The strawberries are done for the year. With a little sadness and the help of my daughter, I removed and rolled up the bird netting for another year. We had a good crop, about 15 quarts, which I think is pretty respectable for a bed that is 1 ½ feet deep and 25 feet long.
We also get strawberries from our CSA. It is one of the U-pick crops, so I like to get out there on the early-side, and crawl around the rows while it is still fairly quiet. I had two funny experiences in the strawberry patch this year. The first one was me being that CSA veteran, who always has something to say in reference to what to do with all the food we take home. It can be a little overwhelming, I think. This woman was saying that she didn’t know what she was going to do with all of the strawberries she was picking (2 quarts), that it was more than her family could possible eat before they got mushy. I commented that she could jam them, or put them in the freezer to eat frozen, make smoothies out of, or make jam later, which is what I do, that I had frozen most of the strawberries from my home patch because I didn’t have time to make jam.
Another woman was in the row next to me and she stopped picking, looked up at me and said, “If you grow your own strawberries, why are you picking these? There could be more for the rest of us.”
I replied, “I am picking these because the CSA doesn’t offer a ‘No Strawberry’ share.”
At the time, I was a little perturbed by this woman’s attitude – I paid for my share, and I will use all of the produce I bring home. Where did she get off even thinking that I shouldn’t have my share of strawberries?
But I realized that people come into the CSA with all kinds of preconceptions about how the community functions. In some respects, this woman is a theoretical communist – we all take only what we need. I can imagine her thoughts pertaining to the first woman’s initial comments, “If you aren’t going to eat them, leave them for someone who will.” But what was most interesting about this woman was what I saw when she left the strawberry patch, balancing her quart containers. Not overflowing, mind you, but exactly level with the top of the dry quart. She took exactly her share, unlike many people who try and balance as many strawberries on top as they possibly can. It can be amusing to watch them tip-toe out of the patch.
The next week, I was out there early again, and a mother was out there picking with her daughter. I am guessing the daughter was about three or four years old, very patiently crouched next to her mom, picking berries. It was one of those ‘wish I had a camera’ moments. The mom said, “Oh! Don’t pick the little ones. Only pick the big ones.”
I looked over and said, “We love the little ones. We call them sugar bites. They are usually really sweet.”
She replied, “Shouldn’t they stay on the plant until they get bigger?”
“Once they turn red, they don’t get any bigger.”
And we returned to our picking. So here is someone who knows nothing about how food grows. She only knows that she has never seen a tiny strawberry before because the only strawberries she has ever seen came from the grocery store, where they have to be a certain size and certain shape to make it into the basket. It was an awesome moment. A door opened. And not just for the mom. But for the little girl, who will grow up with an entirely different perception of food, and where food comes from, and how it is produced.
I find these two experiences uplifting because it illustrates how the CSA can work to shape cultural attitudes. In the first example, the woman is concerned with the people who take more than their share. It is an issue. I have seen people pick ¾ of a bag of green beans and call it a ½ a bag. Stand up, shake the bag and say, “That looks like ½ a bag.” I don’t say anything, figuring that the farm manager probably low-balls the amounts to consider that some people will high-ball the level in their U-pick bag. And while that woman was upset that I was picking berries even though I grow my own, I applaud her sense of being part of a larger community and her willingness to speak her mind.
The second woman and her daughter are the reason I will continue with this blog, and to continue to teach the Politics of Food unit in the classroom. Our American culture, for the most part, has no idea how food gets to the table. And there is so much political maneuvering, and corporate manipulation, that it seems nearly impossible for the simplest of processes to take place. In the classroom, the Food Politics Unit is something of a metaphor – for students to see that something as simple as grow food, harvest food, prepare food, eat food has become an extraordinarily complicated and cut-throat business. I think this is true for many things in their lives: my childhood was much less complicated; education was much less complicated; my working parents’ lives were much less complicated. The more technology makes things “easier,” the more techno-dependent we become, the more steps we create to get from start to finish, the less energy and drive we have to accomplish anything.