Saturday, January 21, 2012
He quickly mastered the use of our garden clippers and grasped which collards were best and went to work. As I trailed him with a camera it struck me how few children in our society have this opportunity and it brought to mind one of the more esoteric motivations for what we do.
Understanding where one's food actually comes from is an inherent part of a lifelong healthy diet. We are several generations in to living in cities and suburbs and buying our food in neat packages from supermarkets and are only now awakening to what we've sacrificed in the process. Don't get me wrong, I do understand that for most Americans the food they purchase in supermarkets is the only thing logically available to them and for a growing number, even this option is on the wane. But still, the sanitized and unblemished fare readily available for most is a far cry from what our great-grandparents ate when they were children.
Among our membership, we have a disproportionate number of individuals whose native country is elsewhere. India, Spain, Syria, China, Ecuador, and The Philippines to name some. And the refrain among them is similar: where can I get real food? why don't the vegetables in your supermarkets have any flavor? what have you done to all your meat? While Americans can be proud of a food distribution system that makes tens of thousands of products available to so many, again the question arises: at what cost?
And so, we come back to OUR motivations and realizations. We offer so much more than seasonal vegetables. We offer an opportunity to taste freshness, to wash the musky crumbles of good garden soil from a carrot just before biting into its crunchy sweetness, to learn how to gently treat the subtle flavors of tender shoots so as not to overwhelm them. We offer a place for children to learn not only the wonders of seed-to-sprout-to-leafy-plant-to-fruit magic but also the toil and heartbreak the earth can wring from you. We offer a step back to realness, to awareness and to connection.
And as this great returning occurs, something truly splendid takes place: a new-old knowledge takes root and begins to grow and some faint genetic memory is awakened. The taste buds remember, the belly recognizes, tastes, aromas, essences long forgotten. Our relationship to our food begins to shift from an acceptance of the artificial and simulated to a demand for the genuine and pure. As our bodies are nourished by authentic, unprocessed foods, we feel a tug for realness in other aspects of our lives and a desire for simplicity and connection to the Earth and her abundance.
Of all the many aspects of this work that I love, among the unexpected joys I've found is the enthusiasm our members express for these beautiful vegetables. More often than you can imagine, I've been treated to beautiful photos of a just-prepared dish, the cook proudly reporting back to me how the fruit of my labor appeared on their table. Young adults, finding their way and place in life, making a conscious choice to include high-quality food on their priority list, even if their budget demands they forgo some other desire. And children, telling me how they liked the carrots, drawing me pictures of the vegetables they've learned to enjoy, reporting on the bean plant in a dixie cup they have growing on their windowsill.
Caleb will have many chances over the years to come and pick a bouquet of collards for his mama, and it is my fondest hope that his love for this earth and the growing things upon it will continue to flourish and when he's an old, old man he'll cherish the memories of learning to eat well from his grandma's garden.