfast for the crew of friends here to help harvest. Like I said, we'll eat well this weekend.
After stoking up on biscuits, bacon, and coffee, it's time to head out back and search for walnuts. I follow Benjamin out to the edge of the orchard, where he points out some walnuts on the ground beneath a tree.
"This tree has lots of nuts. If the outer cover comes off easily, that's good. But if it sticks, don't bother." I didn't know that walnuts grow sheathed in an outer pouch that looks sort of like a green Italian prune on the tree.
On the ground where we gather the nuts, the outer layer is slimy in this damp misty weather. I pick them up with my surgical-glove covered hands and pull at the covering. Nuts that pop out easily go into the bucket and later into big canvas bags in the back of Benjamin's pickup.
This manual labor is quiet and methodical. It gives me time to just be with the trees, the fallen leaves, the mist, and the land.
|Benjamin has been harvesting nuts from these trees since he was a boy.|
|Across the dirt field another small farm.|
Soon enough it's lunch time, and we relax and enjoy another wonderful meal Mary Lou has prepared. And of course good wine; this is the Willamette Valley, after all, where wineries surround us. Our crew ranges from retirees like Mary Lou and Marilyn to my nephew Alex who lives nearby in Salem.
After lunch we put in several more hours, and I do battle with a particularly infertile tree, raking and combing through leaves carefully. With each walnut I find, it feels like I've won a mini-lottery. This tree doesn't yield much, but the nuts are particularly lovely.
Our primary reward for today's toil (but it was truly enjoyable toil!) is a wonderful dinner at the Silver Grille Cafe in nearby Silverton, where Chef Jeff Nizlek features savory Willamette Valley cuisine. Three thumbs up to this charming and intimate café, where the meals feature locally sourced meats, wine, mushrooms, and produce. (Mary Lou and Benjamin's walnuts from a harvest a few weeks ago are in my green salad.)
When I was a kid Silverton was not a foodie destination, but today it's part of the whole marvelous Willamette Valley wine-cuisine scene. (Of course no one had ever heard of a "foodie" when I was growing up, and a food culture hardly existed here in the Northwest.)
|Fresh pasta, incredible sauce.|
Do you have any harvest stories to share? Would love to hear your comments below.
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When You Go
While my weekend was specific to a private family farm, I say jump at any chance out there to help harvest for a day or two. Small wineries often have an email list sign-up for harvest assistance. The Willamette is a wonderful place for bicycling and exploring farm stands, wineries, and little gems of cafes and such. Go reconnect with the spirit of your farming ancestors!