Someone harvested something from my yard without asking and they left a note on my front porch letting me know. Here is what I think about it.
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Modern Homesteading Promotes Sharing
This modern homesteading thing can be something of a head-scratcher.
As a modern homesteader, I dream of a local community in which my fellow residents value productive skills. I know that a resilient local community is a food secure community.
In the spirit of this goal, I try to model a productive lifestyle and share the skills we’ve learned through growing our own food on our little one-tenth acre.
That’s why we planted our parking strip – that narrow strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street – with cherry trees. Of course, we were excited for a harvest of our own, but we showed the trees to the neighbors and encouraged them to harvest as well. We envisioned the parking strip as a natural foraging area along a busy sidewalk filled with kids on bikes and dog walkers.
Planting the parking strip made me hopeful that if we planted something delicious, good things might come from it, perhaps instilling a memory of joy that comes from harvesting fruit from a tree and eating it straight away.
But I’m not always so optimistic.
To Share or Not to Share
These past couple of weeks I had been feeling fairly frustrated. The cherry trees were dripping with fruit, and even when I offered cherries to passersby as I harvested, no one was interested. One adult dog walker actually asked me if they were apples, making me question what she was fed as a child and what’s taught in our schools. When I told her that they were cherries, she replied that she didn’t eat cherries. (What?!)
So I had just harvested
23 pounds 27 pounds of cherries from the cherry trees in the supposed “community” parking strip. Great for us, but “fail” at the community level, I thought. [Post note: Here’s what we did with those excess cherries!] A few days later I found a note on my front porch declaring a comfrey harvest had been made without my knowledge or permission.
The comfrey grows underneath the cherry trees in the parking strip and acts as a natural mulch, fertilizer, and attractant of pollinators and beneficial insects. Comfrey is also called knitbone – one of those old-timey herbs that is so powerfully healing, it’s hard to believe its effectiveness.
Finding that note was a moment of truth: How did I feel about it? Was I happy to share, as advertised?
Books like Superbia and The Transition Handbook implore us to create productive communities, not just productive homesteads. But I like my privacy, too. Gardening in the front yard is like being on stage: visible for all to see–or touch.
The truth is, a wave of emotions came over me all over the course of a minute.
My first thought was surprise. I was alarmed that someone had harvested in my front yard without me knowing it, especially since I was outside the entire time (in the backyard). How could I have missed it? However, the entire point of the parking strip setup was that I wouldn’t have to know when someone harvested. I guess I just thought it would be cherries, not comfrey!
I felt badly for the dog, and said a silent prayer for its wellbeing.
I felt happy that a forager knew how to identify comfrey, knew that we had it growing, and knew about its amazing healing benefits. I felt happy that we are welcoming enough that the person even considered coming to our yard in this time of need.
Because the harvest was in the parking strip which I had designated as a community harvest area, I don’t mind sharing. The rest of our yard, however, is our space, and we prefer only to share it with people we know.
I felt a little unsettled that the forager had remained anonymous and had obviously studied our yard and knew what we were growing. I had imagined the foragers being neighbors I know and had told about the “community” cherry trees. Should I be worried? Well, unfortunately in these modern times, it does mean that we should be a bit vigilant. You just never know, and being safe is better than being sorry.
And yet, I wonder if the anonymity is a product of how new the idea of a sharing economy is. There are a lot of unspoken lines being crossed, and it’s hard to know what’s okay and what isn’t as far as taking what you need from someone else’s yard and sharing what you have. For now, I have faith that this forager was wrestling with these questions, had an emergency, decided to go for it, and even left a note.
I set aside my cynicism for a minute and reminded myself that not everything will follow my perceived plan. I may have hoped for a community cherry harvest, but what I got instead was a comfrey harvest from someone who desperately needed it. I’d say that was a win for the modern homesteading movement, however you define it.
It was also a reminder to not hold on so tight to ideals of what this is supposed to look like.
Finally, I anxiously await a gift in September from the mystery forager. What could it be?
How would you feel about an anonymous harvest in your yard?