by Donald Berg
I will turn 84 years of age on October 12, 2018 . Here is a brief summary of what plants and soil mean to me.
I was born October 12, 1934 in Washington DC, USA, of a father from Stockholm, Sweden who was a US citizen at that time. My mother was a refugee from Munich, Germany, and had been deported by the Germans. I grew up the eldest of ten children. We moved to Brooklyn, New York, where we lived in the old section that was once New Amsterdam, a neighborhood with narrow streets and narrow tall buildings, with 7-9 floors This experience showed me how to live under conditions nobody ever dreamed of.
There were 60,000 people of every nationality and language you could imagine. We travelled at night by the underground train system We grew plants and vegetables in everything possible, believe me, and to this day I still use so much of what I learned. I will never forget living under blackout. Food, coal, and ice all came by horse and wagon. We made stacks of old tires in the subways and planted potatoes, green vegetables and even grape vines.
My father was an electrical worker for Carrier Corporations and I saw him maybe two or three times during the year as he was sent out on troop ships to make sure heat, venting, refrigeration were working like it should. My father’s work protected the 45-60 tons of food on each ship.
My mother was an engraver, typesetter and printer, skills which were in high demand, although her lack of English was a problem, dealt with by me as I could translate from both German and English by 7 years of age.
Plants and trees were on everybody’s mind due to the blackout conditions of the war. We got soil and manure from the Brooklyn Academy of Science Zoo, brought by horse and wagon. Co-operation to get things done was a very big part of all of our lives.
We moved in late September 1946 to Wenatchee, Washington. My father worked at taking down shell operations at a lumber plant in Sumas, Washington. We left there in January 1947 and moved to Renton, just south of Seattle. A violent action happened in July 1947 when a big explosion happened in this project and we lost a sister and nearly all we came west with. We got another project in Seattle and made a new home there. A piece of land 1.5 acres came up at the Swedish Club in Seattle and we took it. We worked hard and got the land cleared. This was our first home, some of which, ironically, was financed by the insurance from my sister’s death in the explosion.
Our home became a centre for the community 4-H clubs and we had a large chicken area of over 500 birds and a big vegetable and fruit area. The botanist at the nearby high school was the choral director and a WW1 veteran and the two of us were joined for four years of high school. In 1951, when General Eisenhower became President, workers and immigrants were placed under the military draft. I would not sign my draft card. In the end, I split from my family.
I spent the summers on an oceanographic research ship, sailing from Seattle to Anchorage, Osaka, Vladivostok, then on to Hong Kong, then Auckland New Zealand and the Antarctic, returning to Seattle for the next school year.
My life experience includes my cooperative housing and gardening in Berlin, Germany, and the cooperative a group of us started here in BC which includes a food store, medical clinic, credit union and Mountain Equipment Coop. We have three greenhouses on the site where I have lived since February 1971. We have a garden at the front and lots of plastic drums in which we grow vegetables on vines.