Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Philistine at the Seed Barn

  BB: Ivan is fine but he's not a serious guy, he's a philistine.
  FB: What's a philistine?
  BB: It's a guy who doesn't care about books and interesting films and things. Your mother's brother Ned is  also a philistine.
  FB: Then I'm a philistine.
  BB: No, you're interested in books and things.
           - beloved scene in Noah Baumbauch's The Squid and The Whale (2005)

Standing in the Baker Creek Seed Bank in Petaluma on Mother's Day afternoon, I was definitely feeling the philistine. The Bank is just that, occupying a former historic bank with 30-foot high ceilings. For gardening fanatics, it's a bit mecca, especially if you're all heirloom seeds and shit. Truly it's a lovely, lovely place. You pick up a little metal pail painted with flowers to gather your seed packets in, and off you go.

If only we'd visited a couple of months ago, before we started most of our garden from seed and bought the rest from Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden plant sale. We were interested in just a few things and finding them was a challenge when you're dealing with such scale.

We started at the beginning, at A, and worked our way methodically down the long banks of cubbies, through vegetables, to herbs, to flowers.  Wow, there are a lot of dang seeds.

And because it's mecca and people are worshipping at the altar of the non-GMO, naturally my inner philistine couldn't resist making an appearance.  I think it happened at the precise moment I was facing the melon selection at left.  

A few years ago we raised some delicious canteloupes from seeds we brought back from France, tucked in a corner of a suitcase.  The melons were small, sweet, bursting with flavor.  We have space this year to accomodate their sprawl, so why not start some canteloupes.

And so we stood in front of these rows and rows of seeds.  Let's see: should we choose the Charentais, the 
Noir de Carmes, the Petit Gris de Rennes, or maybe go American and choose Edisto 47 or Kansas or Hearts of Gold.  Or any one of about 30 other options. 

And I turned to Joe and said, "Can we just get a god damn canteloupe?"

Momentary bitch aside, we did wind up with the Petit Gris de Rennes in our pail, coaxed by the enthusiastic staff at the counter.  And zucchini and butter lettuce, but naturally they are not called by those names.   

It's wonderful, truly, to have access to all of this variety, but after a lifetime of reduced nomenclature, it's challenging to integrate this vast diversity, not to throw up the hands at the 100 types of tomato seeds and storm out in search of an Early Girl.  I am learning to love it, to the extent that I can ever love anything that has that hushed atmosphere when you walk in, that has that tremendous potential for pretension (pretential?) built into it.

They're plants, people.  Yes, it's lovely  to be restoring a natural diversity that has been lost as we've been eating generic food.  But let's go easy on the seriousness.

The Philistine

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