I laid out gardens and groves, in which I planted every kind of fruit tree. I constructed pools of water, enough to irrigate a forest shooting up with trees.
At Ladera Frutal, we do have quite a variety of fruit trees, most of them (though not the avocados) planted by my own hands, in the days when my back could tolerate that sort of work. In fact, the number of fruit varieties remains not much below the 150 indicated [formerly] on the banner above, reduced only by the freeze of 2007 (which claimed the most tender subtropicals) and some ‘natural’ attrition (fruit trees are living beings, all of which must die at a time unknown to them–or to the grower).
However, we no longer have the means to irrigate a forest shooting up with trees. The photo above shows what the Ladera Frutal avocado grove now looks like. Yes, it is dying–by design. I had been leaning towards abandoning avocados for some time, for ethical reasons. Over time, as I became more steeped in organic agriculture and food ethics–and, especially as I have developed my own modern Jewish perspectives on those themes–I came to question why we grow what is essentially a rain forest crop in what is very nearly a desert climate. This is not a good use of our scarce resources. Yet what ethics did not lead me to stop doing, economics finally did. With water costs rising and increased imports, and more recently the general economic squeeze affecting most of us, it was time to let the avocado grove go.
The trees are now left to fend for themselves, despite what could have been a good crop in 2009.
Isn’t that a sad sight? A Hass avocado tree laden with fruit–but hardly a leaf to be found. Even if it suddenly began to rain, this fruit would be nothing but ornamental orbs. When a fruit tree has fruits, but loses its foliage for lack of water, it draws on the fruit to sustain itself as best it can. From the tree’s perspective, all that fruit is just an emergency pool of water.
A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under the heaven:
A time for being born and a time for dying,
A time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted.
Ideally, I would uproot the avocados and replace them with a more climate-suitable crop, like olives or grapes. Such crops are ideal for this dry Mediterranean climate, and at one time they were common in San Diego County. Then came the avocado revolution, thanks to cheap water ‘imported’ from our state’s northern reaches and some very crafty and state-subsidized marketing campaigns promoting California Hass avocados. Olive oil consumption is rising dramatically in the USA, so there could be a market. And wine production is returning to this county. Maybe we are in a transition. If so, it is a transition to be welcomed, back towards more sustainable and suitable crops. Avocados are a wonderful fruit, but the Hass (more water hungry than most varieties) really should not be taking up scarce water in a time of what appears to be an increasingly dry climate.
The quotes in this planting, as many a reader may have recognized, come from Ecclesiastes. This biblical book is traditionally read during Sukkot, the holiday just about to wrap up. As a read, it is a tad melancholy, even as it tells us to enjoy our days under the sun–or, in the case of Sukkot, the Season of our Joy, perhaps that should be under the stars and the rain (if only!) or the wind, or whatever else the elements send over our fragile existence.
Obviously there won’t be any more avocado harvests to be ingathered at Ladera Frutal, but aside from the former commercial production, “every kind of fruit tree” under the sun remains a core activity around the finca.
While we are on the subject of the fall season and Ecclesiastes, one last thing seems appropriate to the season:
there is a frustration that occurs in the world: sometimes an upright man is requited according to the conduct of the scoundrel; and sometimes the scoundrel is requited according to the conduct of the upright. I say all that in frustration.
Indeed. And this is the season not only for rejoicing in the harvest, but soon for using our individual voices as best we can to send a message that we have had enough with that frustration, enough with the scoundrels. Cast wisely and enjoy democracy’s days under the sun, for we never know when their end might come.