I don't know what compelled me to volunteer to harvest the Swiss chard Saturday morning. I got up early and saw the resident bread-baker frantically trying to get all his bread baked, packaged, and labeled in time for the 8:00 start of the Farmers' Market, and I knew he hadn't had more than three hours of sleep two nights in a row, and I also knew that last week a customer had requested two big grocery bags full of Swiss chard. So I gathered up my sleepy daughter and down we went to the garden while it was still dark out.
Now Swiss chard, for those who are not familiar with it, is the Energizer Bunny of greens: it keeps growing and growing and growing. Cut it down today and tomorrow you'll have a whole new crop of tender young leaves. We serve it like spinach but the taste is stronger, and the stalks get as thick as celery when it grows too long.
Harvesting is a fairly simple process: bend, chop, dump the bundle in a pile to be washed. We had a bucket of water and a bunch of large plastic garbage bags and we took turns chopping and washing until we had the two bags ready for the special order, and then we kept on chopping and washing because it needed to be harvested.
"Who's smoking a pipe?" asked my daughter while washing the leaves. It's true: working with chard produces a strong scent very much like pipe tobacco. I don't know if chard is related to tobacco, but the labor involved in processing it is just about as back-breaking as cutting tobacco.
Two hours it took us to harvest all that Swiss chard, and we ended up with not two bags but twelve. Sold half of 'em at the Farmers' Market and I've been busily processing the rest for the freezer. One big grocery bag full of Swiss chard cooks down enough to fill two quart-size freezer bags. It's labor intensive, but we'll appreciate it come winter when the garden is a barren brown waste.
While stooping over a long, dense row of chard that needs to be harvested, though, it's difficult to find motivation to go on. That little quart-size bag of frozen chard just doesn't seem worth the work, and the crop doesn't bring in much at the Farmers' Market either. I suppose it makes people happy--some people, anyway. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who like strong greens and those who don't, and a big bag of Swiss chard is never going to make the second kind happy.
I like chard well enough, but not enough to make me want to stoop over stalks of it at 6:30 on a Saturday morning. I did it because I said I would do it, no other reason, and when I wanted to stop, I just looked to the end of the row, where a big orange pumpkin sat like a beacon drawing me onward. "The pumpkin is the goal," I told myself. "Keep your eyes on the pumpkin."
This morning that part of the garden looks as if Sherman's Army swept through, but the devastation won't last. The chard shall return and someone will have to harvest it. Good thing I'm leaving for Texas tomorrow. Maybe the chard will harvest itself before I get back!
If not, I'll remember: the pumpkin is the goal. Keep your eyes on the pumpkin.