Last week was my final Hilltop Hanover veggie share. That (and Saturday's snowstorm!) slammed me into winter.
All in all, I really enjoyed driving to the farm to pick up my shipment of produce each week. Sometimes the vegetables were challenging -- like beets! -- but I liked having my vegetable horizons expanded. True confession, though -- some of those lovely, organically grown veggies ended up on the compost heap. Try as I might, my imagination and innovation failed me often enough so that a lush bunch of kale or a shiny, plump eggplant would simply wilt away, ignored for too long in my crisper. This had happened to me before when I belonged to another produce co-op, and I swore to myself that I wouldn't let it happen this time around. But sometimes life gets in the way of eating all the eggplant.
In financial terms, the entire cost of the share was $660 for 21 weeks. That's about $31 per week. And, though I hate to admit it, I still went to the grocery store for "staple" vegetables (like lettuce, carrots, celery) as well as fruit. So, my weekly produce bill was even higher. Still, fruits and vegetables should make up 50% of a healthy diet, so even factoring in the vegetables I wasted, this still makes financial sense.
And everything had a vibrant tang, which is rarely the case with the cheaper, conventionally grown, supermarket produce. Plus, my green peppers and cucumbers weren't coated in wax, my carrots weren't washed in chlorine, my tomatoes weren't uniformly shaped and devoid of flavor. I could see where everything was grown, and in fact picked some of it with my kids. We tried new vegetables right off the vine (husk cherries, anyone?) Everything just tasted fresher and riper and full of juicy piquancy. And I felt good knowing that I was supporting a local farm and that (some!) of my produce traveled only a few miles in my car.
Mark Bittman wrote an excellent editorial on this very topic in the 11/2/2011 issue of the New York Times, called “Local Food: No Elitist Plot.” In it, he discusses the illogical food distribution system that we have put in place in America. Basically, we import more food than we produce – food that we once were able to grow easily and economically. Instead, we’ve given over our farmland to corn, soybeans and cattle. Just as we are dependent on foreign countries for most of our oil, we’re also dependent on them for most of our food.
That’s a scary thought in these uncertain times. We’ve dismantled so much of our agricultural system that if our ability to import food stops, we won’t have the farms nor expertise to grow our own food. Sure, one person buying one share from a tiny, local farm isn’t going to fix the big picture. But you’ve got to start somewhere. I like to think that by supporting Hilltop Hanover Farm and others like it, I’m helping readjust this imbalance one vegetable at a time.