Heat waves and CSAs

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It’s going to be a sad Thanksgiving. I read today in Minneapolis’s newspaper, The Star Tribune, that the recent heat wave boiling over the United States has led to the deaths of over 100,000 turkeys in Minnesota alone.

Luckily, my neighbors’ chickens that I’ve been caring for this week have all survived. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for some of the vegetables left out on my neighbors’ porch by their CSA.

Fresh vegetables from a CSA

CSAs, farms that supply Community Supported Agriculture, are all the rage here in the Twin Cities, where we are both surrounded by farmland yet separated from it by snaking highways and suburban developments. With membership in a CSA, you are guaranteed local produce on a weekly basis that evolves with the season and is delivered by the farmers who grew it.

My neighbors’ house is a drop site for a local CSA, and I was pleased to see that one of the subscribing families hadn’t picked up their box yesterday, which meant the veggies were free for the taking. I dragged the heavy box home. I unpacked luscious green Swiss chard, hearty cucumbers and zucchinis, and brilliant purple onions. Then things took a turn for the worse. Underneath these lovely vegetables was a giant head of cauliflower that should’ve been white but was quickly turning brown and slimy from being left all day in the heat. Fennel fronds just below had wilted to inedibility. A bag of green beans at the bottom of the box had started to sprout fuzz.

It’s terrible to waste food, but even more difficult to throw out produce grown on a nearby farm by a man whose face you recognize. It feels sacrilegious, even. Yet there was nothing else to be done–onto the compost heap this food went.

The heat wave will have many negative consequences for people across the country, and especially for the farmers among us. Thus, it feels all the more important to support small farms as much as possible, and CSAs are the most delicious way to do it. It may be too late in the season to sign up, but see if you can find a farm near you for next year!

How to be a farmer

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What you’ll need: a pitchfork, a plot of land

Songlist: Maggie’s Farm by Bob Dylan, Sting’s Fields of Gold

Further reading: My Antonia by Willa Cather, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath

The American dream...sort of

For anyone who thinks Minnesota is some arctic wasteland, let me tell you, it gets hot. Today the heat index was around 115 F, and is only supposed to be worse tomorrow. Experts at escaping the weather, many Minnesotans flocked yesterday to movie theaters, chilled-out coffee shops, air-conditioned malls. I went to the Walker Art Center for a screening of Sweet Land, a wonderful film set in Minnesota and directed by my mom’s friend, Ali Selim.

There is nothing quite so quintessentially American as a scene of a farmhouse behind rolling fields of wheat (throw in a bald eagle and a bison and you’ve got prime presidential campaign material). Yet the independent American farmer is a disappearing breed, in part because corporate farms are buying up the land, and because it’s too expensive for most people to start a farm from scratch, between buying acres of land and necessary equipment. Thus farming also has an air of romanticized nostalgia.

The two main characters of Sweet Land, falling in love with each other and the land

Sweet Land, which focuses on a small farming community in Minnesota just after WWI has ended, trades heavily on this nostalgia and romance. One slow-motion scene shows the two main characters separating the wheat from the chaff in golden light–no wonder these two characters fall in love.

Having grown up in the midwest, I visited farms on school field trips and devoured Laura Ingalls Wilder’s accounts of the prairie from which my cities rose. I suspect I am thus even more susceptible to the romance of farming, and, as a girl, often imagined myself waking early to milk cows and collect eggs and going to sleep with the setting of the sun. Besides literary references and field trips, my only real experience of farms was secondhand through the weary gazes of girls my age at the Minnesota State Fair. Though their hair was tied in french braids, just the way I imagined mine would be, their boots were covered in grime, their hands of the flanks of the animals they were showing. It was not quite the same romance as I pictured.

These next two weeks I have a chance to see if I’m cut out for the farming life. While my neighbors are away in France, I’m keeper of their urban menagerie: a cat, a parrot, and more than a dozen chickens (they also have three dogs and a lizard, all of which have found other temporary homes). The hens are lovely and chatty, but after spending a half-hour just figuring out how to change their water gives me the initial impression that I won’t be starting up a farm any time soon. Stay tuned, though…perhaps I’ll be whistling a different tune after bringing home the delicious eggs these girls lay.

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