This past Sunday, my husband Sandy and I participated in a lovely experience that I plan to repeat at least yearly. Along with members of Slow Food Piedmont Triad and UNCG's "Simple Living in a Complex World" class, we wound our way up to the Levering Orchard in Ararat, Virginia, just north of the N.C./Virginia line between Mount Airy and the Blue Ridge Parkway, to pick cherries and share good food and good company.
The Levering Orchard is 98 years old. Frank Levering's grandfather first planted the cherry trees here, and Frank and his wife Wanda Urbanska took over the operation of the farm in 1986, a move that they wrote about in their book Simple Living. It is a pick-your-own orchard, although there are some already picked fruits available for sale. Levering Orchard is known for its cherries, but it also offers peaches, nectarines, pears, and apples. See the Levering Orchard web site for this year's schedule and other information.
We carpooled to the orchard from a couple of departure points, and once there, headed straight for the trees. The trees were much bigger than I'd anticipated, and they were chock-full of cherries! By late Sunday afternoon, many of the low-hanging branches had been picked, necessitating climbing the heavy tall ladders. I was in a tree as often as possible when I was a child, so I enjoyed the excuse to get up there and simply sit for a spell while my husband picked cherries. It is hard but pleasant work, and it is easy to pick more cherries than you meant to buy or use! We concentrated on picking the large dark sweet cherries, and bought half a bucket of the smaller tart cherries already picked. I estimate that between us we picked about 17 pounds of cherries. When it is this much fun, it's hard to stop. And the scenery and the view - well, it was gorgeous.
After we all finished our cherry picking, Wanda, Frank, and their son Henry joined us for a potluck picnic and a discussion afterwards about simple living and Slow Food. Also joining in the discussion were Tenley Weaver and Dennis Dove of Full Circle Organic Farm. Tenley and Dennis operate a food distribution co-op of local produce that focuses on USDA-certified organic and biologically-grown vegetables and no/low spray fruits called "Good Food Good People." They provide consumers and restaurants in southwest Virginia with seasonal sustainably-grown food.
I had a nice conversation afterwards with Frank Levering about my daydream of buying a couple of acres for a little blueberry farm. He was so encouraging that I might actually look into it some day, after Italy! (Everything is "before Italy" or "after Italy" these days - looks like it is already a benchmark in my life.)
Wanda and Frank are the authors of several books about simple living as well as the host and writers of the television program Simple Living with Wanda Urbanska, beginning its third season on PBS in January 2007. In a nutshell, this is how they describe the show:
"Simple Living with Wanda Urbanska examines what people can do to make their lives easier and more stress-free, from buying products that will last a long time to managing budgets more responsibly. The show focuses on four themes: environmental stewardship, thoughtful consumption, community involvement and financial responsibility."I recommend their book Nothing's Too Small to Make a Difference, for a well-rounded view of the simple living philosophy.
For more photos of the event, please go to the Flickr photo site that Mandie created for Slow Food Piedmont Triad.