My immediate reaction was an effort to try and discern this midnight message: had our cantaloupe not passed muster? Did they taste too much of natural fertilizer? Were our farm stand prices too high? Did our green beans offend the neighborhood with their glistening nudity?
I found myself wishing the perpetrators had left a note...so that I might know how to improve our roadside service...
Each week we shuttle our "extras" down to the curb after our CSA veggie pick-up day.
It is a chance to share the wealth with our surrounding neighbors, and to sell what we don't need to or don't have the time to put up ourselves...very often we have lived week to week on what we make from our egg sales and our stand. After harvesting beans for 8 hours, and packing up the weekly vegetable shares, finding a bag of poo amongst our roadside melons seems very surreal. Vandalizing farmers seems to me like kicking babies, throwing rocks at newborn bunnies, or yanking on Grandma's oxygen tube. There have just got to be better means to cheap thrills.
And yet, strange as it may seem, very often farmers are the victims of grievous crimes. It seems incredible that people who struggle for their daily bread day in and day out, quietly, literally with their faces to to the ground, should bear the brunt of callous violence...but they do. There are farms down in Imokalee FL that are being investigated for slavery charges....tomato pickers go home every day covered in toxic pesticides that pose a threat to their health and to their lives...and meanwhile fast food chains and superstores fight to get out of paying a penny more per pound of those tomatoes...and we, the consumers demand them in Winter, when they are grown almost exclusively in Florida, and where such cultivation requires 8 times the amount of pesticides that it takes to conventionally grow tomatoes in season elsewhere.
Recently I listened to an interview on NPR with Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse fame.
She spoke of having pursued seasonal local produce at first not for reasons of sustainability, or ethics, but for reasons of taste. Simply put: food grown naturally, naturally tastes better. The creative challenge of working on menus with food that was grown nearby and was in season gave new energy to the various chez panisse chefs...and inspiration to those that came to dine there. It also meant a market for local growers, and fair prices as well- something a farmer never experiences in the commodity crop game. The interviewer cut through all this with a question that seemed to sparkle with it's complete missing of the point: "what about all those people out there who can't afford a $90 four course dinner at Chez Panisse?"
Alice Waters' answer was humorously circumspect. She basically replied that there is little hope for the present generation of adults to understand this importance of sustainably agriculture, and small farms...that school lunch programs which introduce children to fresh seasonal produce and the farmers that grow it give her more hope for the future than anything else...
I would answer that Ms. Water's passion and argument for sustainable agriculture does not rest on the mandate of dining at Chez Panisse...but taking steps to find out where our food comes from, how our purchases affect our farmers, and our communities, and to take the courage to act accordingly. We are not talking about an overwhelmingly dramatic kind of courage.
Forgoing that morning coffee or afternoon ice cream treat or candy bar so that you can put those few extra cents into fair trade bananas or organic produce from your local farmer's market does not require monumental chivalry. Nor does rolling up your sleeves and settling in for an hour in the kitchen, in which you whirl about preparing your own dinner from fresh ingredients, as you sing along with the radio and fill the house with the aroma of sizzling onion. I am convinced that the difference between being able to afford organic and not being able to afford it, in many cases, is simply the difference between cooking and not cooking. And omelet made with Free-Range eggs, sauteed organic green pepper, and onion from your local farm stand costs about as much as a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese...the difference is simply the level of participation on the part of the cook. The difference of those pennies put toward sustainably grown produce can mean a living wage to a farmworker and his family. It is a delicious take on ethics...moral justice one fork-full at a time.
Recently our 5 year old daughter informed us all that she wants to be an ice cream truck driver when she grows up. To that end we've been teaching her basic math...counting out the pennies she earns for the day's egg collecting...and also how to milk a goat...in case she decides to make the ice cream she will sell. Growing up on a CSA farm seems to be inspiring her with a desire to feed the world...anytime people drive up she scrambles for the cooler for a dozen eggs to offer the visitor, or a bag of beans to take home...Despite the USDA's insistence that small farms can't feed the world, this little one seems to be in hot pursuit of just that goal. I suppose I agree with Alice Waters.
The child-farmers and their bright-eyed enjoyment of farming are our greatest hope.
The goal of feeding the world is a high one. Just as the goal of feeding a family is a momentous challenge as well. There is no doubt that life is a daily fight...a bout with our weaknesses and those of others...and toil for our daily bread...in this fight some choose to fling food...and others poo.
We choose the more appetizing ammunition.