Thursday, July 23, 2009

Over hill, over dale, and around the Intervale

Monday was CSA (community supported agriculture) pickup day at the Intervale Community Farm -- the area's oldest (celebrating 20 years) and largest (with something like 500 shares, and a waiting list!) CSA. I arrived just after lunch to chat with Andy, Becky, and others for a bit before heading out to weed one of their outer fields. As we hand-weeded and thinned out a long row of beets, Aly filled me in a bit on the farm and how it fits into the larger Intervale scene of organic agriculture and education.

Around 3:00, we headed back to the CSA pickup area, just moments ahead of the first wave of eager local eaters. Had it not been so well organized, it would have been a scene of total chaos for the next 2 1/2 hours as a steady stream of people arrived to claim their weekly vittles -- collecting their veggie allotments, harvesting herbs and flowers, picking up any other items they'd requested, socializing. Whenever I could catch them for a free moment, Andy, Becky, or Aly would tell me a bit more about the food community they have helped to foster: regular community events, farming workshops (sometimes working alongside NOFA -- the Northeast Organic Farming Association), and partnerships with other local food producers (to round out CSA members' diets with minimally marked up dairy, eggs, bread, honey, and maple syrup). I meandered around until Mark and Susan showed up to pick up their share, then Susan gave me a lift to one of the local bike shops to pick up Ollie, who'd been getting some work done on her brakes in anticipation of our upcoming date with the Adirondack Mountains. (Eep.)

Wednesday morning began with lots of rain. (Par for the course, it seems, this biking in the rain....) It stopped just as Ollie and I got to the Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV) farm plot on the fringe of the Intervale, part of the innovative New Farms for New Americans project. There I met up with a group of resettled refugees from Burundi harvesting broccoli for the afternoon's North End Farmers' Market. Lots of smiling and gesturing ensued as we quickly realized a bit of a spoken language barrier breakdown (that is, once we made it past names and where we were from -- they beamed when I told them I lived in the same city as Obama). I played peek-a-boo with the kids, we mimed opinions on vegetable ripeness, and in general I think things went pretty well. My attempts at exchanging recipes seemed to puzzle them -- I learned later that broccoli is not a native food crop in Burundi, so perhaps it was unfamiliarity with cooking it that prompted the uncertain, polite smiles. They were kind and welcoming and proudly showed me their crops, and when we parted ways, Michel -- the man with whom I'd managed to communicate the most -- insisted that I take some of the broccoli with me. I'd asked so many questions about it, he probably thought I was a bit obsessed with broccoli. Okay, maybe I am a bit, and in the end I accepted the gift of the beautiful green bouquet. Few things are more humbling than being given food by a refugee.

The sun came out in the afternoon as Ollie and I arrived at Intervale's friendly Arethusa Collective Farm. We were just in time for carrot washing, but first Ben, Emily, and Ben's wife (a pox on my memory! I recall the entire conversation but have forgotten her name!) invited me to check out the property. Tom, the farm's founder, joined us as we cleaned and sorted carrots and the group engaged in an interesting discussion on the meaning of sustainability, farming as a political act, and the recent trends I've noticed ranging from the use of black plastic on organic farms to the pattern of well-educated young liberal arts majors flocking to farm life. They're a bright, friendly bunch who openly grapple with many of the issues I am trying to sort out for myself. (Only, of course, they're *living* the life I am only beginning to scratch the surface of.)

While no longer involved in a CSA, I learned, Arethusa remains committed to supplying farmers markets, restaurants, and City Market -- my all-time favorite grocery store in the region (and not just because of the bike helmet discount they offer, but it is a nice bonus) -- with healthy, tasty, chemical-free vegetables. At the end of the afternoon, I strapped a bag of gorgeous, freshly washed Arethusa carrots onto Ollie and we were off to Old Spokes Home (another local bike shop) to get the skinny on bike routes through the mountains of upstate New York....

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