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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Taking a Fall

tiny pumpkin
It's getting toward the middle of September and I am getting ready for a trip to the East Coast during my sabbatical which will last one month.  And I am getting nervous.  Not about the trip so much as what will I miss the this next month at the farmer's market?  I was hoping to get some butternut squash today, but I didn't see any organic ones.  I hope I won't be too late for them when I get back in October.  I must have a bunch of squash, butternut and others, for the winter.  People always think it is strange that I buy a winter's worth of squash in the fall, but they will be just fine stored in my cold kitchen.  I did get one small pumpkin this morning.  And had to remind myself about buying more than I could eat this week--which was difficult to do.  And I had to remember that my freezer is totally full.  Not really any room to squeeze anything else in (well, actually, I did squeeze in two quart bags of chopped celery). See the photo of my freezer below.

Actually, I know what I will miss the most, the people.  My two favorite young farmers are contemplating some big changes for next year and it makes me sad to think they might not be "my" farmers next year.  The vendors and people who shop regularly at the farmers' market become a little community.  We care about what happens to one another.  I overheard one farmer ask after the health of a woman's husband this morning, and a shopper inquire after the health of a farmer's husband.  We talk, we get to know one another, it is personal not industrial.  That's a big part of ethical eating for me--knowing where my food comes from and knowing that they have values like I have and that those values protect the earth, protect the community, and foster relationships.

full freezer, very full
But just in case you might think that my trip east means I won't have ethical eating things to talk about, let me assure you I will have some culinary adventures--I will be in NYC for a few days, talking on community food security and environmental justice at Fairfield University in CT, and continuing to work on my sabbatical project (of the same subject as my Fairfield talk).  I'll be helping my Dad, I am sure, take down the little veggie patch he has (yet I am hoping there will still be a few tomatoes when I get home).  And am planning a book review blog entry on the book I am reading now for my research.

drying tomatoes
I will offer one regret--I didn't get to can tomatoes this year.  I have lots of jam, and jars, but the tomato season was a little late and my trip will interfere.  Still, I was able to freeze a few pints of sauce and am continuing to dry lots and lots of them.  Having a few pints of sauce will be good for pizza and such over winter, and having dried tomatoes will be good for soup, stew, pasta, risotto and lots of other things.  Either way, the bright, sunny taste of summer is preserved.  Next fall, I will be better prepared and perhaps a little less timid about the canning.  I'll figure out some winter canning projects to keep my burgeoning canning skills.

Things are heating up, even as the weather starts to cool down.  Fall is my favorite time of year and while Fall in Spokane is much more like a New England fall than anywhere I have lived in the last ten, fifteen years, I am happy to get some time in New England this fall.  Until the east coast then--

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Take Rest

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop-- Ovid.

It’s Labor Day weekend, which many of us associate with the last days of summer.  A week or so ago I was asked to write something to be cross-posted on my blog and on my friend Deb’s business’s website—Roast House.  I have been thinking ever since on what I would write about (she told me I could write on anything I thought was important and bore repeating—I told her that was maybe a dangerous thing to say to a philosopher!).
But it is Labor Day weekend and as I walked around the Spokane Farmer’s Market this morning it struck me that for these farmers, Monday was probably not a day off, not a holiday.  I am a professor and have spent most of my life in academic institutions in one way or another, so Labor Day really feels like the end of summer, since it is the beginning of the academic year.  But we are still in the height of bounty of the agricultural season—the fruits and veggies of high summer are coming into their best and yet we start to see that which is good of fall—the winter squash and pumpkins, apples, potatoes and storing onions.  There is likely a lot of work to do on farms on Monday.
Labor Day in the US started over 100 years ago as a sort of day of thanks to those who work hard in the US, who by their labor were reaching out for the American Dream and achieving for the nation prosperity and strength.  (For an interesting history check out As those things are challenged by tough economic times, it serves as a good reminder that there are many who have labored hard in this country for generations and some who have just newly arrived and farming is an entry into the American Dream for them.  Agricultural labor has changed a lot in the US in the 100-plus years since the beginning of Labor Day, and agricultural labor has been almost wholly overlooked when we think about the holiday.  It seems to have more to do with organized and industrial labor. 
But I won’t overlook this agricultural labor.  Nor the labor in other countries that provide me with things I need and want. Worker’s rights are often a third or fourth thought for people who are concerned with local sustainable food, but for me it is high on the list.  I want to know, as much as I can, that the food I eat was grown in a way that was good for the earth and good for who grew it.  Buying fair trade or relationship coffee, as I do from Roast House, is one way of doing that.  Buying from farmers I have gotten to know, is another.  Asking questions and learning about what I eat, where it is from, and who is selling it are others.  Knowledge really is power, as trite as it might be to say it.
As I am asked, pretty frequently now, “what’s one thing you would recommend doing about food?” I find myself thinking about Alice Waters collection of essays from a special edition of The Nation (see a few years back called “One Thing To Do About Food” in which she had food writers, activists, and scholars write short pieces describing what they would do.  I think in particular about Wendell Berry’s piece in that collection, not so much for the content he offered (although it was great), but for saying that he’d have to say two things.  I am afraid I have even a third thing to say: know your values, know your food, put your values to work. 
A lot of our everyday values can have a food aspect.  That the labor that helped bring food to my table isn’t taking a break on Monday, whether here in America or abroad.  Agricultural labor is hard work, especially when done in a sustainable way with fewer industrial and mechanical inputs. In being part of the sustainable food movement in America and here in Spokane in particular I have gotten to know really great people who care for others and the earth, who think and work hard, who feel sad when there is an injury or death on a farm, who worry about the weather and what it will do to the crops and the livestock, who rejoice at the harvest and laugh with one another.  That’s what I am remembering this Labor Day Weekend.