Years ago, our contributor Elizabeth Crane wrote an article for Edutopia about Pie Ranch, a farm which hosts young people from regional high schools to learn about farming and food production. Through the farm and its associated cafe, Mission Pie, the folks at Pie Ranch work hard to, in their own words, “create a model center of sustainable farming and food system education.” More
Years ago, Lisa wrote about her friend’s farm on a truck; now from the folks over at Good, this news about a roving educational farm on a truck!
“A literal ‘food truck,’ Truck Farm Chicago is a nonprofit organization that uses a 1994 Ford F-250 named Petunia to chauffeur a miniature farm. …While Truck Farm Chicago is one of about 20 truck farms sprawled across the nation, it’s set apart by its focus on educating Chicago youth and families about healthy eating. Visits to the truck typically last an hour and consist of a short tour of the farm, plant identification, taste tests, and sensory exploration. Off-truck activities include planting a seed in a newspaper pot to nourish at home and painting their favorite lessons straight onto Petunia.”
Read more about it — and see more pictures — over at Good.
I remember so vividly helping my dad lay out his orchard. I was around ten years old, and my dad hadn’t entirely finished clearing the area, so we both had to tramp through lots of briar and brambles. Dad positioned me where he wanted the first tree and gave me the end of a spool of twine to hold; then he paced off thirty or forty steps in a line, unspooling the twine as he went. After he marked the spots for each tree, he dug the holes and planted the trees, staked and fenced them, and then we watered each one, hauling buckets of water over from the swampy area that’s now a pond. There wasn’t any house on my parents’ land yet — nor even a road to the property — just their vision of what this place could be.
Now Ben is the ten year old, and yesterday he and Eli planted their first trees in my parents’ orchard: a nectarine for Ben (the first on the property!) and an apple — one of many varieties here — for Eli.
I think back on the day when my dad and I planted this orchard’s first trees and I wonder, was I patient? Did I complain about the heat (or was it cold?), or about the briars, or about the long walk back to the car? I’m sure I didn’t see what my dad saw that day: a clearing in the woods, an orchard asserting itself, children and grandchildren fed from its trees. It’s an easier vision for my kids –- the orchard is established now, as well as the kitchen in the house in which we cook and eat its fruits –- but still, it takes a certain optimism and a certain patience to plant a tree. I’m glad they’ve shared that with my dad.
It felt appropriate to spend last week’s Cesar Chavez Day of Service on a farm. The first graders know Chavez’ story as well as they do the life of MLK, Jr., and on the drive out to Marin, my car full talked about how our experience on a small organic farm would differ from the experience of migrant farm workers in the 70s. “We won’t get sprayed!” they cheered. And although I know the farm industry still has a long way to go, for this day, we focused on celebrating Chavez and the healthy farm we visited.
The kids helped plant seeds:
They wheel barrowed weeds to the compost pile:
They learned about bees and other beneficial insects:
After which they took some time to draw the bugs they observed on the farm:
We took a lunch break, and some of us added calendula flowers to our meals:
And at the end of the day, the patient farmers sent us each home with a seedling, which one young gardener has established in our own city garden:
Even though the temperatures here are still summerlike, and our markets are still full of piles of plums, rainbow swaths of tomatoes, giant bouquets of cilantro and basil, I am facing the end of summer and all that comes with it. This weekend, I will slow roast dozens of pounds of early girls, zip their jammy goodness into bags, and freeze them for the winter rains. I’ll continue to make double batches of pesto as long as I can, freezing half and hoping the stash will last until March. Other than that, our summer food will be gone.
Cling peaches; waiting to be drenched in cream and brown sugar for the kids; in Prosecco for the adults
This is the way it should be.
Eating seasonally has become the paramount virtue at our table. It’s more important than organic. It’s more important than family dinner. It’s more important than getting my kids in the kitchen or dragging them to the farmers’ market. We’ve done all that, and we still do all that. Sometimes. Now that Ella and Finn are older, they have their own ideas about things, and they just don’t always want to be in the kitchen. Most of the time, they’d rather climb the orange tree than juice its fruit. They’d rather kick the soccer ball into the fence than harvest the tomatoes growing along it. And they’re a lot more interested in the chocolate croissants than another peach sample on Saturday mornings. Can you blame them? Ella has been to over 400 farmers markets in her life. She’s 9. She gets it.
summer corn with butter and basil
Most weekend mornings, she’d rather stay home and finish building that new metropolis she and Finn started. They have an open invitation to the kitchen. They can mix up smoothies or kidtinis when the (nonalcoholic) spirit moves them. But bedtime is more important than eating with dad. So we will have family dinner on the weekends. They won’t leave the house without knowing how to chop an onion or read a recipe or buy their own food.
Still, there is one, unwavering constant: here, in this very lucky climate, we eat what grows in season. If it’s not in the farmers market, we don’t buy it. What we eat is tied to the cycle of the year, and reminds us of a specific time and place. It’s the one, true constant of our food life.
the end of the heirlooms
The kids mourn the loss of stone fruit, but they can’t wait for apples. They gobble up the blueberries, but are enchanted by the first knobby, ruby red, pomegranates. Sharing these things, like the fleeting perfume of pineapple guavas or winters’ crunchy Hachiya persimmons, brings us together. We have shared desires. We know it’s the dead of winter when our oranges are ready to eat. We know spring has come when I bring home the first favas. In fall, shelling a new crop of walnuts is like digging for gold. These things are our common memory. These things bring us to the table. We don’t have a large family. We don’t have an elaborate kitchen. We don’t cook together all the time. We don’t have a whole lot of traditions or generations-old family recipes, or a rich cultural legacy. What we do have: things to remember and things to look forward to and things to eat right now. We make the most of what is in front of us, in the pantry, or the refrigerator, or on the counter. We “watch what it is, though it fades away” and it’s a lesson in food, and family, and, yes, life. Persimmons come, peaches go. Padrons give way to pomegranates. These are the things I think they’ll remember about growing up in California. That, and maybe cooking with sticks.