From Gene Logsdon
Garden Farm Skills
My wife, Carol, doesn’t normally call herself an artist, but the images accompanying this post could be called some kind of still life art, even though rendered with her own hands using real objects, not with brush and paint. The multicolored shapes in the basket are an assortment of peppers she just harvested before the first frost, and the red shapes on white background are tomato slices in the electric drier. Our son-in-law loves peppers, the hotter the better, and so he and our daughter have supplied us with pepper plants of varieties I never knew existed and most of which I can’t eat. But who would want to eat such a beautiful table decoration anyway?
It is no surprise that gardening and farming inspire art. The partnership between nature and humans in the act of producing food can’t help but produce beauty too. A shelf full of home-canned vegetables means food security, but the real reason we delight in them is that the food just looks so pretty sitting there in rows in the cellar. The act of laying by food is its own reward even before we eat the stuff.
I made a shock out of the spent sweetcorn stalks in the garden last week and put a few pumpkins around it. Visitors ask me why I went to the trouble. I had to shrug. Not sure. Just think it looks pretty. Reminds me of whole fields of shocked corn, the subject of who knows how many paintings and photographs from the past. Many Amish farmers now have hitch carts which they are allowed to use to pull corn pickers and grain harvesters with their horses. So they don’t really have to shock all their corn and oats anymore. But many of them go on doing so anyway. If you ask them why, they will say that the straw they thereby harvest as a sort of byproduct of threshing is worth as much as the grain. But down in the deeper recesses of their souls I will bet anything, they do it because fields of corn and oat shocks look pretty.
Pumpkins make another good example. We grow pumpkins, even weird kinds like Cinderella which we don’t even eat. We grow the Cheese pumpkins for that. One of our Cinderellas this year was so heavy we had to get our muscle-bound grandson to carry it out of the garden. So why do we grow the big, stupid things? Because, well, they’re pretty.
In fact, the market for pumpkins is soaring, even in these recessionary times. Why? Pumpkins make nice homey decorations. The same with gourds. The same with bittersweet, a bouquet of which adorns our entrance way at this very moment. There is so much artificial and plastic crap around, the human spirit yearns for the homespun and the real.
One tends to grow philosophical about it, even, heaven forbid, metaphysical. Last night, here at the beginning of October, I was still able to pick a pint of luscious yellow raspberries that we grow, courtesy of another person’s kindness. They just look so beautiful in the basket. Years ago, I wrote that yellow raspberries are hardly worth the work because they are too susceptible to diseases. A man in Minnesota, whom I do not know to this day, sent some plants with a note: “Try these and change your mind.” I don’t know the variety, but he was right. The philosophical question is: Do they look beautiful to me because I love their taste? Maybe they look beautiful because they remind me of the beautiful person who sent them to me.
The notion that good taste might come before beauty doesn’t hold true, actually. To me, an eggplant is profoundly beautiful. That deep purple color is just so stunning. But I don’t much like the taste. I just like to look at them.
Perhaps I should view this question psychologically rather than philosophically. Maybe the colors of the harvest glowing in the slanting harvest time sun quickens the human spirit in a very special way, as Monet would say. A psychology book I once read claimed that purple was the favorite color of geniuses. I don’t know how anyone could arrived at such a non-sequitur but hey, sounds good to me.
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.
Gene is author of The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land), The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life, and just released: Small-Scale Grain Raising, Second Edition: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers.