Saturday, June 20, 2009

Lettuce rest, I'm feeling beet

It warms my heart to see the next generation of leaders getting involved in food production and policy issues. (Our current leaders are starting to speak up on food issues, too: I love Michelle Obama. No, really. She gets it: celebrating good food while educating our kids about the value -- and joy -- inherent in sharing delicious, responsibly grown food will change our nation for the better.)

While yesterday started out much like the last eight rainy weeks, by late morning the clouds broke to reveal an increasingly warm, sunny afternoon. As usual, I had food on the brain. While biking along the lovely Farmington Canal Trail on my way to New Haven, an excerpt from a Shel Silverstein poem popped into my head: "What did the carrot say to the wheat? Lettuce rest, I'm feeling beet." (Actually, I wasn't feeling too beat, but was a bit hungry....) Ollie and I were on our way to work with some of our country's brightest young undergraduates who had chosen to spend their summer learning about sustainable food: we were bound for one of the season's first open community work days at the Yale Sustainable Food Project campus farm.

I arrived around lunchtime (how convenient), just in time to share a meal and a lively chat with Daniel (the farm manager), Anastasia (who manages the program's communications), and six student interns, along with a smattering of community volunteers and other program staff. I was particularly taken with the interns, none of whom were pursuing a degree in agriculture -- rather, they immersed themselves during the school year in the study of literature, political science, religion, economics -- who were united by a love of food and who by different paths had ended up doing educational internships at the farm for the summer. Some had been introduced to the small but vibrant farm during pre-orientation via the Harvest program. Others had been seeking fresh, local produce, or were interested in food equity issues, and stumbled across the program. (While Yale does not offer, at present, an undergraduate degree in sustainable food, visibility of the program is slowly growing and courses like Agrarian Culture and History are becoming more popular.)

After lunch, Anastasia gave me a tour of the farm and told me a bit about the history and philosophy of the program -- a project that truly embraces sustainability and local community involvement. From it's Amish-style wooden pavilion built by students and local carpenters of pine and oak from the Yale forest, to the oven beneath it constructed largely of reclaimed bricks and used for post-workday Friday night gatherings with local community and student volunteers to make pizzas topped with a portion of the day's harvest, the YSFP does a great job of practicing what it preaches. In addition to serving as a working farm model in the midst of the urban campus setting -- allowing for Yale and nearby public school students to learn firsthand about sustainable food production -- the program has established itself as a credible advisor for food matters, influencing the purchasing and preparation of food for the campus dining halls.

Next I worked with the interns gathering and washing produce for the Saturday farmers market in Wooster Square: radishes, spinach, mesclun greens, garlic scapes. I was fascinated by the miniature white salad turnips that Grace (one of the interns) and I harvested -- I'm told they sold out in under 40 minutes at last week's market day, and considered myself fortunate to acquire a small bunch of these little varietals ahead of the market crowd. It helps to have connections. ;)

After a spot of weeding the beet bed, I concluded my farm visit and headed north to Felicity's house with my booty of baby turnips and snazzy YSFP wheelbarrow pin. I look forward to learning how this program grows and flourishes under the thoughtful guidance of Daniel (the capable farm manager) and Melina (the project's director whom I did not have the food fortune to meet, but about whom I heard many good things).

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