Finding Nirvana at The Great Persimmon Harvest
I stayed in bed as long as I could, wrapped up in blankets, waiting for the sun to come reaching through the window to pluck me out of my warm cocoon. I had been anxiously awaiting this day all week, trying but unable to fathom what 50,000 pounds of fruit must look like. This would be my first harvest, and I had no idea what to expect.
One of the first volunteers to arrive at the backyard orchard, I sipped my tea, grabbed a milk crate and slipped on my gloves. With three other women, I tried to get into a rhythm of pinching a branch with one hand and twist, twist, twisting the persimmon with the other until it popped off triumphantly.
People slowly started trickling in – college students up early on a weekend, families with bright-eyed youngsters, older adults – and then suddenly the orchard was flooded with the chatter of over two hundred happy volunteers from all over the Bay Area. Still, with over 800 trees to harvest, I was often able to have one all to myself.
The low-hanging persimmons were my favorite to pluck. Sitting on uneven farmland, long dry grass providing a soft surface, plucking persimmon after persimmon off delicate looking branches put me in a rhythmic, meditative state. Twist, twist, twist. Dusted with a fine layer of dirt and listening to the rustling of leaves as I reached toward the center of the tree, I felt a connection with the earth that is so often absent in our technology-driven lives. Fruit picking might not require a formal education, but it absolutely inspires deep thought, contemplation, enlightenment. It challenges the body as well as the mind. I have gained imminent respect for the farm workers around the world who perform this labor day in and day out, for hours longer than I did today. Twist, twist, twist.
As I plucked, I thought about the impact of our work. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in our country, and if Americans ate just one more fruit or vegetable per day, we would prevent 30,000 premature deaths and save $5 billion in national medical costs annually. If Americans ate the government’s recommended 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day, those numbers would be even higher, preventing 127,000 deaths and saving $17 billion in national medical costs. I thought about how people facing food insecurity don’t get to eat many fruits and vegetables (because they’re more expensive, and the government has continued to subsidize crops like corn, soy and wheat even after the Great Depression has ended – yes, the one from the 1930s – instead of more nutritious crops like vegetables and fruits). I thought about the food drives I’ve gone to, where canned foods are the norm; how people who depend on food banks to provide or supplement their meals must eat so many canned goods. I thought about what an enormous impact we could make by replacing cans with fresh fruit. I thought about the vitamins and minerals that would nourish their bodies, about the sweet natural sugars that would surely please their children. Twist, twist, twist.
Amidst the banter and laughter, and amongst my own thoughts, I found nirvana.
As the trees turned from orange to green, shrinking as we stripped them of their precious fruits, my mind stilled, bringing peace. My fingertips ached from pinching those strong branches, and my wrists became sore from twisting persimmons, yet I felt happy and at home in the backyard of this stranger.
Naked trees ended our harvest early. In utter amazement and disbelief, I gazed at thirteen thousand pounds of fruit sitting proudly in huge cardboard containers waiting to be picked up and distributed to one of five county food banks. My jaw dropped when I learned that several crates had already been taken, that we had likely exceeded our goal of harvesting 50,000 pounds of persimmon. I couldn’t even formulate coherent sentences as I spoke with a local journalist; “It’s amazing,” and “It’s just great,” will likely be my most groundbreaking quotes.
“This is God’s work,” Lennie said through his window as he pulled up next to me. “Would you know what I meant if I said this is a mitzvah?” Though I have no religious background, his words resonated with me. This was a miracle.
I slipped into my own car with droopy eyelids, skin caked with sweat and dirt, the inside of my nose hosting a layer of dust, feeling proud of myself and my friends for making this day happen. Four hours later, I still smell nothing but dirt and feel nothing but happy.
We may not solve world hunger – or even local hunger – but today we made a damn good dent.