Sunday, November 23, 2014

Feasting on Real Food

Since April, we’ve been participating in Community Supported Agriculture, sharing the risk and reward of an organic farm in nearby Lancaster County. We paid our part at the beginning of the season, and every Friday since we’ve picked up a box of produce from a front porch a few minutes away. Friday was the last pick-up day for our 2015 CSA share  

I’ve done more research than I would like on America’s broken food systems: overuse of antibiotics to prevent illness in overcrowded livestock; pigs warehoused on cement floors and kept alive with pharmaceutical feed; vegetables grown in soil so depleted the nutrition gained is a fraction of what should be there.

The industrialization of our food supply is one of those large problems that demands small solutions. Wendell Berry’s essay, Think Little, called attention to the problem of food, and the harm to the earth from large-scale production:   
We do not understand the earth in terms either of what it offers us or of what it requires of us, and I think it is the rule that people inevitably destroy what they do not understand. Most of us are not directly responsible for strip mining and extractive agriculture and other forms of environmental abuse. But we are guilty nevertheless, for we connive in them by our ignorance. We are ignorantly dependent on them. We do not know enough about them; we do not have a particular enough sense of their danger. Most of us, for example, not only do not know how to produce the best food in the best way – we don’t know how to produce any kind in any way. Our model citizen is a sophisticate who before puberty understands how to produce a baby, but who at the age of thirty will not know how to produce a potato. . .
For an index of our loss of contact with the earth we need only look at the condition of the American farmer – who must in our society, as in every society, enact man’s dependence on the land, and his responsibility to it. In an age of unparalleled affluence and leisure, the American farmer is harder pressed and harder worked than ever before; his margin of profit is small, his hours are long; his outlays for land and equipment and the expenses of maintenance and operation are growing rapidly greater; he cannot compete with industry for labor; he is being forced more and more to depend on the use of destructive chemicals and on the wasteful methods of haste and anxiety.
For most of the history of this country our motto, implied or spoken, has been Think Big. I have come to believe that a better motto, and an essential one now, is Think Little. That implies the necessary change of thinking and feeling, and suggests the necessary work.

One of Berry’s “think little” solutions is for families to attempt to grow their own food. I’ve planted tomato plants, and watched the groundhogs and rabbits feast. And I’ve espaliered apple trees along my front yard, and watch the deer nibble the blossoms. My peaches are too high for the deer, but the squirrels pick them before they’re ripe and sit on my backyard bench, laughing at me as they nibble.

While attempts to grow our own food haven’t yielded much in the way of harvest, it’s made me more aware of the risks of food production. It’s also made me very thankful for the small scale farmers in
Wimer's Organics hoop house, 
our region who are relearning the forgotten wisdom generations of small-scale farmers, while adding new knowledge about plants and soil, and new technologies, like high-tunnel hoop houses that extend the growing season.

Bud Wimer, of Wimer’s Organics, is one of those farmers. His weekly newsletter gives insight into the planning and preparation, the hard work, the unexpected weather. With other organic farmers, he’s working to grow the healthiest food he can, as sustainably as he can, in ways that improve the soil, extend the harvest, and build community.

The food is wonderful: fat round beets, richly colored chard, greens of every description, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, garlic. Peas, beans, strawberries, delicious tart apples. My husband and I share our share with my daughter and her family, and we marvel at the wealth of goodness in every box.

SpringWood pastured chickens and cows 
Another part of our CSA is the option to order eggs, yogurt, or chicken from a partner farm in nearby Gap. I heard Roman Stoltzfoos, the owner of SpringWood Farm, speak at a sustainable agriculture conference several years ago about his experiments in growing organic feed, using solar energy to sprout grains during winter months when his animals can’t graze in his lush green pastures. I  was amazed at the beauty and love that radiated from his slideshow of his farm, and happy to learn of his partnership with Wimer’s Organics. I have never seen egg yolks as full of taste and color as the rich, brown eggs we enjoy from Springwood Farm.

Part of the joy of our CSA share is the weekly email explaining what’s coming. It lists what will be in the box, offers tips for storage, short and longer term, always includes a few recipes, and sometimes a verse of scripture or simple encouragement to take a walk with a spouse, spend time with a friend, get outside and enjoy the day. The highlight, though, is the description of what’s happening on the farm, the insight into challenges and joys, the lessons learned, the plans for the future. The emails are both whimsical and wise: 
Broccoli, cabbage, spinach and leeks all walk through these short freezes as though nothing out of the ordinary is occurring.  Cauliflower, on the other hand, starts complaining about having cold hands and feet and asking for a blanket and a cup of hot tea.  We gave it neither one and are hoping it survives. 
The frost effectively ended the season of Summer.  The crops we think of as summer crops all died, summer is over.  Another season is beginning.  Occasionally I think about the passing of the season of Bud Wimer.  Eventually it will come.  As I remember, at this moment, the Summer 2013 peppers, I wonder how my descendants will remember me.  The peppers this year started off a little slower than in other years, and they did not get quite as big on average.  The second round of peppers here in the fall was much less than in previous years and, again, they aren't quite as big.  Of course, we can also compare the soil at each location of pepper plantings and the weather patterns over the two years.  The pepper plants had no choice in those circumstances.  Those comparisons will affect how we esteem this year's crop.  Even though this was not the most productive pepper season, it was still a good one and we are thankful for the crop that was produced.  May my descendants and their generation be thankful for my existence and yours when they remember us.  Let's endeavor to be a good crop.
 I am very thankful for Bid Wimer and his work at Wimer’s Organics, and for the Stoltzfoos family and their work at SpingWood Farm.

And thankful for all the farmers like them, here in Pennsylvania, across the country, around the world, creating small, sustainable solutions to the large-scale problem of industrial food.

I wish them health, and thank them for their contribution to my own family’s health.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wimer's Organics Share
 I posted about both these farms last September as part of a series on God's Green Equity:
Imagining Wholeness, September 29, 2013

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