Thursday, September 23, 2010

9/21: Harvesting Abundance (Pear slices)

You don’t notice the pears at first, camouflaged the same color as the late-summer fading green leaves. First, you notice the basket-on-a-stick pear harvester, leaning against the forked trunk. Then you look up, and the pears reveal themselves, one by one, until you can’t believe you didn’t notice this tree drooping with the heaviness of ripening fruit.

Today is harvest day, prep and decoration for the fall harvest moon festival. My group is assigned to the pear tree, tucked between the towering cornstalks and the herb mound dominated by sprawling mints. The kids’ enthusiasm for the removal of the fruit from the tree is difficult to reconcile with the need to g-e-n-t-l-y place the harvested fruit in the box so it won’t bruise. We are getting a lot of bruising. But we’re having fun. Maybe, once again, a little too much fun. Wild Child is balanced atop the not-so-new fence separating the garden from the neighbors’ yard, swinging the metal-clawed harvester over her head to reach the pears hiding among the top branches. Pears are flying through the air, tossed from the pickers to the packer. T comes over and politely reminds Wild Child that fence-climbing is not a safe school activity. Ah, right, I think. Just because I’m in full support of my own kids’ scaling of tall trees at home doesn’t mean I should allow complete chaos in the school pear tree. We’re not at my house, propriety is required.

Our group moves on to cutting up the bruised and buggy fruit, first to feed it to the worms in the worm box, and then, because they are asking if they can eat the good bits, for ourselves and for all the other groups. “But is there enough to share?” the kids are asking, somehow not connecting the giant bin of pears we have harvested with their hunger. This disconnect with the abundance of harvest was something a number of parents noticed at our last school “farmer’s market,” a monthly gathering at a local park at which classes can fundraise by selling food and crafts. For the first one of this year, we decided to let go of the fundraising aspect and just simplify: we’d bring excess from our gardens and anyone could take what they need, donations accepted but not at all required.

Used to the bake sale table of treats which require begging parents for cash, the kids kept returning to the baskets of apples and asking, “How much do they cost?”

To which the teacher would reply, “Do you want one? Take one.”

Unused to this approach, they would soon come back and say, “But how many can we have?”

To which the teacher would say, “How many do you need? If you are still hungry, take another.”

They were clearly baffled by this take-what-you-need idea. “But, how many can we have?” they asked again and again.

And so it went again with the pears on harvest day. There was a true abundance, heaps and heaps of pears, and we hadn’t even finished the whole tree. “How many slices can we have?” they wanted to know. “As many as you will eat.” So they sliced and sliced and carried plates back and forth to the other groups, maybe a bit off the harvest assignment, but slowly, slowly (“Can we cut up another one?” “Yes, as many as we want.”) getting into the feel of what harvest time means, a full belly, a richness of plenty.

How to serve abundance:
Pick a bunch of pears. Give each kid a cutting board and knife and have them slice away until they are satiated with the pears, with the cutting, and with passing out pear slices to their friends. Feed the cores and yucky bits to the worms. Pile the remaining pears up in a basket & use to decorate for the harvest festival, then save it for another class to raid later.

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