In August, Live on Berries

Posted on August 27, 2011

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We visited two farms in one day.   But I only saw one farm.

At the start of our day we visited Meadowbrook Orchards in Sterling, MA where we picked two pounds of red and orange raspberries.  Then in the late afternoon we visited Kimball Farm in Westford, MA where we steered bumper boats and later slurped melting mountains of premium ice cream.  I was entertained by both, but deeply saddened by Kimball Farm.  Let me explain, because I don’t want to seem ungrateful for any opportunity to eat mocha-chip ice cream.

Kimball Farm has grown far beyond early days as a simple farm stand and ice-cream stand.  In 2010 USA Today proclaimed it the “Best ice cream stand in Massachusetts”, which is of course one of those fantastic claims that can never be fully validated.  My favorite ice cream in the area is Roto Spring Farm in Sterling just down the street from Meadowbrook Farm, but my favorite ice cream in Massachusetts depends on where I am and how pathetic my lunch or dinner was that day.   I guess USA Today ranked Kimball’s “Best” not necessarily because everyone in Massachusetts agrees it is best but because everyone in Massachusetts has likely been there.   Indeed an entire village seemed to be in attendance on the day we arrived.  They were lined-up on the artificial turf to play put-put golf and they were paying $20 for a ten-minute lift 100 feet in a tethered air balloon and they were on the driving range, in the batting cage, or petting the boa constrictor.   It was like Disneyland!  Actually it was more like Knott’s Berry Farm in my home state of California.

There is no “farm” at Knott’s Berry Farm nor are there any more berries there, just lots of killer rides like “Montezooma’s Revenge”.   Walter Knott sold a hybrid of Raspberry, Blackberry and Loganberry that he called “Boysenberry” at a roadside farm stand.  Soon his wife was baking Boysenberry pies and selling those. Then she sold fried chicken there too.  Then the Knott family added minor amusements to help people pas time while they were waiting for the chicken or the pie.  The amusements soon eclipsed the chicken and the pie as the main draw and today, Knott’s Berry Farm rivals such major theme parks as Six Flags and Disneyland, both of which came after Knott’s Berry Farm gained prominence as an amusement park.

Sadly, contrived amusements displace the best early amusements: the adventure of reaching a bare hand through a thorny bush, careful of the buzzing bumble bee near one’s face; the skill of dexterity required to sense a ripe from unripe raspberry; the firm texture and sour taste of an unripe berry and the supple sweetness of an over ripe berry, neither of which are presented for consumption in most supermarkets.  You only experience these joys close to the source, there in the field.

In 1861 Henry David Thoreau wrote a sweet essay called “Huckleberries” in which he lamented recent movements away from gathering berries naturally toward paying someone else to do it while we “swing bags of beans and ring dumbells”.   His simple advice was that there should always be open space left for people to find and collect there own berries.  “In august, we should live on berries.”

I’m not sure I will ever return to Kimball Farm, even after it becomes “Knott’s Berry Farm” charging $60 for “bean bags and dumbells” or Montezooma’s Revenge.  But I will be back to Meadowbrook as often as I can find berries on bushes.

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Posted in: Memoir