Friday, August 24, 2012

In Season


Thought is the blossom, language the bud, action the fruit behind it.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have I mentioned how much I love living in Florida? Growing up in the Chicago area, I don’t think I will ever take the year round sunshine for granted. While the extended growing season has not helped  turn my gardening thumbs green, it has turned our family into enthusiastic pickers. Mangos, key limes, lychee fruit, starfruit, grapefruit, there is always something in season. We don’t have to leave our funky, old neighborhood to find abundance. Thump. Thump. Right now, the avocados are falling off the trees. 

Yesterday, driving home from school, we spotted a knotty, loaded tree a few blocks from our house. My son was not shy about knocking on the front door to introduce himself. We always offer to pay. No one has ever taken us up on it. We met Barbara, who told me she planted the tree from a seed  37 years ago. The seed came from an avocado that fell from a tree that was already well established when they bought their house.  She reminded me a bit of 90-year old Agnes, who we met in March when we asked to pick her starfruit tree.There's no place like home Agnes and her husband planted their tree more than fifty years ago. Now, it produces hundreds of pounds of carambola a year. 

They call our historic neighborhood a front porch community. Neighbors still know each other partly because of little things like there are inviting front porches to sit and visit. The  fruit trees give people a reason to share. After we left Barbara, we gave avocados to three of our neighbors. One new neighbor let us in on her trick for ripening the fruit. Wrap it in a paper bag overnight. I don’t know why, but it worked! The last time we picked strawberries, we gave some to a different neighbor and she taught me how to can jam. Today after school, my son will bring a thank you card and flowers to Barbara. We don’t just live in a place, we are engaged in a community.

I wonder if our neighborhood was developed today rather than one hundred years ago, if people would still plant their fruit trees in the front yard? Urban theorist and economist Richard Florida (no relation to my favorite state) has coined the phrase "creative class". In his book,  Who's Your City? ,Florida builds a case that choosing where you live is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Florida first planted this idea ten years ago with the book The Rise of the Creative Class.  That class is comprised of the forty million writers, artists, musicians, scientists and other workers who create for a living. The author looked at changes in American society like the number of people who go on picnics and the number of volunteers. Cities are ranked on everything from quality of education to diversity to number of playgrounds to number of college graduates who return home to start careers. His research has spurred conversations in university classrooms, corporate boardrooms and city halls across America. From Florida's seed, initiatives like Creative Tampa Bay are bearing fruit. 

Tampa and Saint Petersburg still don't rank on any of the lists for best places to live for young singles, retirees or families raising children. But isn't that up to the people moving in, like me, to step in for Barbara and Agnes and help it grow? 

What attracted you to your neighborhood? How will you keep it going?


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