Greetings from Camden, NJ on this beautiful November day!
Today at 3:30PM the last Farmer’s Market of the season takes place on Ferry Ave., just outside the CFET building. The address is 1729 Ferry Ave. Amazingly, on this 15th of November, there are still vegetables that can grace your table, and delight your taste buds. The only think you need to do is come down to the Center and make your choices. See the sidebar here for a list of vegetables that are still available. It is open til 5:30PM, and will close until June 2014!
Perhaps you are not going to read this until after 5:30PM today, and so will miss out on it. Or perhaps there is a Farmer’s Market closer to home that you travel to, for your “fix” of fresh, home grown vegetables and fruit. What is so wonderful about Farmer’s Markets is that the produce on display is so “real” and “natural.” It often still has leaves from a vine on it, or there are some bruises, or the green beans are not all uniformly straight. The tomatoes are multi-colored and multi-shaped. There are orange tomatoes, yellow ones, striped ones, red ones, round ones, not so round ones, and there are some with bruises on them. I could identify the many kinds of squash, of root vegetables, of melons that one can find at one’s farmer’s market, or at one’s CSA (on the farm). What I can be guaranteed at the Farmer’s Market is that there will be variety, not only of kinds of vegetables, but even within the same vegetable, there will be immense variety of color, shape size, and most importantly, of taste.
What a contrast to what I find when I visit the typical grocery store. There are three types of tomatoes at a grocery story, typically: grape tomatoes, roma tomatoes and large, round tomatoes. All the tomatoes are red, and their shape is uniform. You won’t find any odd shaped tomatoes in my grocery store. I wonder about that. Why is the Farmer’s Market tomato so varied, in so many ways, and the grocery store so uniform? Part of the story is that for much of the year here in the Northeastern US we need to ship in our tomatoes from Florida or California. The Florida tomatoes take about 20 hours by truck to get here, while the California tomatoes might need two-three days. There is no way the heirloom varieties one might find in a farmers market could hold up with that kind of delay between picking and display at the store. Given our demand for tomatoes during seasons in which they are not grown, the grocery stores needed to prod the farmers in these far a way places to genetically modify their tomatoes so that they could hold up under the stress of travel. It turned out to be more efficient to focus on modifying one kind of tomato, and to streamline the growing process, and so we have large, round red tomatoes, for the most part, in the grocery stores of the North. The uniform tomato is the result, in part, of our demand that in the middle of winter I can slice a tomato for my hamburger.
It is a great benefit of our technological progress that we can make tomatoes, in abundance, available in the depths of winter. It also enables us to live in such a way that the seasons themselves are mere sets against which we do our thing, rather than as key variables that need to be considered as we do our thing. The seasons of the northeast can be a nuisance, when it gets too hot, or too cold, or too windy, or too snowy, but we’ve developed ways to make those nuisances just that: nuisances! They don’t really limit our range of activities. How different that is from how human beings lived for tens of thousands of years, when the seasons set limits to human activity, when seasons demanded a reckoning in human consciousness, when the seasons were fully integrated into the personal and communal practices of human beings. I wonder what it means for human living to be able to live without attending to earth’s rhythms.
I am thinking of this as we move deeper into November, and the darkness lengthens each day, and the plants die, or retreat into their roots, and the trees become living dead things, with branches that ache for cover. This time of the year focuses our attention on the light, as it shortens, and on the approach of cold, when all things pull into themselves. It is a time of remembering the bounty of the year past, of remembering those who have gone before us. This year marks the first time that Thanksgiving falls on the same day as the great Jewish feast of Hanukkah, a festival of lights, which celebrates the power of light against the darkness. Again, a festival whose roots lie deep in the rhythms of God’s creation. And Thanksgiving is a time of remembering and giving thanks, for the bounty of the earth, which announces the hope of God’s creation, to be a source of blessing for all.
The Farmer’s Market ends today, just as the earth in this part of the world brings its irruption of bounty to an end. It is a reminder of the rhythm of earth in these parts, and of the constant invitation to be part of that rhythm, and slow down a bit, become more reflective, allow our eating patterns to reflect a bit where we are on the planet. But it’s difficult. The large, round red tomatoes at the grocery store stand as a constant reminder that we need not mind the passing of the seasons. We can eat what we want, even in the dark months of the winter. What are we missing when we don’t mind the passing of the seasons? That seems worth pondering in these days of remembering.
A Blessed Hanukkah to all, and a Happy Thanksgiving!
Mark Doorley, Ph.D.
President, Board of Trustees, CFET