This is part 1 of a 2 part post that was published by the Smirking Monkey (God I love that name) on a Blog called North of Center…It has everything that a good Christmas has in it. Joy, Good Cheer, Love of one another, and warmth. But first I must say:
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Building a Basil Economy: Growing, Gleaning, Gifting
by North of Center | December 22, 2009 – 11:33amby Danny Mayer
[Originally published June 3 as “Building a Basil Economy: Part 1 of a 2 part series.”]
Last summer I was awash in basil. Mostly genovese, but also a sweet, a cinnamon, a purple, and a strikingly pungent lemon variety.
My basil crops were the result of a frantic burst of what might best be described as a month of youthful teenage exuberance germinating over a dozen years late. I spread my basil seed everywhere. I scattered it in a tiered garden tucked in the back corner of the Trinity Baptist Church parking lot (behind our former home) and in a hardscrabble spot hastily dug on an empty lot off MLK (next to our current home). I spread my seed in a hops garden, a lettuce garden, and a poorly tended garden in nearby Keene, KY, and I laid it down in a private double plot in the even more proximate London Ferrill Garden. I even spread some seeds in a couple of guerrilla garden beds around town.
My basil sprouted around squash, above watermelon vines, and between tomato plants. Some of it shaded late-season lettuce. One particular plant I recall growing to a size of three feet and looking like a great sticky pot plant. I imagined myself re-scenting the greater Lexington area, and in some spots, after a particularly unexpected breeze or a casual hand bent and teased the fields of leaves, I swear that scent took hold. I was a regular Johnny Basil-seed.
By late June, I had a curious and not wholly unexpected dilemma: how might I utilize or otherwise dispose of all that scent and flavor?
I say not wholly unexpected because the year before I had a similar need to get rid of basil—though not nearly so much—when I guerrilla gardened some roma tomatoes and basil at the top lip of a drainage ditch behind a stripmall on Winchester Road. I wound up bringing my excess basil to Enza’s Italian Eatery, now unfortunately closed but at the time only a short walk down Winchester from my guerrilla garden plot. Though I intended the basil as a gift born of seasonal excess, on occasion I ended up receiving balls of homemade mozzarella in exchange. It was an eye-opening process for me: come with basil, give it to Curtis to use in sandwiches, eat a caprese sandwich for lunch with my just-picked basil shredded on top, pay for the meal, and leave with an extra two or three or four balls of fresh mozzarella floating in a container of mozzarella water.
So when the great basil crunch hit me last summer, I was partially prepared. I began to harvest different plots weekly and and give my excess green freely away to interested restaurants that I often found myself eating at. And in return, I received from these restaurants more mozzarella balls, the occasional free meal, gift certificates to distribute to friends and dogsitters, and much good will. Not bad for about an $8 investment in seeds.
Growing a Different Economy
Much has been made, in print and on air, of Lexingtonians’ budding interest in growing and consuming fresh and local produce. We eat fresher food. We get to sample a greater variety of food. We grow community by gathering in groups at places like Farmer’s Markets to chat, eat, and purchase food for home. We nourish and reconnect to the earth. We support local farmers. We get outside and away from the television and the computer.
DOT DOT DOT as they say
Gleaning Networks and Free Stores: Giving Away Abundance
In a nation that has its own hunger problems, growing your own food ensures you will know abundance. Or as John Walker put it during our chat over tea at his Hamilton Park home, “I can guarantee that you will at some time have more than you know what do with.”
Walker, a native of England, has been gardening in the same Lexington backyard for fifteen years, so he knows something about abundance. Along with his work through Kitchen Gardeners Bluegrass teaching people how to prepare home-grown and home-cooked food, Walker has organized a loosely affiliated group of gleaners, the Lexington Urban Gleaning Network (LUGN), who this summer and fall will collect that agricultural abundance before it rots away. LUGN’s goal is to identify unused fruit trees and overwhelmed backyard gardeners in order to gather, or glean, unused food. From the gleaners hands, the food will pass through a number of food banks large and small for distribution to those needing food.
dot dot dot
I recall the trepidation with which passersby and “customers” initially approached my beaten down Nissan pickup truck. “You’re just giving this away?” they’d ask incredulously. “Sure, why not,” I’d reply casually. “Otherwise it’s in my compost.”
No doubt the measured first inquiries had much to do with me—a white boy—giving away the food, but I think something else was also at play. There’s a certain psychic barrier or socialized hurdle that we must all leap over or dig under before something like the Lexington Free Store makes sense. In that it emphasizes giving over buying, the distribution of excess rather than the selling of surplus, the store seemingly defies all rules for being a store. I can sustain myself for the very reason that the store depends on something that I can replenish for very little money. In other words, for the most part I can use food to cut money out of my economic transactions that represent my labor.
In return, at the Lexington Free Store I received as much as I gave. We exchanged no money and yet the transactions were fair. I met new faces, learned new recipes for using the produce I was giving away, and at times even had meals cooked for me. Without money, this was a different form of economic efficiency, one that saw both me and my “customers” mutually enriched by our transaction.
When food is your main currency, it becomes difficult to be a good capitalist.
Please read the whole article, IT’S INCREDIBLE