So I'm heading to an orchard to get fed. It’s the right thing to do in this culinary, economic, environmental and moral climate: eat good-tasting, good-for-you stuff, straight from the ground; reject land-filling plastic packaging and preservatives; renounce the evils of spendy, wasteful mankind.; take better care of your colon. Impressively, I have figured out how to do all of this in one quick trip. I will visit Gilcrease Orchard.
Bummer that I live in Henderson, and the orchard is north of Ann Road. Apparently, I will be burning a jet tank’s worth of fuel to make this environmentally sound trek. But it's the opening day of Vegas' orchard season, as it were, and I'm giddy with the notion of being lifestyle-progressive, so screw it. I'm going to pluck something edible from the earth and eat it with my bare hands while being morally self-satisfied so help me God, and no globe-warming oil crisis is going to mess that up. Besides, I drive a Honda.
I’ve read about Gilcrease for years and here's how I pictured it: Eden. In reality, the desert-turned-suburb-surrounded Gilcrease is kind of a drive-thru Eden. Going north on Tenaya past a few subdivisions, you see a small sign pointing toward a patch of short trees fronted by a line of cars inside a fence. There’s no stopping to hop out and don overalls -- you just drive right on in on a dirt road that loops around the rows of fruit trees, past signs that caution, "Warning: This is a farm …” No problem, though, because it’s scorching outside and if I can arrange to be environmentally renewed without turning the A/C off, I’m in.
It’s beautiful, inasmuch as dozens of acres of neatly lined fruit trees cheer up the dry-sprawl aesthetic. Around the second corner of unripe apple trees is a zucchini patch infiltrated by scads of senior citizens who are field-tripping from a senior center. The zucchs are going for 35-cents per, so in this crowd the game seems to be to find the largest zucchini possible. "Whoooooo! Look at this long one!" says Janice Murphy to her canasta buddies as she picks a foot-long from the desert floor. Having left my car five feet away with the A/C running, I quickly ask her whether she thinks these zucchs will taste any better than the ones at Albertson's, whether local food is superior, whether we’re all going to be better off if we kill the corporate food processing regime and farm without pesticides, and she looks at me, past me, like I’m a lost fly, and says joyfully, “I don't know.”
At least Janice and her compatriots are wearing sunhats and can collect their souvenirs in grocery bags. I'm getting sunburned and have no grocery bag, having arrived with a keen sense of someone-will-provide-for-me. I lean over and push thick green leaves aside, searching for my dinner. The yellow flowers atop the leaves feel rubbery and nearly fake. Low to the ground, I finally spot my prey, a 14-inch green zucchini. “Oh my goodness!” I shout, as if I’ve joined the canasta team, because it really is amazing to see the gift of food hiding right there under foot, right there in an orchard in north Las Vegas, in view of a cell tower made to look like a fake palm tree and a neighboring lot full of McMansions. I pluck it from the stem.
Horrifyingly, I feel like I've killed it, or that I should name it, or both -- it's an odd moment when I feel like I'm too close to this process. This is one of the ills of commercialism, that feeling of not wanting to be too close to the origin of your food. There’s an amazing sense of arrogance embedded in the notion that we improve nature when we process and package it, and I’m drenched in it. I opt against cramming into my mouth for that The Land Provides moment right away, but instead will save it for a saucepan and light olive oil and proper eulogy.
On down the dirt road are some apricot trees with fruit smaller than golf balls that have a lovely orange and red richness to them. I nibble, after overcoming the fear of the unwashed — and — yum. Dirty Vegas apricots are tasty, tart, juicy, and cheap — a few quarters per pound. Suddenly, I am in love with farming and with Gilcrease, so I grab a book bag from my trunk and wade through tall grass and small bugs and old retired men to pick numerous handfuls of god's bounty. Five sanctimonious Little House on the Prairie minutes later I return to the Honda and a big plastic bottle of purified water, and four-wheel it on down to the farm exit.
There, a traffic jam breaks out, and some of the sweaty visitors are yelling at each other — a line of cars has formed at the exit, each driver waiting to have his fruit weighed through the window by the lone attendant at the cash register — but I care not.
I sit patiently, air conditioning humming and gas burning, whilst the line grows, because this is important work, changing the world. I’m a patient farmer.