Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Farmers' Market

Lately, we have been volunteering in the Natick Community Organic Farm (NCOF) "stall" at our local farmers' market.  When I say "we" here, I mean my family.  On weeks that we help out, we get over to the farm, help load the truck, staff the stall (from 9am when the market opens until 1pm when it closes), then break everything down and help unload the truck back at the farm.  The whole process takes up between 5 and 6 hours of our Saturday. Though we pitch in on everything, we are not alone.  Other people--particularly at the farm--are around and in charge. This is a good thing.

Our reasons for doing this are multi-faceted.  We want to do something as a family to give back to our community.  It is a way to fight back against the general consumerist culture we all live in.  In the 'burbs it is easy to forget that the world isn't really set up for our own personal convenience.  We are supposed to find ways to pitch in and serve the community.  This is a way that works for us.  Besides, the boys get to practice their math while making change.

We do a lot of service through church, of course.  That, however, is also where I work.  Parish ministry is, in many ways, a life of service.  It is also a public profession that naturally draws family members into many activities as well.  Still, to be solely a volunteer is a different thing.  I remember growing up in a politician's family.  There really was a difference between volunteer work that had to do with my dad's career and that which did not.  For us, part of volunteering outside the church is to give the kids a chance serve in a way that they can own.

NCOF also has to do with local food, one of my favorite subjects.  Even though we have a CSA share from Many Hands Organic Farm we also maintain a relationship with NCOF.  We have been members--off and on--since we came here.  The Assistant Treasurer at Eliot Church works at the farm.  The boys both attend programs there during the school year and take part in its summer camp.  In fact, I walked over to the farm a couple hours ago to purchase some tomatoes for dinner.  My son was working the cash box.

Another advantage I have found to working at the Farmers' Market is that I get to talk to people.  This helps my extroverted pastoral self survive the "low season" at church without driving family or congregants crazy!  The topic of conversation is naturally different.  I am called upon to plumb the depths of my culinary knowledge.  The identities of many of the veggies are not quite as obvious as one might think.  Herbs, in particular seem to be confusing for folks.  People--rightly--want to know which tomatoes taste sweetest.  The same goes with the onions.  The massive celery also seems to generate a large number of questions.  It is a challenge to talk about food for such a stretch of time. 

I do my best to answer their questions and to do a little research when I can.  I worked on farms in high school and have managed to maintain a garden from time to time.  I ask my sister-in-law (an organic farmer in Maine) when I can.  However, the best resources for information have been my CSA experience of the past couple years and my own tendency toward culinary adventure.  I have yet to see a vegetable that I haven't used in some way.  This week, though, we were all stumped by the difference between the "Cucumber" and the "European Cucumber".  My son was selling both kinds today.  I hope he noted the differences...

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