Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Urban Harvest

The greatest challenge agricultural and governmental experts tell us is the fact that 50% of the worlds people currently live in cities. Within the next generation, estimates place nearly 75% of the worlds populations in urban areas, with less and less people and land available for growing food. Multinational corporations are eager to cash in on this trend, making lab grown food out of petroleum the major food source in the future. Other planners are focusing attention on developing plans for Urban Agriculture, using small spaces, vertical and roof top gardens and encouraging home made food stuffs as part of the solution to feeding 9 billion people in the next 25 years.

As I continue my delightful exploration of the land, culture and people of Macedonia in the Pelagonia region, each day I am exposed to another aspect of the traditions of this tiny nation. What also has been my observation, currently and since I have been paying attention for the last six years, is that this region has much to offer the world in terms of blending modern technology and ancient cultural practices. Each day during my visit, I am treated to a new experience that sounds mundane but ends up in a grand revelation of the senses and practical application.

After work one day, my cousins inform me that we will go pick pears and walnuts. I had visions of going into the country to lush orchards. Not so, we walked down the street to Valentina's mother's house, where there was on the tiny plot of exposed ground around the structure. It was filled with a garden containing the seasons last tomatoes and peppers, a quince, pear and apple tree, and a large walnut tree covering the garage. Harvesting was done by my stylish cousin in her beautiful Italian designer heels, and her Lawyer husband who scaled the roof in search of walnuts.

What was particularly amusing was how Vladko would shake the tree and the nuts would fall on the pavement. He did warn us of each impending shower. I felt like I was living the Macedonian version of the animated film, "Cloudy with a chance of Walnuts." Each large green fruit would fall to the pavement and crack perfectly open revealing the shelled nut inside. How convenient! I had never eaten a freshly picked walnut before, but I hope to continue this practice as the nuts are more sweet than I have ever tasted.

We went on to pick pears, quinces and apples. Later in the week, Valentina announced we would go to her father in laws land outside of Prilep to pick apples. We drove through the rolling marbled land to a small plot with a summer house. Her in laws rent the property to farmers who grow a full range of crops, raise hogs and have bee hives to produce the particularly pungent local honey from the region. 

Field of Broccoli outside of Prilep, Macedonia

The few apple trees where literally drooping to the ground the fruit was so abundant. Again, we harvested in our city clothes beautiful, organic fruit. After about an hour, and many large bags and boxes filled, it seemed that we had barely made a dent on the trees. The quinces and apples will be turned into compote, which is made with lemon juice, plums, raisins and cinnamon. It is drunk as a tea and enjoyed as a natural sweet.

What is natural and simply a seasonal chore with no fanfare is a way of life. It is also a life line and model for the future. We in the states have facebook pages, support groups and books on "foraging." Here, it is as natural as putting up seasonal decorations, only the beautiful strings of peppers, oak wine barrels and shaking of trees is how they supplement their diets with what we in the states would call local artisan food.

Local bees eat the fruit for a nectar source

Later we go to a "super market" which is spelled phonetically in Cyrillic, to pick up some cleaning supplies. I wander the aisles looking at everything, the jars of Ayvar, pickles, olives, traditional seasonings and local versions of junk food. The market is open daily and late. I wonder how long the real food sources will stay in the awareness of the populations mind. When will gardens will be seen as ornamental instead of edible, or will this ever happen here?

In the meantime, I am enjoying the delicious food from the gardens. I hope you can too! Stay tuned, we have two tours available in 2014. But more importantly, learn from the Macedonians and apply it in your own communities. Learn how to grow food in small places, it is actually the wave of the future.

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