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Sunday, September 16, 2007

About Kerry, my farmer friend

By Dick Hirsch
Individuals are often associated with what they do, whether it’s selling shoes, fixing leaky pipes or writing a column. That usually happens when the object or service with which they are identified is either very good or very, very bad.
So it was with my relationship with Kerry. I didn’t even know his name then. I’d seen him around, but never really knew him. He was the burly guy with the dark, bushy beard, the baseball cap and the ready smile. He not only looked like a farmer, he was a farmer. There was no special identity until that first box of green beans.
We saw them on his table at the market, a quart box of freshly picked green beans. They looked good and the box was stuffed and overflowing.
“Did you grow the beans?”
“Yup,” he said, looking at me as if I had just asked a dumb question. Maybe I had, but I like to deal with the grower.
“How much?”
“A dollar,” he said.
I nodded and gave him the dollar. He carefully emptied the box into a plastic bag and handed it to me. Little did I realize that with that simple act my perception of the man would change forever.
I try to refrain from superlatives, but believe me when I say this: When we took those beans home and cooked those beans, they were the finest, most tender, most phenomenal beans we had ever eaten. Somewhere there may be beans as good if you can find them, but there can be none that are any better.
The following Saturday we were back, buying another basket of beans at the same stand. I told him how great they were. He shrugged and seemed embarrassed at the testimonial.
“It’s been a good year for beans,” he said, attempting to deflect the praise and share it with the prevailing weather conditions, which had delivered plenty of sunshine and just the right amount of rain, never too much and never, too little. I asked his name and he told me. We bought some cherry tomatoes and some Swiss chard. The quart of tomatoes was a dollar and so was the bunch of chard. I detected an emerging pricing policy.
That lot of beans and future lots all proved to be absolutely peerless. Even as I write about them, I can feel the firmness, see the deep color and hear the crunch. Kerry’s beans withstood the test of time.
But...yes...there is a but in this saga: but during that same summer of discovery we found another vegetable from Kerry’s farm that actually surpassed...yes, surpassed the green beans. I could hardly believe it when I first saw it, the largest cabbage I had ever examined and hefted. It was dense and a lovely pale green color without a single cosmetic blemish from its days in the field. It was the size of a basketball. I am not exaggerating.
“That is some beautiful cabbage.”
“It’s been a good year for cabbage,” he said, once again downplaying his role in the planting, nurturing and harvesting of such a marvelous example of Western New York’s agricultural yield. There were several, all immense, but I chose the largest.
“How much for this one?”
“A dollar,” he replied.
I wasn’t surprised, of course. I bought the cabbage, which he gently dropped into a plastic bag. That was the first of many future cabbages I acquired from Kerry. It was so gigantic we took photos of it. While first I was hailed for my cabbage purchases, I was later chastised by my wife, Lynn, for repeatedly loading up on these enormous cruciferous specimens. I agree that I may have overdone it, but I must be a peasant at heart and she has these terrific recipes for coleslaw and stuffed cabbage.
As this harvest season started, I missed a couple Saturdays because I was out of town. When I arrived at the market last week, I immediately went to see Kerry, determined to inaugurate the homegrown bean and cabbage season. Another farmer was at his old stand. I knew something was wrong because Kerry would never miss a Saturday unless...
Kerry sat down in his favorite chair one evening and died. He was only 50. What shocking news for his wife, Wilma, his family, and people like me who never even knew his last name was Zuch. I’ll miss him, but I’ll always think of him whenever I see a cabbage the size of a basketball.



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