How I Found the Meaning of Life, Alone, in a Strawberry Patch

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

Many people spend their whole life in
search of meaning and substance. They want answers to the big questions
like, “Is this all there is?” and “What’s it all about?” and “Is this
what I’m destined to do?” Some people try and achieve it through
meditation. Some use religion. Some hope people like Oprah will shed
some light and others try and make their own reality.

When I was
living in suburbia I belonged to a badminton club. One of the other
players, Brian, was quite a bit younger than me and was always a
formidable opponent.  One day his secretary found him with his head down
on his desk at work and a few days later he succumbed to a brain
aneurysm. Another friend of ours died of cancer and then one of
Michelle’s cousins was killed instantly in a car crash. We had been
thinking about moving to the woods for some time, but these events
really put life into perspective and gave us a huge kick in the butt to
get out of dodge and start living where and how we wanted. They also
impacted my quest to find meaning and relevance in my life.

Then
in the last few years Michelle had her brush with cancer and my
childhood friend Teddy King died. This really ramped up my quest. There
was a new urgency.

Part of the result of my search for meaning was
our decision this summer to run a CSA. We knew we could not make much
money selling our vegetables, but that wasn’t what the decision was
based on. It was based on doing something of relevance. Something that
mattered. Something that was in keeping with our personal belief in the
need for radical re-localization. From my perspective it was a great
opportunity to figure out just how much food I could produce from the
acre of land that is currently under cultivation.

So began
Sunflower Farm CSA. And now each week we prepare 12 boxes of healthy
organic food for our members. A humble beginning, but pretty great
none-the-less.

The work involved is mind-boggling. You know those
people you hear about, the ones who run a marathon every day for months.
Well, it turns out that running a CSA is just like that. Every day
there is an infinite amount of work and a finite number of hours. So I
go from dawn to dusk and that makes for a long day. I always account for
part of my elevated mental state to exhaustion. But it’s a good
exhaustion. It’s not like the stress from that catalog that was printed
with the wrong part number; it’s just good old-fashioned “worked too
hard” exhaustion.

Our local organic strawberry farmer, John Wise,
had a great season this year. His strawberries were ready quite early
and I was able to go and pick strawberries for our CSA members for 4
weeks in a row. On the fourth week he wasn’t really promoting his U-Pick
but he agreed to let me come and pick. So on the last Wednesday of
picking, I spent a couple of hours alone in his patch. No one else was
there. This was good for me because I find people yelling at their kids
and talking loudly on their cell phones really detracts from the whole
U-Pick experience.

I went back to the area of his field that I
knew would be best and I couldn’t believe how many berries were still
there. He seemed to have good crowds when I had been there in previous
weeks, but I think by the end the numbers taper off as people have
picked for the their freezers, etc. Some of the plants were still laden.
It was heartbreaking. The volume of wonderful organic berries going to
waste was disturbing. Yes, it was the end of the season and yes they
wouldn’t have lasted long, but it was tough to think about.

Eventually
I got over the anguish of the reality of how much food gets wasted in
our society and got into the rhythm of picking. I was more careful
because many were over-ripe and I wanted the best berries for our CSA
members. And since I was the only one picking, well, there was no limit
to how much territory I could cover in search of the perfect berry.

As
I picked, surprisingly, my brain never shut off. That voice in my head
just kept yammering. But it wasn’t the same voice I heard when I used to
drive to see customers in the city and spent the day immersed in the
urban chaos that is the Greater Toronto Area. Nope, this was just the
“So what are you doing here in a strawberry patch picking strawberries
for a living?” voice.

And it’s a valid question. I will be lucky
if I am able to net less than minimum wage for my work on the CSA this
year. I’d be way ahead to drive to our nearest big city and work in a
fast food restaurant. I’d make way more money for my effort.

The
question is, would the world be a better place if I did? Does the world
need more fast food, or catalogs of ‘stuff’ (like I used to work on in
my days as a desktop publisher), or websites that sell ‘stuff?’ Or, does
the world need more people to eat healthy, local food, grown
organically? Should I be supporting multi-national corporations, or
should my time be spent supporting John Wise who has grown food
organically on his farm since the 1970s?

I thought about people
who work in offices. And how much money they make. And what they do.
They shuffle papers around. And they can be extremely well compensated
for it. So does the world need more people in offices, or more
strawberry pickers? I could still go back to school and become a lawyer.
I’m confident of that. Sure I’d be the oldest guy in the class, but
that just means I’d bring wisdom.

And it was there, alone, in that
strawberry patch, that I realized I was on the right track. The world
didn’t need Cam Mather to become a lawyer; the world needs me to be
sitting in that strawberry patch, in the blistering heat, picking the
final crop of strawberries on John Wise’s organic farm for our CSA
members. In the words of Darth Vader: “Luke, this is your destiny.”

It
isn’t glamorous. I won’t make much money doing it. It won’t help to
find a cure for cancer. But it’s the humblest way I can think of to live
my life and do what’s important. Picking these amazingly tasty, sweet,
healthy strawberries is what’s important. Every human needs food. Only
some of us need the services of lawyer. When you need a lawyer they’re
great to have around, don’t get me wrong, but given the choice, which I
believe I still have, between being at law school or in a strawberry
patch, I’m happy with the strawberry patch.

And really, I believe,
this is what life is all about. Growing food has meaning. It’s one of
the best ways to lower your impact on the plant that I can think of;
especially on the scale I do it. It is relevant. It is important. And
I’m really comfortable with the choice I’ve made.

If the sky had
darkened while I sat in that strawberry patch, and an undetected
asteroid hurtled toward the earth ready to obliterate life as we know
it, I must say, there was absolutely nothing I think I’d rather have
been doing than picking strawberries.

In fact, knowing that I
wasn’t going to have to pay for them, I would have suddenly switched my
focus from filling up my containers to filling up my stomach. Luckily
John Wise only weighs your containers when you’re done picking, he
doesn’t insist on weighing you.

I’m also lucky that he doesn’t
realize how conducive his strawberry patch is to the contemplation of
the big questions. If he did he could advertise it and promote it as the
“Awesome Strawberry Patch of Cosmic Enlightenment” and people would
come from all over the world to sit and find meaning in that place. As
it was, I was all alone, finally getting answers to some of the big
questions. All that, and U-Pick strawberries for $1.20/pound. Pretty
awesome!

POSTSCRIPT: If you also want to discover the meaning
of life in the strawberry patch, contact us today for a fabulous visit
and tour of the “Amazing Strawberry Patch of Cosmic Enlightenment.” Tour
includes guidebook, souvenir key chain and cloth bag to carry all the
great stuff you get! Cost is $199 for a 4-hour visit! Don’t wait! Book
today! Tours are filling up fast! We offer an unconditionally money-back
guarantee that you too can discover the meaning of life! If not, we’ll
give you our 12 Point Cheat Sheet to ensure you’ve “got it” before you
leave!
 

And yes of course, I’m just kidding.

Photo by Michelle Mather. 

For more information about Cam Mather or his books, please visit www.cammather.com