The Zen of Strawberry Picking


Food is often more rewarding when you put a little of your own sweat into it. (I mean that figuratively—actually sweating into your food isn’t recommended.) Last week, I spent a couple hours sweating in the strawberry fields at Rosey’s in Michigan City, Indiana. The result? Nine beautiful pounds of straight-from-the-field strawberries at an insanely reasonable price of one dollar per pound, and a very Zen morning in a sunny and pastoral place.

berry field

The price was amazing, considering my farmer’s market charges $5 or $6 a pound, so go while the picking is good—you’ve got another week or two. But what you save in dollars you make up for in manual labor. Strawberry picking is no walk in the park. There are challenges.

For one, strawberry plants grow less than a foot high, so you’ll spend an awful lot of time either in a deep squat or with your butt in the air, depending on whether you prefer to have your knees or you back screaming the next day.

Picker's crack

Picker’s crack

And the berries aren’t just lying there out in the open. You have to hunt for them. Looking down from above, you’ll spot some, sure, but most are tucked beneath the wide leaves of the plants.

berry plant

And then there’s the element of pain. At Rosey’s, the rows of strawberry plants are mired in thistles. I’m not sure if this is intentional or just impossible to avoid, but the thistles do seem to provide the valuable service of protecting the berries from birds. You will get pricked, however, so if you’re extra sensitive, wear some gardening gloves and tall socks. Or just buck up—a little blood makes the berries sweeter.

Here’s the ritual I quickly developed: squat, push aside the leaves, yelp at a thistle, mutter, pluck a berry, toss it in the basket, inch forward. Squat, push, yelp, mutter, pluck, toss, inch, repeat.

The process felt very Zen, and in the quiet heat I became enlightened. Or maybe it was heat stroke. But the thought is good, regardless of the source:

Live according the lessons of the berry field.

Lesson 1: Stop looking for berries and start looking for thistles. Where there is pain, there is reward. The thorns protect the berries from people as much as birds, so amid the thorns you find the biggest, reddest strawberries.

Lesson 2: Embrace disorder. The messiest, weediest rows contained the most hidden fruit, and the neatest rows that were the easiest to navigate weren’t as rewarding.

I like to think I’m something of a bhikkhuni now, as a result of my experience. I even have a bit of a Buddha belly because of all the berries I ate. And certainly I’m smiling.