Sunday, July 20, 2008

In which we discover: picking your own berries does not necessarily result in a low carbon footprint

After our purchasing extravaganza Friday morning in the metropolitan Asheville crafts market, Hannah and I decided a trip into the country would make a nice Friday afternoon event.

There were several "pick your own blueberries" sites listed by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, and of the ones that advertised themselves as being within twenty minutes of Asheville, she chose the Long Branch Environmental Education Center because they had a nifty website and said they were only eighteen miles away.

From their website: "The land itself is 1635 acres of rugged wilderness and farmland ranging in elevation from 3,000 to 5,152 feet in the Newfound Mountain range, a side-chain between the Black Mountains to the east and the Great Smoky Mountains, 9 miles to the west." It was gorgeous, no question about that.

Of course, it turned out to be an exceedingly remote spot; it in fact took an hour to get there, rather than the twenty minutes they had estimated. The road was mostly uphill and (see left) my radiator boiled over after we'd bumped slowly up, up, up a craggy pitted gravelly road. We almost didn't make it. The car roared and smoked and stank and spat. It's good we'd (almost) gotten where we were going.

My van is 14 years old. I have been telling the mechanic "I want to keep driving this van until my son Zed graduates from college." For various reasons, this goal may have to be adjusted.

So instead of driving all the way to the parking lot, seeing as how the car was in grave need of a rest, we decided to stop just as you see here. We walked up the hill, yelling for the proprietor. The cellphone was getting no reception (heh) so we couldn't call him.

The path wound alongside this greenhouse which has plants growing in it, around it, and through it. The sign says "Community Center." This started to remind us of post-apocalyptic America.

We found a blueberry patch and the blueberries were wonderful. However, Hannah thought she would sit a bit and cogitate on the situation before getting to work.

Eventually the owner showed up. He told us his Educational Center must needs be, of course, far from civilization - it is educating people on self-sustainable living in the country. Solar, windpower, grow your own, etc.

He worked on educating us; I think he was a little bit annoyed that I'd asked if his "educational center" designation provided any tax advantages. He pointed to bee balm and said, "do you know what this is?" "Yes, bee balm," Hannah and I responded in unison. "Do you know its latin name?" "Yes, monarda." He was annoyed again.

His next piece of education was a success. He took us to see a big patch of Japanese wineberry, Rubus phoenicolasius, something we'd never seen before: incredibly sweet, tender, delicious small raspberries.

We picked a lot of wineberries and blueberries, and ending up paying this guy an awful lot, maybe as much as in a grocery store, because he pie-eyed us and said we should support his educational endeavors.

(I came away from this adventure eager to grow wineberries, only to find on google many scolding warnings that wineberries are an invasive exotic which does not belong here in North Carolina. Dang.)

Since the car had almost blown up on the way to his place, we were relieved to head back in a downward direction.

We stopped at this store for something to drink. It was chock-full of local color. I wished Hannah's boyfriend, the Companionable Atheist, were there to see the sights.

The store didn't look exactly new, so I'm not sure what the "Grand Opening" aspect of it was.

The proprietor came out and was very friendly. He explained the store had been there since 1953 but there had been an addition made in 1957. He shook his head and said "things sure have changed." Looking at his store, Hannah didn't really think so.

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