Monday, April 26, 2010

“The world is run by the people who show up”

I spent the weekend at PeaceJam, a conference designed to “empower youth to make positive change in their communities.” Here in Corvallis, that often means the sons and daughters of activist liberals, but it was created to give kids who were looking at gang life an alternative, and that is one of the underlying vibes of the weekend. There were over 200 kids—bouncy middle school soccer players and kids with parole officers in attendance. It was an interesting mix, but it worked. The Youth had a grand time, playing team building games and talking about peace as well as listening to a Nobel Peace activist talk politics at their level. The organizers didn’t really know what to do with the adult chaperones; I spent too much time in a circle with fifty people, listening to five or six, lightly bored, wondering why I was there, rather than planting tomatoes.

One of the central rituals of the weekend is the Ceremony of Inspiration. Anyone can stand up and tell the crowd who inspired them to work for peace and justice. The Laureate begins—her family inspired her. Kids troop to the front, talk about their families and friends, some living, some dead, who inspire and support them. Everyone applauds. When a kid talks about losing his mom to cancer, there are sniffles in the room. When another talks about her friend, the friend calls out from the crowd. “Love you, Ashley!” echoes through the room. I drift off, look up to see Sandy Cisneros, one of the OSU students leading the Youth for the weekend, peering over the podium. “I’m on my tip-toes,” she said with a smile. “When I was in ninth grade,” she continued, “In my English classroom, there was a bumper sticker.” That’s my room, I think. “It read ‘The world is run by the people who show up.’ It inspired me—so here I am. I showed up.”

And it is so true. The world is run by the people who show up. In Corvallis, if a dozen people testify, it can sway the council; the land use planners are more difficult. Enough letters to create a file folder on a specific topic can influence the state legislature. Clearly, as we have seen, every vote counts. So we have to show up. To move chairs so that people can watch a movie, and bring cookies so that they stay after to talk about it. To stand in front of the courthouse, silent, dressed in black, to absorb the anger of frustrated white guys in big trucks who shout at the “damn hippies” – never mind that some of those hippies were in Vietnam and know what happens in a war. And, sometimes, that means being lightly bored in an endless meeting—because you never know, never know, when you might inspire someone, although it’s probably not when you are trying to do so.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tomato Saga



We are almost at the end of the Spring Tomato Saga…All I have left are eleven plants, sitting in one clearly labeled tray. We accidently gave away our plants a few years ago in the rush to clear them out and I was left with five stupices and a couple of sungolds. I had to buy plants! Since then, I have labeled clearly.

The journey begins at Candlemas, when we plant six-packs of all of the varieties, two seeds per slot. Given the ease of tomato seed germination, that means ten to fourteen plants of all seven types. And yes, we do need seven varieties of tomatoes—how could anyone give up the little golden, sweet Sungolds warm off of the vine? Or the complexity of the Green Grapes on a September afternoon? The large firm slices of a Black Prince? The color values of a Lemon Plum mixed into the dried tomatoes for winter? The delicate foliage of a Silvery Fir Tree? The Long-keeper, which gives you a tasty tomato on the Winter Solstice? And you always need some canners—long romas that come ripe just when school starts. So, I plant them all, knowing that there will be far more plants than we need. Distribute the surplus—one of the first principles of permaculture design.

Once planted, the flats come to school and sit under the light on my counter. They thrive. Once or twice someone has messed with one or two plants, but usually they are left alone, if not encouraged. Some years, entire classes check on them regularly. Someone is always amazed that the plants smell like a tomato! One year, I found a tiny origami crane tucked in with the plants as I carried them home.

By Spring Break, they are ready for re-potting. Suddenly, one innocent tray of tomato seedlings burgeons into 80-90 small plants—four large trays to move in and out. At that point, I send out the call—get them out of the living room. Until they are gone, I haul plants out in the morning, sometimes to the bench in front of the door, sometimes to the mobile greenhouse known as The Ark, and back in for sudden hailstorms and darkness. Every afternoon, I deal in tomato plants, describing their loveliness, giving hints about planting and care, pushing them out into the world. Some people take a dozen; some just one or two. I have repeat customers; I set requested plants aside for pick-up at Hot Cross Buns. This year, when just a handful of romas were left, I called a “clean-up squad”—a friend who plants a huge garden every year—to come and haul them away.

We were left with the one small tray, labeled “OUR PLANTS” to move in and out on warm days. Soon, they will be popped into their wooden barrels along the south side of the house, ready for summer.