My family created a tradition at our home in Powderhorn that centered around the arrival of raspberries. Usually a 4th of July crop, our backyard harvest of raspberries became one of the featured ingredients of an annual ice cream festival in our back yard. Our gathering brought together our extended families, our friends and co-workers and our neighbors on the block. As a chance to connect the wide circle of people we knew, ice cream played the central draw, but the ability to meet and develop friendships was the ultimate treat of the event.
Some years the 4th would arrive with just a smattering of berries to use as a topping, other years the crop (with supplements from my siblings gardens) would turn into several quarts of sorbets, ice creams and sauces. Our celebration of summer seemed somehow focused on getting to the raspberry harvest. And the monitoring of their ripening was one of the ways we measured summer’s passing.
Harvesting raspberries is not an easy task. It requires a good eye, a light touch and the willingness to bear some pokes and scratches. Knowing when not to tug too hard, or how to lift a cane to peek under the sheltering leaves without breaking it, or when to untangle a set of canes to offer better access, are all learned and acquired skills. Picking cleanly (no stems, leaves, bugs) is a challenge with raspberries and their fragility requires a patience and ease that is often lost on a hot July day.
This year the raspberries, like most crops, were a bit later than usual. I only began to harvest (ok…nibble a few) from our own small set of canes in mid July and the bounty that could be ice cream-worthy didn’t come until the last week of July. But with the offer of my heading-out-of-town neighbor to help clean off his canes, I used an unseasonably cool July morning to pick nearly a pound of berries to make sorbet for the shop.
As I picked, it struck me how the task of gathering berries is a process that should be in the front of my mind for other business tasks. Slow down. Get down to the level of the activity itself. Look from all angles. Go back from another perspective to see what you have missed. Bear the scratches. Go easy, be gentle, the best fruits are ready for you and will just fall into your hands if you let them.
I’ve struggled mightily as a business this summer trying to deal with the road construction’s effects on customer access. I’ve been anxious and stressed. I’ve worked far too many hours to stretch thin revenue. I’ve watched as opportunities ripened and fell to the ground before I could make good use of them. I’ve run up against enough thorns to just want to back off.
My raspberry harvesting gave me a glimpse of a bigger picture. It has been a slow ripening summer but the fruits are coming. My neighbors (and family and friends) have indeed been here this summer to connect, to share their friendship, and show their support. This has lifted my spirits and sustained the shop through this rough patch.
While I was harvesting (a good time to meditate a bit) it also struck me that a couple other current issues for our neighborhood might look a little differently if given the “raspberry picking” process. Conversation has begun around the relationship with our city’s energy producer, Xcel. Already the big company response looks like the best way to harvest raspberries would be to cut down all the canes, run them through a few machines and sort out of the useful berries in the end. Start over with new canes next year. Attack. Tear apart. Don’t worry we can fix it later. But a gentler touch might be more appropriate. A willingness to look under the issues, carefully move aside barriers and find the good fruit. Wanting more sustainable energy production (renewable instead of nuclear) and wanting more affordable energy production (stakeholders instead of shareholders) is a future that we can all celebrate. A desire to not fight with the raspberries will bring a better harvest.
There’s also talk of a co-operative grocery store that would serve our neighborhood and the Central / Bryant Neighborhoods where grocery and food options are currently very limited. What an awesome harvest of raspberries! Fresh and local and organic raspberries! There is so much to get excited about with announcement of Seward Co-op’s hopes to build on 38th Street. It seems like such an easy picking of fruit! But my harvesting reminded me that there is more to this than easy pickings. We can’t forget that there will still be hidden fruit for picking. There will still be thorns that scratch. There will still be tangled canes that are barriers to the really good berries. A really fruitful harvest (one that does bear enough fruit for a community celebration) will require looking at the building of a co-operative grocery from lots of angles, with lots of different eyes, and with a willingness to be gentle.
Raspberries plants (I think) hide their fruits under their leaves and grow lots of thorny protection because they understand how tasty they are. They just want to get ripe and drop to the ground so that their seeds can take root. They try as hard as they can to get at least some of those berries to be missed. It is a good thing that missing a few berries can result in future harvests and ongoing celebrations.