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Nature’s Imperfections: “The Mottled Moments That Make Us Human”.

photo copywrite Urban Zucchini MamaAfter so many years of gardening, I have come to realize that sometimes we must adapt ourselves to nature’s whims and live with some of the imperfections that it delivers. Nothing in our gardens, or in life, is truly perfect. Even though the flower garden is a human invention, ascribed a predetermined character by a designer or landscape architect, each plant that contributes to making up the garden will ultimately perform and behave according to its predestined program, and the physical environment that it experiences. Therefore, fighting nature, i.e. fighting the preordained master plan, or The Master’s Plan, depending on one’s theological slant, is not realistic. The forces of nature are too powerful for human will to prevail. There are realistic limits to our mastery of our own little universe, whether it is a garden or the life we lead.

Here is an article from Shari B’s blog, Urban Zucchini Mama, where she shares experiences of raising healthy children while trying to avoid toxic chemicals and growth hormones. Recently, she wrote about imperfections found in organic produce, and how dealing with those flaws might help us better deal with the imperfections of everyday life.

Urban Zucchini Mama, Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Imperfection is Organic

There's nothing like apple picking in New England. For years, my family has enjoyed this fall tradition.

We've visited farms with train rides, hay rides, corn mazes, gourmet donuts and ice cream, petting zoos, pony rides, barbeques and playgrounds. These theme-park orchards provided great entertainment, but they could never provide us with one thing: organic apples.

They say that it is impossible to grow organic apples, pears and stone fruit on the east coast. They say these crops will quickly be devoured by molds, fungi and pests.  I've spoken to many vendors at my local farmer's market, and they all sing the same refrain: we do our best, we use as little spray as possible, if we didn't spray you couldn't eat these.... But that's not entirely true.

For the past two years my family has visited Old Frog Pond Farm, a 25-acre pick-your-own orchard owned by a local artist. Our first year there, it was sleepy and quiet. The trees were short and looked sparse. The apples were tiny, lopsided, disfigured and covered with black and brown splotches.

"Are these safe to eat?" I asked the young man who worked there. He smiled and informed me that these blemishes were a natural part of the apple, perfectly safe for human consumption. "Organic," he said, "is not perfect."

Still, we were a bit fearful, so we took them home and baked pies and cooked applesauce instead of eating them raw.

Over the course of the year, his words remained with me: "Organic is not perfect." It got me thinking about my perceptions of the world and myself. When I shop I seek out perfect products. I exercise in hopes of a more perfect body. I write aspiring to the perfect manuscript. I child rear with earnest desire to be the perfect mother ... wife ... citizen.  I keep searching for the aha! moment when I realize that it has all come together perfectly.

In a world of shiny, glossy, beautiful people, products and produce, it's hard to accept anything less.

This year, we decided to go back to Old Frog Pond Farm. My kids discovered hidden sculptures, designed by the owner, nestled between the trees and along the edges of the field. The orchard seemed busier, the trees seemed fuller, the choices seemed greater, and the apples seemed less blemished. When my kids asked for samples, I didn't bat an eyelash at the black mottled skins.

The apples were not beautiful by traditional standards. Not even close! But they were grown without toxic chemicals and they were delicious.

I've finally begun to understand that imperfection really is natural, organic and healthy. It's the mottled moments that make us human and the lopsided apples that give us something to write about.

Click here to read more anecdotes by Urban Zucchini Mama.

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Reader Comments (5)

To be honest, I didn't even know what they were at first. There was a year when a friend brought bushel baskets of apples from her tree into my classroom. They looked nothing like apples because they had not been sprayed.

We cooked every one of those apples and put them through the Foley Mill to make applesauce which was delicious.


November 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGatsbys Gardens

I so agree - perfection in fruit and vegetable appearance is the tyranny of the supermarket.

November 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercatharine howard

While I agree with the concept that organic food doesn't have to be perfect looking, I find that backyard organic gardening DOES yield perfect and beautiful produce, if the soil and conditions are good. Healthy plants are far less susceptible to pests of all kinds. Those apples look awful, to be honest. I have to wonder about the farming techniques of the grower, no matter what cute yard art they might have. Of course I am no expert, never having grown apples in New England. But I'd go with a different crop if that's the best his soil and climate can do with that variety of apples. Hope this isn't being too honest!

November 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSara Chapman

Sara, I appreciate your candor. I don't think this orchard has mastered organic apple farming, but as of right now, they are the only show in town. 99% of the pick-your-own in New England are IPM. I just found a new, small organic orchard that is working with some vendors at the farmer's market but is not open to the public. The produce was definitely rounder but still very much mottled. And I was OK with that, because I'm beginning to embrace imperfection.

November 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShari Becker

I must disagree with Catherine, consumer expectations are the tyranny produce markets and growers labor under.

In my home garden I am able to grow apples and pears with little pesticide usage due to the lack of disease pressure for I am 20 miles from the nearest commercial orchard. In a large orchard, especially in fruit growing regions with many large orchards, diseases travels quickly via wind and insects. Some disease can kill young fruit trees, and being that it takes five years until the tree begins to pay back it's investment, one would prefer to help it thrive. No business wants to waste expensive fuel and even more expensive chemcals and the labor to apply them, nor do they want to expose their families living smack in the middle of the farm to hazzard. I believe consumer questioning is good, however it is a fact of life that a farmer is hundreds of times more likely to be injured or killed putting the food on a consumers table compared to the consumer being harmed by that produce.

As a 10 year commercial orchard owner this is what I accept for personal use: blemishes caused by fungus are certainly tolerable, coddling moth larvae wriggling through my food is not!

February 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSheila

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