Wednesday, April 28, 2010

An island, revisited

One of the things I remember from my younger years is being obsessively into Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), best known for his novel Brave New World, a dystopia of control over the individual and crass commercialism. The fact that The Doors of Perception was a companion of many travels, tucked inside my backpack, should say something about my interests back then. But there's a third book by this great author, Island, that hasn't received as much attention as the other two I mentioned.
Island was published in 1962, shortly before Huxley's death. It deals with ecological problems, like pollution and overpopulation, and proposes ways by which an enlightened, truly free people could overcome them. In that sense, it's about balance, making the right compromises between technology and respect for nature, personal freedom and the welfare of the community, the ying and the yang.
Balance is what came to mind when visiting Michael Wallace's Pine Island farm again, a few days ago. The right compromises. A lot of the work is done by hand by Mike and a handful of volunteers, but there's an orange Kubota tractor parked somewhere, ready for action. Most of the produce is grown using organic methods, but seeking an USDA certification would impose such an effort on the small farm, that it's not even discussed. Fine, one of a kind gourmet herbs and vegetables are grown, but without forgetting our tropical staples: sweet potatoes, peppers, mangoes, papayas. And so on and so forth.
Island, the novel, had a lot of Eastern, Oriental elements to it, as does Island Botanicals, the farm: from farmer Mike's fascination with design elements from the Far East, to the large Ling tree and clusters of mature bamboo everywhere, used for trellises and light construction.
In another post a while ago, I mentioned how much I respect Mr Wallace's approach to growing food in this part of the world, and what a great place his domain is; I won't go there again, but I wanted to add that Mike Wallace is one of the few local farmers I know who is making a serious effort at widening the range of what can be grown here in the summer, a tricky season in South Florida. Efforts have been underway to increase the area under shade, new and old crops are being tried, and hopes are high for the upcoming hot months.
Island Botanicals brings vegetables, herbs, fruit, microgreens and fresh eggs to the GreenMarket every Saturday morning, and has built a loyal clientele that keeps coming back for more. So there's another ying and yang there, I guess: making a decent living and conducting a business successfully, without losing touch with the soil, the ultimate realities of toiling under the sun to slowly create a meal out of a seed or a cutting... and keeping a healthy sense of humor in the process. Hard to achieve all this, but not impossible, as this Pine Island farmer proves Saturday in and Saturday out.
Don't forget to check out some pictures of Mike's farm during a recent visit here, or to visit the Alliance for the Arts every Saturday morning to see what's growing in Pine Island.