By Annalise Chelsen, Mains Intern at The Conservation Foundation
Everyone eats. But not everyone knows where their food comes from. As an intern at The Conservation Foundation who has had the opportunity to learn from the farm crew at Green Earth Harvest, I have grown in my appreciation for the connection between grower and eater and expanded my vision for the importance of small-scale agriculture that prioritizes relationships – both human and ecological. As Wendell Berry reflects in The Unsettling of America, “soil is the great connector of our lives.”
I am a Senior at Wheaton College studying anthropology and environmental sustainability. For me, interest in conservation is rooted in the importance of just systems that honor the interdependence between people and the planet. This interest brought me to food systems and agriculture, because what better thing could illustrate our dependence on natural rhythms than eating? The “environment” is not so separate from ourselves than it is sometimes made out to be. I love food – growing, foraging, cooking, and gathering with people around a table for a meal. Eating brings us together, and connects us back to the soil every day. I have learned that you can’t separate eating from the people and places the food is coming from. Food tells a story, one that we are often disconnected from. Agriculture programs like Green Earth Harvest have taught me so much about the importance of resisting industrial agriculture and engaging with and supporting local farmers wherever we live for the sake of a flourishing community. I want to share a few moments that have stuck with me from my time with Green Earth Harvest that highlight the community aspect of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
The garlic pull was a hot mid-July day. There was a team of volunteers of many ages alongside the farm crew. It smelled strongly of garlic and freshly turned earth. The garlic plants are the fruit of cloves saved from the previous year – an investment in the future from the past, as all seeds are. The soil itself is a living network of minerals and organic matter, microbes, earthworms, beetles, fungi, centipedes. They were participating in the process all along, and there with us that day too. The pull was an expression of collectivity as people worked together to uproot the cloves, gather, clip the tops off, and load up the tractor. I noticed that when you work side by side with people in the dirt, (whether pulling garlic or weeding carrots), stories are shared.
In the following weeks, the garlic cured in the barn and was later bagged and distributed to the farmshare program participants. I loved seeing the bags of garlic get picked up by shareholders in the barn at the end of the summer and wondering what meals it would flavor, as I wondered how people would cook all the produce they brought home. I loved when people shared with me their recipes, and stories attached to certain foods. I do not think people come to Green Earth Harvest only because of the utility of fresh vegetables, but also to be a member of something bigger. At the end of the day, we want to be connected to each other.
Every time I use a clove from the bag of garlic I brought home, I think of that harvest day, and the people who were there. Knowing who pulled your food from the ground and the soil where it grew gives you a different kind of appreciation for the time and processes that are held within it. For me, this knowledge deepens my gratitude for earth’s gifts and those who tend the fields. In her essay The Serviceberry: An Economy of Abundance, Robin Wall Kimmerer articulates that gratitude is the thread that “connects us in deep relationship.” She goes on to say that “To name the world as a gift is to feel one’s membership in the web of reciprocity…” As Kimmerer also points out, conceiving of something as a gift also changes your relationship to it and makes you more accountable to how you treat that thing. Everything we eat (and the air we breathe and the water we drink for that matter) is a gift from the earth, but we don’t always remember that. Kimmerer posits that if we acknowledged this, we might take better care of what we are given.
As I have been in environmental classes and spaces, I often ask, what can we do when the problems are so big? It is easy to get overwhelmed by the immensity of ecological grief, but I think returning to the soil on which we depend, deepening our relationships, gathering around tables, and practicing gratitude for the gifts we are given is a starting place we can all be invited into.