Editor's column: Cabbage crop sign sets an example

On the bus ride up north the other morning I noticed a sign: "Cabbage," is all it says, with the letters scrawled as neatly as possible on a weathered board. The sign is conveniently posted near a field of cabbage.

I'm not sure what farmer is responsible for the cabbage sign, but speaking for all who have raised children, I'd like to offer our appreciation. I can imagine a family from Bellevue, for example, driving through Coupeville when one of the kids excitedly asks, "Dad, what's that growing in the field?"

"It's cabbage," replies Dad, thanks to the conveniently-placed sign.

Without such a sign, Dad would simply have to make up an answer if he didn't recognize a field of cabbage when he saw one. "I don't know," is an admission never uttered by the man behind the wheel. So seeing thousands of round things popping out of the ground, he would have to answer, "They're heads."

"Heads?" responds the curious and relentless child. "Heads for what?"

To which Dad could only reply, "Heads for pod people. They're growing pod people, and the heads come up first. By September, the pod people will be fully developed. We can come back for the annual Coupeville Pod People and Harvest Moon Festival." At which point the befuddled kid will return to his Gameboy and leave Dad alone until the next unexplained roadside attraction appears.

I hope the Coupeville farmer's crop sign idea catches on. Parents need the knowledge so their kids don't think they're ignorant of the land. Who can tell wheat from barley, potatoes from beets, hops from marijuana? Most of us have little idea what essential crops look like outside of a grocery store. We can't even tell a pear tree from an apple tree at 65 mph on Highway 2 in Wenatchee. After a while we get tired of making up answers to explain all those green things growing in the field and resort to the cornucopia approach, in which everything is corn: Either new corn, young corn, pygmy corn, giant corn, old corn or corn pone, depending on the stage of development. Eventually, the kids get old enough to wonder how peaches can be hanging from corn stalks, and there goes Dad's credibility.

There should be crop signs on every field, starting right here on Whidbey Island. Our farmers grow cabbage, barley, potatoes, and other stuff, so please put up a simple sign to let us know what's growing. In Oak Harbor, it's OK to use electrically lit signs, because we like to feel like we're a big city with big farmers. Besides, "CABBAGE" blazing in neon at midnight might keep a few drunks from driving off the road.

The cabbage sign in Coupeville probably didn't cost anything other than a couple of pieces of scrap wood and a splash of paint. But we could make them fancier, and perhaps land some Obama stimulus bucks. A project that boosts education and helps farmers should be worth a few billion, at least.

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