My New Best Friend
This is my new best friend Taz.
We met when his unmarked cargo van pulled into the driveway this afternoon. I had been home alone all weekend and felt mentally exhausted from trying to straighten out taxes. Digging up grape vines at the end of a sunny day was my reward for "adulting" and I did not particularly want to be disturbed, much less by a stranger.
The man who emerged from the van politely introduced himself and handed me his business card - Taz Used Tires on nearby Cleveland Avenue. He spoke with a Middle Eastern accent thick enough that I had trouble understanding his intent at first.
But when Taz pointed at the sunchoke bed, a row of last year's scratchy foot-tall stalks, and asked for seed, I started to believe I might have a new friend. "My country is Kurdistan," Taz said. "We fight Isis, same enemy of America, we are friends."
Sunchokes, or Jerusalem Artichokes, aren't particularly common in America but they grow prolifically by transplanting the roots. Taz said that he had been looking for the seed but couldn't find it for sale. He'd been watching my farm and waiting for someone to be out working when he drove by. "I have many many gardens," he shared and I offered that he could have as many sunchokes as he could dig.
I ran back to the house for a gallon pot for the 'chokes. As I helped him pile in the roots, Taz crouched across from me and told me about his life. He grew up in Kurdistan, which he describes as beautiful and mountainous. Using a series of sunchokes stalks, Taz mapped out villages surrounding his which were attacked by Saddam Hussein's forces in the early 1990s. As thousands of neighbors were slaughtered, Taz aided American soldiers, earning him the option to immigrate.
Taz describes Kurdistan now as a peaceful place, one where Christian, Jewish and Muslim families live side by side in community. He visited his homeland recently with his child, but chooses to return to Columbus, Ohio because he's built a business here. "You need anything, oil change, repairs, my shop will do it."
When I asked what he makes with the sunchokes, Taz shared that he mixes them with many vegetables and they sour - a kraut perhaps? We exchanged phone numbers and he left, promising to bring me food. "I am your best friend now," Taz declared.
I approached my rows this afternoon full of self-doubt and no small bit of anger at participating in a federal government so un-aligned with many of my values. My new best friend, an immigrant who so easily could be hardened to white Americans like me, restored my hope and affirmed my life's work bringing people together through food and farming.
Today, I am grateful for Taz and all the wonders of embracing diversity.