Saturday, August 27, 2011

Food Fight

Last night our little farm stand was vandalised. Someone decided to surprise us with a bag of excrement nestled amongst our melons, and a bottle rocket set off in the midst of the unsuspecting veggies.
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 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 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 this fight some choose to fling food...and others poo.

We choose the more appetizing ammunition.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

We're Returning to Minnesota!

Little Flower Farm is moving!

Our new home is a historic 25 acre farm nestled in a hillside in Marine on St. Croix!

We will miss our incredible members here in Southwest Michigan, but are excited to be moving back to be amongst our MN members.

We will be moving this October, after our 2011 season here in Michigan comes to a close, and will be preparing our new fields and pastures for the 2012 CSA season!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Friday, August 5, 2011

Stories and Soil

Story telling is a powerful art form.

Lately I would venture to say that reality is not quite as real to us, as when we have bound and packaged it with the ribbon strings of a story...or at least received it as such...
My five year old is a perfect example of this...

after a while, the novelty of collecting eggs wore off...and the promise of a penny per egg payment did not inspire... she stopped attempting this chore. The ratchety broody hens and the poo sticking to the bottom of her shoes were enough to keep her away from the coop.

But one day at lunchtime a visiting friend broke our heat and food induced silence with a gripping account of her day's egg collecting adventure. The story was simple enough. The plot had no twists of time travel or vampires...but as she spoke the girls' eyes were fastened on her, wide with excited listening...they interrupted her several times to add their own tidbits of Isa Brown hen knowledge:

"I have to tell you how I braved all the broody hens in the coop this was quite a perilous time, I assure you. I tried move them out of the nests with a stick...and that didn't work.

So I remembered how you showed me to use a rag and press it against their necks and sneak the eggs out from under them...but that didn't work!

And those hens just cackled ferociously at me...they puffed up big and menacing (here she did a very enthralling and convincing interpretation) "Bruh Brah Brah BuckaWWW!" and they pecked at me...and one even drew blood!

(Many gasps followed this sudden announcement...and we all strained to see the invisible scar)

Finally I worked up my courage and LUNGED at her! I grasped her by the neck (many very dramatic hand and arm motions to illustrate the story here) and just nabbed those eggs from under neath her...and my! She was sitting on a heaping big pile of them!!"

We all clapped and agreed to award her a farm medal of bravery for her egg collecting.

Since this luncheon story the girls have taken a sudden and desperate fancy to collecting eggs again. I have seen Tilda wolf down a lunch she would have hitherto drawled and dillied over for 40 minutes...just so she could leap from the table and carry on the important work of scavenging for those eggs. Our friend's story has made the simple necessary chore of egg collecting something marvelous to achieve (or perish in the attempt) and by participating in this daily act, the girls are very conscious of the fact that they are by their ventures, adding to the lore, and becoming heroines in the next noon-day tale.

When the world is filled with rocks which may or may not be trolls that have become frozen because the day dawned too early for them to scrabble back to their caves...or with woods slender and silvery with shadowy sprites possibly dodging in and about the saplings,

reality suddenly (and paradoxically) takes on a more realistic hue in this fantastic light. Because the truth of the matter is that these ordinary things we pass by and take for granted and hardly give a second thought to, really are incredibly wonderful and form this amazing and complicated interdependent web of our survival in this natural world. And every time we color these natural events and happenings with the hues of imaginative retelling...we lift essences long forgotten, but ever present, to our the remembering that our dear spouse standing fatigued and soapy over a sink full of dirty dishes is the same exciting lover and honey-eyed mystery we fell in love with years ago.

Farms are full of stories. That's why I love living on one.
And CSAs are a chance to tell the accurate story about food. In telling these stories our food becomes more real to us...and hopefully so does the rest of our lives...

When I am on my hands and knees in the potato rows, clawing at the dirt to find all those brown and red and tan nuggets of starchy goodness it truly feels like the stuff of stories...because otherwise I'd be crazy to do it! Who wants to rummage about, getting sand and dirt stuck up your fingernails as the sun beats down on you and sweat drips down your back...aren't these the jobs we liberally educated folks are supposed to be too good for?

And so many things come to mind as you crawl along the row...Scarlett O'Hara for one, in that final scene of Gone with the Wind..."I'll always have Tara!" you mutter to yourself, mindful of the fact that every true wealth comes first from the open hand of the think about how an iron will can get you through that first stage of wanting to shirk the work...after that fascination and wonder take over. You find yourself bending low over the dirt, examining it in your hands as the rush hour traffic roars by. "Wow...a world unto itself!" you wonder about the many stories the sand has to tell, of how it reared the chard and helped the potato...but those were just the surface efforts, the flashy stories that we all know...there are so many others about the dung beetle, the earthworm, the cabbage moth, the wren's nest. The effects of the rainstorm and the fall-out of the draught. I am conscious of the fact that I am not always a good listener...and at times I miss all these narratives that have the potential to make my life so much more vibrant with color...I am aware that there will never be enough time for me to discover all these tales, and write them down...and the thought comes as a challenge and a sadness and an excitement. A challenge to keep listening at the earth's edge, a sadness that there will never be enough time or excitement that there are so many stories to learn and tell...

Last year a friend brought a new acquaintance to the farm to help us prepare new paddocks for our icelandic sheep. This new visitor hailed from Africa. He told us of the time honored family traditions of story telling that were alive and well in his home country. The elders tell the family history by firelight each night to the younger is their duty, and honored responsibility. Here was a man very sure of himself...his bright and eager confidence was something which fairly dazzled my conventional American sensibilities...he was deeply rooted in his family's lore...knew every story ever told of how his forefathers first settled on the farm he grew up on, and how the friendly crocodile was saved by his Great Grandfather, and thus, no member of his family was ever harmed by the many that swam in their pond...knew every embellishment, laughed with gusto and relish as he lingered on them, and related them to us, spellbound, and full of questions. He very certainly knew who he was, because from a young age, from a robust tradition of story telling, he knew where he came from, whose shoulders he stood one. We are none of us in isolation from each other, no man is himself without the knowledge of those he has been formed by....and the story of our food is no different. The story of our food reveals our ethics, our global policies and maneuvers, reveals our lives to us...Food forms us, and will aways be a tremendous part of our such it behooves us to get the story straight.