I can plow a field all day long
I can catch catfish from dusk till dawn
We make our own whiskey and our own smoke too
Ain’t too many things these ole boys can’t do
We grow good ole tomatoes and homemade wine
And a country boy can survive
Country folks can survive
Well, I’ve got a mean courtyard garden, and I’ve walked urban gardening fields with my dad when I was young, but the fact of the matter is that I’m not really a country folk. I’m a bone fide city folk, but I’ve always had a real respect and affinity for all the good folks out there that make a living getting dirt and grease and oil under their fingers. Especially lately, I’ve come to really respect and admire all the good people who live out there in the nearby urban environments who are planting and growing and watching what the ground and the sun and the sky brings forth. Through the week, I’m frustrated and angry with the constant barrage of numbers and statistics and explanations of why things are getting better in this country or the excuses for why they’re not. It’s all so very frustrating, especially when it seems like everyone who has some power or control is frittering things away, while Rome is burning.
But the bounty below is so rewarding and stimulating and glorious. That’s about sixty bucks and an hours worth of time toiling (ha ha) in the hydroponic fields at Obrien’s Family Farm in Manatee County. What I really love about the adventure is the fact that apparently for years the farm had been a wholesale warehouse, when just this year they decided to try opening it up to the public. The Obrien’s are there and they seem sort of flabbergasted at just how busy they are….their dirt parking lot full of cars all weekend long. But they’re tapping into something we all need to be thinking about. We are frustrated and confused and overwrought through the week, but tapping into to wholesomeness and goodness and light and dirt and air is the antidote to all of that. It certainly helps to be reminded that Florida was the only state in the union that wasn’t snowing last week…..getting out and touching all this was magnificent.
I had a good friend in New York City
He never called me by my name, just hillbilly
My grandpa taught me how to live off the land
And his taught him to be a businessman
He used to send me pictures of the Broadway nights
And I’d send him some homemade wine
Another real highlight of the weekend was driving north for a hands on lesson in Florida Cracker wine making. A few months ago, I sipped down a little grapefruit wine….and I was just blown away. Years ago I’d celebrate something special with an expensive dessert wine, La Dolce Far Niete, but this wine I was sipping out of a Mason Jar was every bit as good as that expensive store wine….I just had to know more. So up we drove far into Florida’s heartland, to a homestead that sits right where Florida’s formerly formidable citrus industry would native Florida pack horses would load fresh citrus onto barges for their trip up north. That was long ago in a land far away and long before failed economic and development policy destroyed much of Florida’s citrus industry
Not too long ago, the United States, with Florida in the lead, was the world’s leading producer of citrus. Today, we barely produce 10 million tons while Brazil and China each produce double that. Just like the decimation of all other sectors of the United States economy Florida’s citrus industry was crushed by the import of cheap foreign made product. The result is hundreds of thousands of abandoned acres of formerly productive citrus groves abandoned all across the state. Millions of trees dead or dying and spreading disease just like cholera breeds in prisoner of war camps.
The twisted carcases of trees lying in grove graveyards all across the state. The oldtimers tell of groves as far as the eye can see and magnificent observation towers where Yankees would come down to go up and breathe the sweet smell of orange and grapefruit blossoms”¦but most all that is gone now. I certainly lament all of that, question how we got where we are, wherever that is and wonder exactly where we’re going to and how we’re going to get ourselves out of the mess we’re all in.
So we spent a day, two generations, passing down to a third the timeless tradition of cracker wine making. Washing and slicing and and caressing the juice out Florida’s Golden Globes….not quite moonshiners, but there was a rawness and rewarding sense of adventure about the whole thing, the magic and honesty of heartland gifts handed down.
Who knows just how the end product will turn out as the raw material now sits fermenting in buckets where it will sit for six months or so….stay tuned. What we do have to show for our efforts are magnificent jars of canned holiness. Strawberry jam, blueberry wine, grapefruit wine, stewed tomatoes. All racked up and ready to enjoy. We’ve already broken into the strawberries, which taste even more fantastic just thinking about how wonderful the experience was of putting them together!