I don’t follow the Chinese calendar – I can barely keep up with my personal diary – but if I had to guess, I’d suppose that this is the Year of the Tortoise. Still to pick up any apparent momentum after an excruciatingly slow start, yet somehow it is getting there. People are moaning about the “lack of summer” (as if we ever, or would ever not moan if, we get three months of unbridled heatwave). But summer IS HERE, only it’s shuffled in so cautiously most of us haven’t noticed yet.
People who work outdoors tend to notice these things quicker, which is surely only a fair trade-off for having to spend so much time appreciating, first freezing hand, how bloody cold winter actually is. Mind, there are more bright heavenly days in winter, Horatio, than are dreamt of in warmed offices.
Me, John and Paul couldn’t fail to notice on Friday: we were on the first strawberry pick. A full month later than 2011’s, but the commencing of the trawling of British Summer’s flagship berry on the very day of the summer solstice seemed spot on. What’s more, once again, our strawbs are ripe in time for Wimbledon. In an age when virtually all of the UK’s commercial strawberry production has been pulled indoors – and worse, clear of the soil – it makes me proud, very proud, to be raising sweet red joy from our cold hard clay, in the western winds, in time for the opening day of the summer fruits & sports season.
Regular spectators will know that the highlight of the summer sports season here at Hawkwood are the midsummer Horticultural Games. This year, the day was glorious in every way. With over 70 in attendance, Adam, freshly returned from representing the newly formed UK Land workers’ Allince at the quaternal Via Campesina Conference in Jakarta, hurled his way into history with a win in the Men’s Salad Tossing. Jo avoided the spectacular pile-up at the finish of the Sack Race to grab a plant pot trophy for the otherwise underachieving Fruit team. The big upset was that the Weight Lifting – a discipline of strength and skill, where contestants, having lifted the garlic dumb bell must go on to guess its weight – was won not by any of the stall workers, box scheme packers or harvest hands, but Brian, our mere Funding & Council Liaison Officer.
For once, the Potato & Knife Race was not marred by revelations or accusations of “thumbing” by leading athletes, and Ippy (Team Salad) was a worthy winner in the Women’s event. The Tug Of Peace was high drama indeed: the passion and grit with which participants in the Final heaved for Vines and Vegetables was moving. In the end, the Vines team, as Marlene said, pipped it, in doing so, prising the overall Team Trophy. Fitting, in a year when the first grape harvest is due to enter a newly fitted Cooperative Winery.
The Hawkwood Games then, and its lesser relation, the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship, are trumpeted as heralding the red letter start of the summer fruit season. What’s less considered is that every start starts with an end, or is it every end ends with a start? I always get muddled. Anyway the point being that, in the endless breathtaking rally between seasonal superfoods, strawberries bounce up exactly where rhubarb and asparagus leave off.
So on Tuesday, there was a subtle poignancy with which Vi hung the asparagus knife back up for the good; and when Gary weighed out the last bundle of crimson sticks, I was half expecting the credits to start rolling. Sad, but right: the early excitement of each delicacy has worn off: no rhubarb whatsoever sold on our stalls last week . And the crop is equally tired of being picked. It’s their time to grow unchecked. So on we go…
Starts and ends, leaving things behind and taking things forward, was the theme beautifully addressed by our Outreach Worker Liz, in the solstice ritual she devised for the post-Games after-party for coop members and trainees. The plant world, and so our life, turns on subtle, tortoise-like shifts, punctuated by the occasional Big Leap. This time is closer to the latter.
It’s by no means perfect, but this is our summer. So go forth and taste good, local, organic, love-grown, strawberries, wherever they may be.