Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Farm to School, Literally

So, I was feeling a little alienated from where my food comes from. You know, not feeling connected to the process. Just eating food grown by who knows who, who knows where. Feeling a little bit like a fraud, or at least a travel writer, just relating adventures in restaurants in exotic places. Not anymore, no. I’m getting up close and personal with it ALL. I am currently on White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota, a mere stone’s throw away from where I spent my childhood. I am also, incidentally, living *in* Winona LaDuke’s house. I think it goes without saying that living with one of your idols (in a gorgeous cabin on a lake) is a great deal more than a person really can and should ask for—and certainly whoever is in charge up there, thanks for answering my prayers (or whatever muttering you heard)--in spades.

So, my jobs as a volunteer have so far included dog walking, tomato picking, melon schlepping, corn husking, grant writing, rice parching, pow-wow dancer assisting and horse petting. That’s just been the last three days. Whew! I think salsa making, picture-taking and rice harvesting are in my future. The melon schlepping is how I got up close and personal with the grow, cook and eat thing, and yeah, there’s a reason why we let other people grow the stuff for us in some warm climate somewhere else and it gets put in a little box and we put that little box in the big box in the kitchen and when the timer goes ding we eat. Well, I don't. But I like pain.

I was minding my own business the other night, cooking my dinner (sweet corn, broccoli and raspberries from Winona’s farm, that I didn't grow, but I picked). The phone rang and it turns out that Bob, who helps with the Farm-to-School program didn’t have wheels, and the melons, lopes and sweet corn needed to be at the school by 8 the next morning. And it’s pouring rain, freezing cold and getting dark. Sure, I would LOVE to help. There is a reason there are no pictures of this part, dear reader.

An hour later, down long twisty gravel roads that are getting a bit slushy and slippery from the rain we arrive at Henry Miller’s farm. 18 dozen ears of corn are lying on the lawn and we scurry back and forth carrying a few ears at a time and throw them in the back of the truck. Next stop is Robert Johnson’s farm for 30 watermelons and 30 cantalopes. Bob and Robert make a lope brigade and toss the melons in the back seat. Mercifully, pretty soon we’re dry and warm and on our way again. Both Henry and Robert are Amish farmers, and recent arrivals in this part of Minnesota. The Amish communities further east are facing tremendous development pressure and are moving west and north to escape it. Did I mention that it snows for 6 months of the year here? Not a huge amount of development pressure here, no.

I got the melons, lopes and corn back to the house and my work was done for the night. But the next morning Winona asked me to help out with shucking a hundred ears of corn for open house at the first day of Pine Point Elementary school. Sure, why not? It turns out that the school only has one part time cafeteria manager and she has one part time assistant, which is not enough hands to shuck corn or cut melons. (And a horrific under-prioritization of health and well being of our children, if I might add.) I ended up staying long enough to hand out the corn too, and it was a pure joy to watch the little kids eat it. See for yourself.

Can we have more of this, please?

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