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On Sunday morning, May 1st, I was working in the church garden with the kids during worship. Like many churches, we send the kids out to Sunday School after the Children’s Sermon, and then come running back in for communion on the weeks when it is served. My hands were muddy from scooping holes into the ground for the tomato plants and I did not pause to wash them on my way back into the sanctuary.
We’re trying to do a little Creation-Care as well as Feed-The-Hungry learning in the garden but quite frankly, that morning, the nearby swing set, not to mention the super cool hillside of mulch had more attraction power then the tomatoes & peppers part. Although harvesting, and eating the peas did pull the kids back from tossing the pine cone bombs for a few minutes. I’m thinking the key to Christian Education with this crew will be the ability to talk fast when the windows open up. Also, bribing with food seems promising as well.
It’s been a cool summer out here on the West Coast. We’re all remarking on it. This morning, (on the 10th day of August) I walked about the house thinking about turning on the heat and not for the first time this summer either. Our average high is usually above 80 degrees right now but today’s forecast, like the rest of the week, is looking to maybe clear 73 degrees.
Now if I were not trying to grow tomatoes for the fifth summer in a row, I’d probably be content with the coolness of my days. Wait long enough and the fog will clear and 73 is a pleasant temperature for most of life’s activities. Its better then a week of 90+ which is normal for this month and much much better then the endless weeks of high swelter everyone on the East Coast seems to be experiencing. But highs of only 73 degrees don’t do much for the tomatoes - and the nights are downright chilly. I can hear the tomatoes shivering out in the garden. I should be grabbing pounds of sweet, ripe tomatoes right now but instead it looks like late June, early July. Lots of promise out there but slow to ripen. What does turn red is not packing a lot of taste. The summer heat cooks up the sugars which are currently missing.
It isn't exactly the magical candyland of Willy Wonka,
but it just so happened that when my parents and I were travelling in Peru, they were consistently amazed at the fierce flavors of seemingly commonplace foods. They remarked that they felt they were discovering tomatoes, grapes, lettuce, eggs and even meat for the first time, as if just now, after over half a century of "knowing" the flavors of these foods, they were really tasting them.
We also ate new fruits unknown to us, like chirimoya, granadilla, and snozzberries.
Ok, not snozzberries ... "who ever heard of snozzberries?"
How sad, we remarked, that we have to go back to the US with its flavor-homogenized diet.
And why is it that the food in the US doesn't come close to the vibrant lip-smacking delight of strawberries that taste like strawberries?
Food eaten locally in Peru is not produced in industrial quantities the way that agriculture for export is or food grown in the US. It is not planted with GMO seeds that are manufactured to resist plagues, have harder shells, and withstand extreme temperatures. Fields are not smothered in petroleum-based fertilizers to compensate for lack of natural minerals and vitamins in the soil which have been leeched due to over-production, mono-cropping, and lack of rotation and "fallow" land (the practice of leaving a segment of land unplanted in order for it to recuperate its pH balance and nitrogen levels). Industrial agriculture overuses land to the point where plants need external elements to support their growth because soil nutrients are absent. So the "flavor" is fertilizer.
But in Peru the food is produced for eating, not just for selling. Land is ripe with nutrients and consciously maintained healthy in order to pass down to the next generation. That means they are filled with vitamins, minerals, and healing properties that get lost when the focus is on yield, export and profit.
Food for export is harvested before being ripe and shipped in storage containers to the land of US box stores where it is displayed in styrofoam and plastic wrap, as disconnected from the land as possible. So strawberries with a sticker from Peru will not taste the same as strawberries bought at a local market in Peru.
But we buy it. We buy the whole story: still-green tomatoes, peeled, sliced and packaged carrots, boxed meals and canned vegetables. Because its easier to pay $50 for groceries than to scrub and peel potatoes or even harder, consider the impact of our purchase on the health of the land or our bodies.
I think if we actually knew what food was supposed to taste like, that is the flavor of Mother Nature and not of Monsanto, we would start to demand higher quality food. Maybe we wouldn't be able to handle it: our senses have become de-sensitized to the point where blandness is banal. And a strawberry is just a strawberry, after all, right?
When we eat, we should use all of our senses. And have faith that Mother Nature knows best what a strawberry should taste like.
I think with some creativity, we can bring around this change. After all, as Willy Wonka says, "We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams."
On the fourth Friday of Lent in Oaxaca, Mexico, it is the custom to hand out glasses of Aguas Frescas to anyone who passes by. We had no idea that we were about to encounter La Dia de La Samaritana when we stepped into the home of the artist Rodolfo Morales in the town of Ocotlán, Mexico. Actually, there were several things I didn’t know when my impromptu tour group passed through the front gate but when I was offered a glass of Agua Fresca De Chilacoyote, scooped from the large bowl atop the courtyard’s covered well, I paid close attention. It was already pushing toward the day’s high of 93 degrees even though it wasn’t yet noontime and the glass offered was a truly refreshing drink.
The Day of the Samaritan Woman has been celebrated on the fourth Friday in Lent in Oaxaca for over a century. It started in the narthex of a couple of churches and has now become both a major event along restaurant row and a simple act of hospitality outside the front gates of homes and small marketplaces.
La Dia is based on the story, (John 4), of the Samaritan woman who finds Jesus sitting next to the central well of her village. It is a story rich with the metaphors of what happens when strangers of two opposing cultures encounter each other at the center of a common need. Hours and hours of sermons have been preached and reems and reems of papers have been generated on the conversation between the two but in Oaxaca, every Spring, real people hand out real glasses of refreshment to each other with great big smiles and good wishes.
It's like Halloween in the United States only without the shadows and the mass marketing of costumes and decorations but with the part where everyone welcomes the children and their parents with gifts of candy. It’s a ritual of strangers trusting each other to do no harm. Strangers offering to others a small gift and strangers accepting the gift offered.
I love La Dia de la Samaritana. I think we should be doing this everywhere. It’s such a simple thing really.
Here, are you thirsty? Please, drink this, it is refreshing.
Yes, thank you, I am grateful.
Anitra Kitts lives, works, and writes in Sonoma County, California. A certified candidate for the Ministry of the Word and Sacrament, (ordainable call anyone? anyone?) she dreams of Oaxacan Markets when pushing the shopping cart down the sterile aisles of the local corporate grocery edifice.
One year ago yesterday, president Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. "It included a mixture of tax cuts for businesses and families, infrastructure building and green investments, aids for states and localities, and help for those in need." $300 billion has been disbursed so far with at least twice that amount remaining, which has created or save about 1.8 million jobs.
Check out this map to see how many jobs were saved or created in your state.
And with our sixth map in two months (See Maps Galore from December 2009) we've really outdone ourselves. This Food Environment Atlas from the USDA has statistics down to the county level on everything from access to grocery stores by income level to pounds of fruits and vegetable eaten per capita. There are 90 different ways to look at this map in 13 food-related categories.
Rhubarb Preservation projects is in response to the lack of effort nationwide to maintain the genetic basis of this minor but important crop. Over 2,000 years ago it was found in Western and North-western provinces of China and in the adjoining Tibetan territory, and was origionally cultivated for its medicinal qualities. Since the 18th century, rhubarb was grown for eating. Rhubarb is often commonly mistaken to be a fruit but rhubarb is actually in the vegetable family. Rhubarb is rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber and initial tests have found that it can lower cholesteral.
More about the preservation project, check out the Rah Rah Rhubarb web page!
David Abazs and his wife have farmed along the North Shore of Lake Superior, near Finland, since 1989. Abazs also teaches at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, at North House Folk School and at Split Rock Lighthouse. And he runs a renewable energy business.
My eldest son loves blackberries. They have been his favorite food since he was old enough to pick them himself. Even when he was quite young he was not deterred by the thorns, which can be vicious on the wild plants. We would go out on long blackberry hunts, buckets tied around our waists, wading through brush and poison ivy to find these tasty treats. When we would come upon a gold mine, I would start picking and he would start eating. "One for me, and one for you," he would say, gently putting a berry in my mouth. In those moments, I wondered, why is he being so generous? Its been hard work getting here, we're sweaty and the baby on my back is crying. Why is he not hording his favorite food?
In the story of Exodus, God's people find themselves in the desert with nothing to eat. They are hungry, tired, and it is not hard to imagine a lot of babies crying. They complain to Moses and God responds with a gift--manna. God rains bread down from heaven, providing food for God's people for their entire sojourn through the desert. But, there are a few rules that go along with this free meal--they can't horde! "No one is to keep any of it until morning," Moses says. And those who do not obey this simple rule, will find it full of maggots in the morning. Manna has not shelf-life, it requires full trust in God's provision, every single day. Of course there is one exception. On the Sabbath, God's holy day of rest, manna is miraculously preserved from the day before.
The Exodus story teaches us what Ellen Davis calls "the art of sufficiency." As she puts it, "We come to see the beauty of enough and actually prize it over 'too much.'" In our society, we are encouraged to want more, to spurn God's gift of enough, to the extent that we are using resources faster than any other generation before us. How can we train ourselves to see food as manna, a gift from God, and remember that there is enough, if only we do not horde? I think I've learned a lesson from a child, who is in total wonder at found food. This fall we moved to the mountain of North Carolina and there is a Chinese Chestnut tree in our yard. These nuts are covered in a husk that is totally covered with very sharp spines. Yet again, undeterred by the thorns, my son was determined to get at the delicious, crispy nuts inside. After hours of work, he would bring them into us, and divide them evenly among us. He had learned the Way of Manna--when we see food as a gift, there is no reason not to share it. There is always enough to go around.
FolkPsalm is currently working on a cd/booklet entitled The Way of Manna and I am indebted to Charles Pettee for this title. To learn more about our band and our current project visit www.folkpsalm.com
A few years back, when standing for my Candidacy for Ministry of the Word and Sacrament Examination1 , I started talking about the over-the-top exuberant goodness of God that can be found in a bite of simply grilled salmon on a early June twilight evening. I think I said something like how food doesn’t have to taste good, how we’d still eat it. I talked about how we could be grass-grazers or nector-drinkers but we’re not. We eat a lot of things, most of which taste incredibly, extravagantly, luxuriously good. One of my proofs for the deep, creative, loving God is the first bite of the just ripe garden tomato in July; handcrafted camembret cheese freshly unwrapped and oozing just a tiny bit on a March afternoon; winter stew on a mid-November sunday night.
Daniel Deffenbaugh is an Associate Professor of Religion at Hastings College and a gardner. He is also a theologian and author of the book Learning the Language of the Fields: Tilling & Keeping as Christian Vocation. I like his book and have been quoting from it on this blog for a year now. One of the reasons I like Deffenbaugh’s book is how he claims gardening as a critical spiritual practice. To garden, to tend a particular place is to keep one’s eyes open for God at work. It is a practice of paying attention to “other”, that which is not us. To pay attention to plants is to pay attention to a living entity that while it is very much “other” from us it still remains as much a part of God’s beloved creation as ourselves.
Three years ago I planted my first real garden. Seeds sprouted, flowers bloomed and fruit formed and it all tasted great! So I did it again and a third time. Deffenbaugh is right. Gardening gets me out of my head and away from my desk. Gardening helps me to see the world around me. Well, to be more specific, gardening helps me to see and honor my part of the world. My specific place. And once I start to see, to honor, I can see God at work with, well, my “neighbors” which Deffenbaugh reminds us includes birds, plants, animals, bugs, even the dirt.
Here in Northern California we are in the third year of not-enough-rain, also known as a drought. Depending on how the next two months go we’ll either be under severe water restrictions or not-so-severe water restrictions during the coming spring, summer and the fall seasons. Until the rains come again. Under these circumstances I started to wonder if I should forgo the garden this year. Why plant seeds now if I have to abandon the crop later?