Friday, July 26, 2013

as we go through this together

Last spring, I got to spend a handful of hours volunteering with the organic farm through which my family shares a CSA with another family. I wanted to understand their process of seeding, growing, harvesting and distribution. Partly for my job, mostly because it’s my secret desire to be a farmhand.

So one April morning I went to the farm, only 6 miles from my house. I met the farmhands who offered me camaraderie with easy graciousness. I was given a large tub to carry to the fields and got started. We harvested spinach, chard, greens, kale and more. Since it had been an unseasonably cold, windy, grey spring, my fingers went numb with cold and my eyes watered from the wind. 

It is easy to pick my family’s salad from my garden. To briefly squat with a colander and fill it is a snap. But as I squatted, bent over, kneeled, for several hours, picking say, spinach, leaf by leaf, it got me thinking about grocery store produce.

There are about 40 grocery stores within a 25-mile radius of where I live. If each store has piles of bagged spinach, how many acres did it take to grow? How many people did it take to harvest? Was it by hand? How many hands? Were they paid fairly to be outside in all weather and were they exposed to chemicals? Where does it all come from all year? Where does it go if it’s not bought?

When I was little, I loved connect-the-dot books. I tried to anticipate the picture before starting; then with each dot, I tried to guess what was emerging. Not much has changed. Only now I try to connect real life dots, seeing how my day-to-day choices and actions are part of a bigger picture.

Being a part of a CSA, helps me connect the dots between what I eat and how it gets to me. Weekly I get updates detailing what I’ll be receiving. Here’s an email from spring 2013.

Good Morning, CSA, and Good Night, Winter.
Going through these days of extendo-winter, we’ve had to readjust our harvest projections and now since the winter was a super-extendo-winter we are having to readjust our succession plantings plan. Last year as we tried new things to be ready for what looked like a promising spring without a freeze after mid-February, we adopted a ‘let’s do half of it the old way and let’s do half of it a new, wild and crazy way’ mantra. This mantra will continue with a twist. We had seeded more than twenty beds of roots, greens, scallions and potatoes and now since not much has germinated, we’re faced with a what-to-do-now question. We’re going forward, with a plan and noticing what might happen. For example, out of the four beet beds we seeded in late January and reseeded in mid-March…we’ll keep two and we’ll turn in two. The succession plan needs those two beds for filet beans and tomatoes. We’ll learn lots from both decisions. So fortunate to have this challenge to become better farmers…I do mean it, there is just a touch of anger and a bit of frustration there.

I often think of Gunther Hauk. He is a old-timer biodynamic beekeeper in Virginia. I once heard him speak to the question of Colony Collapse Disorder. He was grateful for it. Weird, right? He said that it provided the opportunity to see better. His thought was that without the opportunity to look at this tragedy, we might never develop the ability to more fully see and to open our minds to search for ways to adjust.
This mindset still sounds radical to me.
Being grateful for a tragedy like CDD?
It’s hard to pause long enough to think this through, but I still feel the validity in his words.  
In this game of life, there are no guarantees. We see that every day in the field. In these times, especially, we are faced with new questions that offer new opportunities for growth. I believe the highest challenge is for us to pause long enough to look and to consider. 
Winter is the time of pause. So it is very fitting that winter extended itself to drive home the point to us that we need it…we need to pause. 
This week. Not an easy time of harvesting as you all know. I so appreciate all the kind words and hugs of encouragement as we go through this together.
This week, we have for you:
Funky Fresh
Two little cucumbers of hope from the greenhouse
A beautiful nasturtium plant for your own patio or deck. Its leaves are edible, its flowers are edible. It loves the sunshine and can tolerate summer’s heat. Keep it watered. Take pause long enough to enjoy the color.

This is the missing dot at the grocery. These emails provide the backstory, completing the picture of my food. When vegetables and fruit appear 365 days a year, exactly the same size, shape, condition, I have the illusion that because I can access them easily and always, then their production is just as effortless.

But just because I am unaware of the story behind what I get, doesn’t mean there isn’t a story. In fact, it’s even more important to seek the dots and make connections since we often only engage an end product. We have become removed from processes we rely on daily, unaware of the details that go into how things appear on store shelves.

As I read the weekly emails, I picture ‘my’ farm: the fields, the high tunnels, workstations, sheds. I see vibrant workers in jeans, heavy boots and smiles. And because I know a bit of what went into getting it to me when I receive our share, I am humbled. 

What a gift to know where my food comes from and to know, by name, those who grow it. I feel reverence and gratitude for what I receive. I am then eager to prepare this bounty in a way that honors it. Further, I'm motivated to access more of what I need through relationship with those who actually produce it.

I am also in touch with an organic cattle and chicken farmer. In the summer of 2012, I learned about drought; about parched ponds and the plight of dairy cows drying up. As I would go for my morning run and see sprinklers soaking impossibly green lawns and often sidewalks too, I couldn’t help but think of farmer Ozais. Couldn’t help but think of him when I so easily watered my garden, gave water to the stray cat on our porch. Couldn’t help but think of farmers struggling with drought each time I went into the grocery store where there was scant evidence of their hardships. Drought impacting farmers fell out of the abstract and into the concrete for me. 

When I see the dots and connect them, I connect to them. I begin to understand that I am indeed part of a web. That’s what the dots bear out. That is the big picture.

What I do with this awareness becomes the question.