Posted on Tue, August 25, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
0 Comments | Categories: Biodiversity, Events, Farms and Farming,
by Biodiversity Intern Regina Fitzsimmons
Two days ago I ventured to the YMCA in TriBeCa, after a false start at the uptown Y, an extra subway trip and a blazing hot walk across town; Im an Arizonan fish-out-of-water and hadnt the faintest clue that TriBeCa was a place and not the name of the building. I stumbled into a cool, dark room with chairs clustered beneath a slightly elevated stage. Flustered and feeling foolish, I snuck over to the side of the audience and spotted an empty chair.
On stage sat David Mas Masumoto, a peach farmer and author, and four farmers from upstate New York and New Jersey. In the audience, we sipped on ciders and ate savory heirloom tomatoes (unaffected by the recent blight) with slices of crusty baguette and goat cheeses. Mas led the discussion as I peeled my backpack from my shoulders.
Mas asked the farmers to answer both long questions and short ones with quick, off-the-cuff answers like, whats the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word rain? when you wake up in the morning? when you hear the word harvest? When prompted with the words No one knows that I , Cheryl, farmer at W. Rogowski Farm sighed and said, Id love a manicure and to get my toes done.
Half the time, the smile on my face grew larger and larger still, as I chuckled through stories of Rons (who farms 17 acres on Stokes Farm in Jersey) recollections of his childhood time out sessionsnot cloistered in a room as he would have liked, but forced to pick flats of cherry tomatoes all afternoon. But some of the time, the conversation turned thoughtful, somber and serious. When asked to recollect a bad day on the farm, they shared stories of people getting hurt, crops ruined over night by one storm or one deer. Fred from Wilklow Orchards shared his last Friday: he and his farm help started harvesting at 6:30 a.m. (bumped a half hour later because of the waning daylight). They finished loading up the market van at 10:00 p.m., went inside, had dinner and at 11pm and just as they were cleaning the dishes, they heard a knock at the door. Do you have cows? a woman asked them, standing in the threshold. Yes, Fred responded. Well, I think theyve all escaped. Fred grabbed his keys and drove down the road and sure enough, twelve cows had found their way out of the pasture. He lured them in and climbed into bed just after 1 oclock in the morning. He was up at 4am to get to market on time. As a few people from the audience murmured words of surprise and amazement, the other farmers all nodded knowingly.
Later, Mas asked the crew to share a valuable lesson theyd learned on the farm. The younger of the two Rons (a father-son duo) from the Jersey farm quickly spoke up, Dont sell yourself cheap. He paused and then continued, Even if you have charge $8.75 for an heirloom tomato. His dad spoke up in agreement, Folks dont realize its not just a monetary transaction. Our sweat and pride goes into the food we produce. Mas nodded and recalled when shoppers would complain that his peaches were three dollars a pound. He remembered one family in particular who protested his price while they unwrapped a couple of Twinkies. Later that afternoon, Mas drove his son into town and showed him the box of Twinkies on the shelf. They did a little number crunching and discovered that when you buy a Twinkie at your local grocery store, youre paying six dollars a pound! The elder of the two Rons laughed and spoke up again, People just dont know what goes into it. I remember when one woman recently yelled at the man from the booth next to oursthe guy selling Buffalo meat. She couldnt believe that someone would kill a buffalo. I looked at her shoesshe was wearing leather shoes. Does that make sense? Another woman complained about my prices of heirloom tomatoes as she drank a Venti Starbucks that cost four dollars!
The discussion stayed lively as they compared the differences of being raised in farm culture vs. trying to work your way into it if youre on the outside. They also talked about organic vs. conventional. Ron, who farms a non-organic farm, expressed his distaste when market shoppers put me in a box. Theres no greenmarket farmer thats conventional,Ҕ he said. And just because were not organic, that doesnt mean were anti-organic!
As the discussion closed a microphone was passed around the dimly-lit audience and we were all given the opportunity to ask questions. Soon after, we stood up and greeted the farmers more informally. We polished off the wedges of bread and cheese and thanked the group of five for sharing their ciders and fruits and letting us a glimpse into the work and process behind the food we all animatedly chewed andwith the tomatoes especiallycrooned over.
A year ago I worked on a small, organic vegetable farm in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, but since then, Ive been studying food one-step removed. Im learning about food biodiversity here at Slow Food; at school, Im writing a thesis about sustainable agriculture in my hometown, but Im not out on the farm nearly as often as I type on the computer. On Tuesday, after two hours at the Y, I forgot about my hectic subway-hopping morning. I forgot I was even in the City. At this talk, I thought a lot about my Vermont summer. I do, sometimes very acutely, miss that summer (even the roasting late-August days when I perpetually reeked of garlic after all-day garlic tie-ups). But Im not kidding myself: at this talk I remembered day-to-day farm practices and difficult, hard farm life that Im embarrassed Ive forgotten and overridden with a more romanticized memory. (And I had it easy: I was an intern and had the luxury of leisurely evenings and weekends.) But more than all of these memories and self-centric thoughts, I left with a resurging compassion, appreciation and overwhelming thanks for these fiveand the many otherswho work tirelessly to nourish their land and communities, and by extension, me, my family and home.