"If we choose to feed ourselves responsibly, if we feed ourselves with fresh, living, local food, we have to interact with purveyors who are trying to live on the earth in a harmonious and responsible way. After several years of buying food from such people in a farmers market, one has all kinds of understanding: about agricultural economy and risk, and the heroic effort required to husband the land and its life-sustaining resources: about who the farmers are and what they grow best; and about the freshness and seasonality of food and what things smell and taste like. And these kinds of understandings contribute to the health and stability of local agriculture and to real sense of belonging to a local community." -- Alice Waters in A Letter to Clinton and Gore, 1995
It's hard to describe how we look forward to the beginning of the months when we get our weekly box of food from Deb and Richard at Tantré Farm. Ridiculous as it sounds, last night I actually had trouble getting to sleep because I was so excited about it. I was excited partly because I got to help with today's distribution of the Tantré boxes.
It's a fun job. Showing new people how to check their names off the list, reminding them to look at the whiteboard, and handing them their boxes felt quite a bit like playing Santa Claus. And pretty much everyone received their box in that same spirit of anticipation to see what was inside and excitement over the lovely contents. What a joyful thing.
That aspect having the privilege of a gift that we value more and more is what has kept us in the membership pool these last several years. Richard and Deb are doing an amazing thing for their 250 members; something so rare that it's almost unrecognizable to the "plush Ann Arbor people" like me. That rare thing is that they are growing and handing out, every week, what Alice Waters calls "living food." Living food, as I understand it, is food that makes one trip from the ground to you. It's food that has been so well cared for that the "force that through the green fuse drives the flower" is still in it.
I've already established what a sap I am, but regardless, seeing food like this gives me that chest-quivery feeling. I've spent some few hours laboring to harvest vegetables at Tantré where my limited stamina out in the lovely fields gives me a respectful sense of the intellect, planning, scale, organization and especially the heroic effort it takes to bring a perfect lettuce to market, 10,000 times or more in a season.
Knowing that, remembering the bone-tiredness after only a few hours of work, gets me to an appropriate state of gratitude. An entire box full of perfect food brings me about as close as I get to a religious experience. I love the sacrament of washing each radish, each lettuce and preparing them as simply as possible. I know the field, know the soil, know the hands, know the humor and the quizzical look that brought each seed to fulfill its potential as a lettuce or radish and which in turn is made into part of me. The circle of life is sitting there in my salad bowl.
Just by itself, the perfect food would be enough to keep me coming back. But every year I've learned a little bit more about what Deb and Richard do for their community, in addition to growing food that my grandfather would approve of. That's an amazing story too.
Somehow in the first couple of years that we were members, I stupidly didn't even bother to take advantage of the open invitation to visit the farm or to come to any of the work parties or events. It was only my friend Nano's desire for some U-pick organic raspberries and her urging to come along that first time that got me out there.
I eventually made it to a work party and pulled a bushel of potatoes out of the ground. I went to a kimchi class under the trees. I had a Slow Food potluck around the picnic table. Someone handed me a ripe persimmon just fallen from their tree, to taste for the first time. So sweet. And we started to bring some other people who couldn't believe a place like this existed, where you could let your kids run around barefoot in a pack with other kids, safe and basically unsupervised. I got to work with some of the interns who live on the farm as they learn to grow perfect food side by side with Richard and Deb. And I heard from Ruth about the fantastic farm-to-school programs that they help her with and support. I'm sure there are a hundred other things that I don't know about. Seeing all this happen is a reminder that community forms with intention and only when the intention is there do all the players (in the sense used in Finite and Infinite Games) coalesce.
When I run the world, there's going to be shouting and cheering every time the Tantré truck pulls into town, with every voice in the Michigan Stadium.
"We long for a positive vision for change, but we will never have community until we are all participating in solutions to our current crises. Help us nourish our children by bringing them back around the table, where we can pass on our most humane values. Help us create a demand for sustainable agriculture, for it is at the core of sustaining everyone's life. Talk about it; promote it as part of the schools' curriculum; encourage the spread of farmers markets; and demonstrate it with organic gardens on the grounds of the White House and the Vice Presidential mansion. To do these things would be in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, who believed that we had to be a nation of farmers in order to preserve our values of freedom and community." -- Alice Waters