Lightly dusted in rich, red dirt, I joined my daughter and a dozen other young folks underneath the dappled shade of a big, live oak for a lunch break. We pulled ball caps from our sweaty heads and stretched out against hay bales to unwrap home-made lunches packed in reusable containers. I bit into a big, sourdough grilled BLT that squirted juice from tomatoes hand-picked just feet from where I sat. Liquid sunshine dripped down my hand and back to the red earth from which it came.
How different this scene is from most young, college-educated American millennials who take their lunch break from Styrofoam containers in a city scape of concrete and metal.
As a visitor to Mountain Bounty Farm in Nevada City, California, I got to see, taste and touch what my daughter has been doing as an intern since April. Weekly reports of grafting and weed pulling suddenly came alive as we harvested juicy, ripe tomatoes from thick vines that dwarfed me, as we tugged the green tops of plump, creamy-white Asian turnips that unearthed sweet, crunchy bulbs with a pleasant, peachy note; as we plucked strawberries from mounds and mounds of crinkly green leaves and, of course, treated ourselves to their delicate sweetness every now and again.
What had been a hollow response when asked how Kaye was doing – “she works on an organic farm” – now means that my daughter is joining a growing number of young adults who want to make their food, their community and their lives richer in ways that work with the earth, not against it. And to do it without chemicals and the short cuts that changed the landscape of the family farm into large, government-subsidized, conglomerates that may have cut costs, but at what price?
Not only has the quality of the food we eat suffered, but as you can see watching these young people learn agriculture lessons, the understanding of how humans contribute to the health of the land and by extension themselves can be reclaimed as a source of hope, not fear.
We have become a society that fears our food, our household cleaners, our medicines or lack of them. We fear that the climate can kill us or worse yet, that we will kill it. We know that consumerism and buying things that have been made or grown half way around the world doesn’t make ecological sense, but we’re lured in by cheap prices. What I got to see visiting the farm and some of the nearby farms, is a new breed of hand dug hope.
Sure, California has water issues and power issues and one can point a finger at what is wrong with any place, but these issues aren’t going to get solved in Washington D.C. They’re not going to get solved by laws and restricting straws. The challenges that we face in the 21st Century are the same we’ve always faced, but the problem – as I see it – is that we have forgotten the lessons that nature provides. When your solar power shuts out in the kitchen that you’re making dinner in – as it did for us on several occasions – you have to become more conscious of how much you’re using and what alternative solutions you can come up with. When your water source matters to the production of your livelihood, you are much more likely to find out where it’s coming from and how to manage it properly.
These are lessons they don’t teach you in school or if they do, it’s more in theory and thus easily dismissed. Before this weekend, I was not someone to “buy organic.” I didn’t see the benefit of just paying more for my carrots, so to speak. And the farmers will tell you that a lot of it has to do with paperwork and other administrative burdens. But what I saw was a working farm and the hands that planted and picked my fruit. I saw young people who were willing to pour their heart and soul into a few acres of land. Kids who dreamed of a better way and are becoming part of the solution.
It’s not easy work. It’s not glamorous. It won’t get you a big pay check or a fancy car. But it will get you the tastiest meals, the sense of community and a good night’s sleep under a canopy of stars. And that, I very much want to encourage and support.
I hope you will join me in finding a local farm and supporting this movement. Whether you go apple or pumpkin picking locally, or become a member of the weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program – that allows you to actually support the farm by receiving a box of vegetables weekly in the summer, more on that next week, or just get some veggies from a farm stand: you may not make a world of difference, but you will make a difference for our world.
Mahatma Gandhi said: “To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves.”