October is garlic planting time, and so, since this year we had planned a vacation trip to coastal Oregon, we decided to stop in Baker City to meet the folks from whom we would be taking delivery of this year’s planting supply. The young mother who greeted us on a farm property she and her husband were rehabilitating, was delighted to welcome us. With five children – the youngest of whom was a precocious 2-year old daughter who followed us around – she was obviously one busy lady, personally operating a very active mail-order garlic business with a national clientele and freeing her husband to attend to a contracting business which took him away from home much of the time. Ushering us into her home she warned us that it was a “mess”.
As we sat talking in her dining nook, I couldn’t help but let my eyes wander (discreetly I hoped) around the open area surrounding the kitchen and sitting room. On one side of the kitchen sink I saw a food dryer, on the other a pressure canner – both clearly in daily or regular use – while filled baskets of fruit and late garden vegetables waited nearby. Newly-baked loaves of bread cooled on racks and a wire-basket of eggs from their free-ranging flock had just been gathered. I could also see a sewing machine with work-in-process draped over a nearby table and colorful bobbins on an adjacent shelf. A desktop computer sat, surrounded with opened envelopes – probably with garlic orders (this business lady admitted that a personal note went out with every order – many of them east coast customers.)
Later I followed her down a steep hand-made ladder into a dug root cellar to select and bag the four varieties of garlic bulbs we had decided on, and where I caught an eyeful of garden harvest and preserved goods still waiting to be shelved when time permitted. Bins of perfectly hand-cleaned and labeled garlic bulbs were everywhere, the planting crop separated from the culinary versions. (Larger bulbs are preferred by growers while smaller ones are more appropriate for chefs and home cooks.)
When finished with “business” (she insisted on a discount which was altogether too generous,) we sat in her backyard talking about self-reliant living where her two-year-old clung to me like an adopted grand-daughter. “Once every three months” she apologized, “I drive to a Wal-Mart for the things we need but don’t grow, and we hold that list to a minimum.”
As we drove away from the waving mother and daughter, I felt sheepish about leaving behind a gift copy of my book about self sufficiency. “How ridiculous” I told my wife, “we are the ones who should be taking lessons from Brooke!”
Truth be told, I did find myself rejuvenated by the reminder that there really are young families like this one who still do care enough about clinging to a lifestyle which is often no more than a fond memory, in this case, on the very farm Brooke had grown up on in an earlier time and which had come up for sale at just the right time.
Many memories of my own were conjured up during this pleasant visit in rural Oregon. The somewhat similar family farm and lifestyle which had surrounded my own teenage years came fully to mind as I recalled how it had passed from family hands to outside ownership for a mere pittance to my aging mother; one of the great misgivings of my life and one more consequence of an era in which parents often failed to communicate the facts of “family business” to their offspring.I have to confess to a moment of envy as we drove away from that country garlic farm that lovely October afternoon; a farm where really the most important crop was not garlic, but a happy family