Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Season's End

It's my last week on the farm since the CSA season has officially ended. I am thrilled to be leaving the farm and heading back to the city, yet I know I will miss it here. I will miss the folks I've gotten to befriend, the dark nights and fresh air, and yes, I'll even miss being inundated with vegetables! Actually, I never did tire of being surrounded by wonderful fresh veggies although, I will admit there are a few that I'll be glad not to handle for a while: can we say leeks and fresh onions?

It's been a truly wonderful experience overall to witness this side of the food chain. It was a challenging season in so many different ways and I feel I am definitely better for facing up to the challenges, many that were unexpected, and that I feel have helped me to grow. I am grateful for having this intense growing opportunity. I guess that's what a farm is for; growing things, people included.

I'll be spending the next few weeks reflecting on this experience and hopefully coming up with some ideas in my mind as to how we, as communities, can better support local agriculture and what kinds of legislation, programs or projects can be created to benefit both consumer and producer, ending the cycle of waste and destruction that is our current food system. Experiencing the system on the food production end really puts into perspective the stupidity and wastefulness the system has created.

An example: Wednesdays we process loads of freshly harvested vegetables to prepare for market the following day. Thursdays we toil all day, washing, bunching, trimming and packing for the weekend farmers markets in the city, some 200+ miles southeast of Norwich. Friday morning somewhere around 1am Zaid and Haifa head to the city for market, one driving the truck and the other driving a large van. The routine is repeated on Friday and Saturday and another driver is sent to bring fresh produce into the city for Sunday and Monday farmer's markets. The truck returns on Tuesday afternoon and we unload everything and sort through all the unsold produce. Often we end up throwing enormous amounts of perfectly fine food away because they may be a bit wrinkled, soft, bruised or blemished in some other way that would not be acceptable for purchase by most market shoppers. So the energy in sunshine, human labor, fuel and more human labor, essentially ends up in the compost. We sort what is fine and it goes back to market, either to be sold or returned once again to be sorted and composted. For the field worker, it is truly heartbreaking to see your hard labor end up in the compost and equally heartbreaking for us to have to unbunch and unpack what we spent hours doing a few days prior. For the farm owner, they have to pay for the labor, fuel and other energy costs that is required to keep it up all season long. This cycle is just plain inefficient and stupid.

Now I have nothing against the farmer's market. It is the bread and butter for many small farmers and I love to support them. But there has to be a place for farmers to sell what is left over at the end of the day, at a fair price so all the food does not have to be trucked back to the farm or tossed. With all the restaurants, schools, hospitals and other institutions in NYC, why is there no system in place for some kind of mutually beneficial exchange?

I have learned to truly appreciate the simple brilliance of the CSA model, one where veggies move in one direction: out. There's no returning once it leaves the farm. And because the produce is already paid for and distributed amongst many, the percentage of waste is most likely low. Restaurants also purchase a fair amount from the farm and that is another model that I see works, again a one way affair.

It will be an interesting challenge for the next few weeks to reflect on this problem. There is a lot to ponder and much research to do. I'm ready to head back to the big city and see what good work can be done so that farms like Norwich Meadows can continue to exist, and folks like Zaid and Haifa can continue to provide nourishment for our communities here in the city while maintaining a decent livelihood they so well deserve. It takes serious love, dedication and physical stamina to be a farmer as well as a farm worker. We all need to recognize and be thankful for those who willingly choose to take on the tremendous responsibility of providing us with clean, delicious food, and I am proud to have been for a season, one of them.