Why I do What I Do
This ugly little green fruit is called Solanum uporo, or the Cannibal’s Tomato.
It is a bitter nasty fruit that grows on spiny eggplant like leaves. It is also mildly poisonous if not cooked properly. I’m not only growing it on purpose, I’m isolating it and preserving the seeds so that I can continue to grow it. Why?
The cannibal’s tomato is a plant that dates back hundreds of years. It was native originally to Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Hawaii. It acquired its common name due to the fact it was used by some of the natives to assist in the digestion of “tall pork”. Apparently eating your neighbor is a little hard on the digestive system and enzymes in the leaves were used to assist with that. And learning that fact, was the moment that made me realize I needed to own this plant.
I cannot resist something with history be it art, antiques, or a seed. So while some people reenact epic Civil War battles, I collect seeds from Antebellum gardens. Others enjoy Victorian artwork and literature, I grow 200 year old flowers. The beauty and the history in something that is on the verge of never existing speaks to me. It is livable, touchable, edible artwork. In the same manner an art collector is always after that holy grail, that one unique item, I can’t stop collecting plants.
When I grow heirloom vegetables, I think of the emigrating families from Europe. What their journey must have been like, what they were thinking as they came, and why they chose to bring the seeds they did. I think about the slaves from Africa who cultivated their own gardens of food from home alongside the plantations they worked in because preserving that heritage of food was important. I want to grow everything at least once to feel that connection with the people who brought it here.
If I live to be 100, I will never see them all and that is what drives me. One more seed, one more plant. I never know what they will teach me or make me feel. And that is why I do what I do.