By John Bunker, MOFGA President
From time to time people ask me what MOFGA is all about. Although, oddly enough, the word education does not appear in our mission statement, when I talk about what we do, I always come back to that word. It is the key that unlocks the door. From time to time people also ask me how I myself got involved in agriculture. Again, my response always comes back to that same word. In my case, it began in a secluded vegetable garden 50 years ago on Cape Cod.
Helen Sawyer was an artist who lived in Sarasota in the winter and Truro in the summer. She was born on July 6, 1897, and died 101 years later. Her specialties were landscapes of the Cape, floral still-lifes and circus scenes. I got to know “Henka” and her husband, painter Jerry Farnsworth, during my childhood summers in Truro. They were two of our closest family friends.
Henka painted in an old barn on a sandy, back road about half a mile from her house in North Truro. Despite the fact that she was 53 years older than I, we spent a lot of time together. I would show up at her studio barn and hang out while she painted. We’d play calypso records on her record player. Sometimes she would take a break from her easel and dance to the music. I would draw, watch her paint and explore a lifetime of paintings stacked against the walls.
In front of her studio was her vegetable garden. It must have been close to half an acre, surrounded by a 4-foot-tall fence. My family would periodically have cookouts in Henka and Jerry’s back yard, and invariably, Henka would head to the garden to pick produce for our dinner. One day I went with her. It was 1956. I was in first grade. She was picking this and that while I was wandering down the rows of vegetables amusing myself. She called me, and I walked over to her. She pointed to the ground and told me to pull on the lacy greens below us. I pulled and out popped a long, deep-orange carrot. She instructed me to wipe the dirt off the carrot on my dungarees. I joyfully smeared the soil on my pants. “Eat it,” she said.
I had never been a great fan of vegetables; I was more of a meat and potatoes kind of kid. But there was something about that one moment than has stuck with me for the past 50 years. I can still remember perfectly the instant the carrot emerged from the sandy soil. I still recall the taste. It was sweet. It was cool. It was orange. It was the best carrot in the world. In fact, it was the best vegetable I’d ever tasted.
This fall as my sometimes-apprentice Nate and I fill the root cellar with apples, beets, cabbages, potatoes … and carrots, I’m pretty sure I’ll be thinking of Henka. I also think of her every now and then when I don my favorite shirt. It’s orange.