From Cherry to Cherry

Cher•ry (n): 1. the fruit of any of various trees belonging to the genus Prunus, of the rose family, consisting of a pulpy, globular drupe enclosing a one-seeded smooth stone; 2. the tree bearing such a fruit; 3. any of various fruits of plants resembling the cherry; 4. bright red, cerise; 5. the state of virginity

The cherry varieties native to the northern, temperate latitudes reveal themselves within a quintessential transition from spring to summer: blossom to fruit. Here in New York, and on the West Coast as well, we come to know them as Bing, Brooks and Rainier, sour and maybe maraschino. Their presence is never long enough, though they arrive with less of a shout than the first of the spring strawberries (how starved we were for fruit then) and the sting of their season's end is soothed by the ripening of the fleshier, more voluptuous peaches and apricots. While the ambitious will don a bib and pit them for pie, I bet the bulk of us would just as rather spit the stones in the grass as the sun sets on the longest days of the year.

I'm leaving behind our summer stone fruit season with a small pout, for another cherry harvest happening now in a locale where the sun shines an even 12 hours each day regardless of the season. Like the farmers in Michigan, Oregon and New York, the pickers of cherry in the tropics hope for heavy tonnage and bright red, cerise fruit. From a different genus altogether, the best of this cherry is destined for your morning mug: Coffea arabica. This cherry is only vaguely defined by the dictionary (and is never referred to in the plural), and its seed not dismissed for the flesh. Indeed, the heart of this cherry, the green coffee bean, is traded like gold.

Cherry picking the coffee plants is winding down now in Rwanda, a verdant, high-altitude East African country no bigger than Vermont. When I arrive on Tuesday, no doubt in need of a cup myself, I have big plans to hit the ground running. While I'll be conducting my Masters thesis research primarily on specialty coffee production, this project is also about so much more. I'll outline the various themes I have in mind on coffee tasting and terroir, localized food production, and soil conservation for you all soon and post regularly on my farm excursions and food expeditions in Africa this summer. In the meantime, check out some of the links or the posted articles for related info if you're interested; much of the background to my work has already been written up in the papers vis-à-vis the current food crisis. While Rwanda probably feels very far away to you now (it does to me too), this project at its most fundamental explores interactions between the local and the global: how the coffee in our cup is rooted in their land, labor and knowledge; how food production and consumption, and the attempt at local food security, in this distant location is ultimately connected to all of us.

Thanks for reading. Check back often, and please leave comments and questions. I'm looking forward to those.