Chapter: What To Hold Onto
Maize is racing barefoot up the old horse path from Louise’s field. Something tiny and green is flinging from an ice cream bucket swinging wildly at his side. He sings up to me stocking corn at the roadside stand, “I picked the cucumbers.”
He must be pretending with new growth pine cones. It will be at least ten days before the cucumbers are mature enough to harvest. The male blossoms have been open for a week, but the female flowers just opened a few days ago and it’s been so cool and wet, I doubt the bees and native pollinators have even been working.
Then I see them clearly—the bucket is full to the top—thin, one-inch, just-on-the-start to becoming cucumbers. How could a five-year old who can’t even pick up a few legos have the patience to pick an entire gallon of something so miniature?
My throat expands as if jammed with an over mature, yellow and hard slicer. We coddled the plants through early cool spring with row covers. These would have grown into the first picking: crucial early-cash-flow and first jump in the market, establishing us as reliable and consistent cucumber providers.
He is absolutely beaming. What’s more important: the money and market, or Maize’s sense of farm family involvement? I can clearly see that he believes it is a big surprise and contribution. I look for something to praise but all air has left me.
“Wow, you really have stick–to–it–ness.” I stutter, “That’s a lot of cucumbers.”
I can’t force myself to use the word thanks.
We arrange the miniature fruit in tidy rows in half pint containers. They are so tiny; it takes three to make a row, seven rows to make a layer, and five layers to fill to the top. He places each cucumber gently, lining it up; blossom end to the right, stem end to the left. His tiny fingers look proportionately perfect with the small fruit pinched between his thumb and forefinger. He stops often to scratch his hands and arms. They are a mess of shallow scratches from the prickly vines, but doesn’t complain or comment. He writes $1 on a price card and thumbnails it in front of the display. We step back and admire his work from the customer’s perspective. “Its beautiful,” he whispers.
“People will love these for the first buy—tender and sweet. We’ll let the next batch get big, as long as from your elbow to the tips of you fingers. I’ll tell you when they are ready.”
And then I can say it, “Thanks Maize. You are a crucial part of our family.”
© Atina Diffley 2012
Atina Diffley is an organic consultant (Organic Farming Works LLC), educator, public speaker, and author of the 2012 memoir, Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works, published by the University of Minnesota Press. Until 2008, she and her husband Martin ran the Gardens of Eagan, one of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest. For reflections, tips and decision-making tools subscribe to her on-line blog, What Is A Farm.