The farm issue is my personal favorite. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy talking to and writing about chefs and designers, cupcake makers and restaurant owners, but farmers, well, they’re a whole different breed. There’s always something very hopeful about having a conversation with a farmer. It’s not too difficult to endear yourself to a person who roots around many an hour in the dirt, talking to plants and is fervently passionate about oyster mushrooms, or chickens from France, or, in the case of Lloyd Kreitzer, the fig. “I didn’t start out being a Fig Man, you know,” Lloyd explains about his not so secret identity as we sit down under a flowering crab apple tree in his backyard. “However, Superman, Batman, the Jolly Green Giant and my favorite, Thunderbolt the Wonder Colt were all taken, so I had to take Fig Man.”
Kreitzer, who is also a therapist and herbalist by trade, has been “figging” for about eight or nine years now. He recalls calling his daughter one day to ask her to describe how she viewed his relationship with figs. Her response was to describe to him the unique way in which he would “fondle the fig (a little too long for her comfort), smell it, search for a particular spot to bite into, then smell it again. Dad”, she told him, “you love figs. Why do you ask?” she said. Because, he responded, I have 125 fig trees in the backyard and I don’t know how it happened. “The phrase that got me started,” he says, pausing for the dramatic effect of a seasoned storyteller, “is ‘I didn’t know you could grow figs in Albuquerque.’” He lets out a chortle, shakes his head and says, “It should have come with a warning: ‘this phrase could change your life.’” The second warning is to be careful about the things you love in life because there are no walls, no boundaries, no limit to what can happen. Now, as a result of that love he has over 1,000 fig trees in 80 different varieties. It’s important to listen to that love, Kreitzer says, because it can be a very stabilizing factor in the midst of all the upheaval in the world.
At first glance, the backyard fig farm might seem cacophonous. There are (in addition to the 1,000 fig trees), a jumble of Chinese date, almond, peach, plum, carob and pomegranate trees, New Mexico golden currant bushes, fifteen varieties of historical grape vines and a dozen or so herbs such as yarrow, marjoram and comfrey tucked in unsuspecting places. There are buckets of water and planters everywhere, and the greenhouse tarp is held together by large binder clips. I notice, however, after sitting and observing my surroundings more closely, there is a certain symphonic quality. There is rhyme and reason for everything; for example, the other fruit trees and herbs attract bees for pollination. The buckets of water sit for 24 hours in order to be rid of their chlorine, which has harmful effects on the plants. The binder clips are effective and inexpensive. This type of ingenuity is another trait often found in local farms, a necessity, as the farmer’s energy needs to be focused more on care of the plants. “It’s a lot of work to grow fig trees,” Kreitzer explains, “but it is something I have no difficulty doing – whatever it takes. It’s like raising a child. They have to be attended to at all times. No nurseries here grow fig trees because it takes a long time — sometimes up to a year for a cutting to grow.”
Over the years, Kreitzer has developed an idiosyncratic philosophy about the “figging” process. He describes one of his “aha” moments. As the resident “fig expert” of Bernalillo County, he’s the guy you’ll get directed to if you have problems. But, he says, if he’s at all good at what he does it’s because he’s devoted to observation — “all the information is there in the fig and how I look at them is how I learn what they need.” The fig tree is 60 million years old, the ancestor, as it were, of other plants such as carrots or broccoli. For Kreitzer, this is awe-inspiring. “There is something about that moment when I go into the greenhouse and you see a stick that has decided to choose life. Whatever ails us, we could stand in the presence of 60 million years of the life experience (of the fig tree) and we, too, can be catalyzed to choose life.”
Figs can also be generous. One tree can give us more fruit than we could possibly eat (for which Kreitzer recommends freezing figs as a way to store excess). He thinks of the figs as a tree with the personality of Victor Borge, who was a Danish comedian, entertainer and pianist, affectionately known as “The Clown Prince of Denmark.” They are similar in their sense of humor and “of all the things we need in these changing times is to re-nurture our sense of humor.” The fig tree has a favorite joke — it pretends to be dead in the spring. “Everything else,” Kreitzer smiles, “is leafy and flowering in April. But the fig is Frank Sinatra crooning, “I’ll do it my way.” Sometimes the first thing out is a leaf, sometimes a fig is first, then a leaf, but it will never give you a flower. I call that a sense of humor.”
Speaking of farmer humor, a friend of Kreitzer’s helped him design a logo for T-shirts to sport at the growers’ markets around town. On the front it reads “Fig Man” and on the back, she told him, of course, it has to read “of your imagination.” In addition to trees, Kreitzer sells the fruit at the growers’ markets. And just when you think there can be no more fig jokes, he puts them in egg cartons and calls them “free range figs.” Kreitzer is fueled by what he refers to as a “wonderful old-fashioned kindness between farmers.” It’s a community where “we all gEt up early and we all work the land and we’re out in the sun a lot and we all love what we do.” Despite the fact that this is an article about the “Fig Man”, he noted that he’s really just one guy in community with a bunch of plant people who work really hard and could I please shine a light on them as well? The good news is “business is booming for many of us because people are re-discovering some very important basics.”
“Once,” Kreitzer tells me, “I asked the figs what they thought of us. They paused, because they’re not interested in doing put downs.” They responded, “The simple answer is we think of you as tomato plants” and when I looked puzzled, they clarified. “We‘ve seen a lot of life forms, we’re not sure how long you’re going to be around, so you’re like the tomato plant, which is an annual.” The fig tree added that they appreciated me propagating them; however, they’d been around for a long time and would continue after I was gone. “There is a saying among farmers,” the Fig Man finishes, “that you work the land and the land works you. I’m very open to being worked by the fig.”
Photos by Dawn Allyn