Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fruits of Your Labor

Us city folk often forget just where all of that delicious produce we stuff into our reusable cloth shopping bags comes from.  We don't realize the time it takes these fruits and vegetables to grow, the cycle of the seasons, or the amount of work that goes into caring for and harvesting them.  We take for granted just how valuable this bounty is.  

Many of us avail ourselves of the myriad farmers markets cropping up in our metropolitan areas, gathering produce only one link in the chain away from the soil in which it was grown, taking the chance to meet the farmers who grew that food; an opportunity to shake the hand that shakes the trees, as it goes.  It's a re-emergence of a communal need to gather around food, to interact not only with the ingredients, but the people who grew them.  But a bundle of fresh asparagus or neatly packed box of peaches driven two hours in the bed of a truck from the farm to the market doesn't tell the whole story of how they turned from sunlight into food.

To learn the whole story, you have to get all the way back to the soil, and the neatly planted rows of trees or plants that turn a little bit of water, dirt, and sunlight into bright, fresh fruits and vegetables.  But even if we jaded city folk haven't ever actually seen one, I can assure you that farms do in fact exist.  A group of those farms near Brentwood, California have banded together to give us the opportunity to come back to nature, if even just briefly, and discover for ourselves just exactly where our food comes from.

Harvest Time in Brentwood is a non-profit group of about 40 farms in eastern Contra Costa County working to boost "Agri-tourism" in the area, allowing their customers to visit their farms and pick their own bushels of fresh fruits and vegetables.  More importantly, people can come and feel the soil in their hands, smell the fruit ripening, and hear the soft breeze blowing through the orchards.  It is pretty uplifting to see lines of parked cars and crowds of people moving in between the slow-moving traffic not to get into an amusement park or to see the latest teen pop sensation, but to come pick fruit at a farm.  It's really an ingenious plan:  Save on labor by getting the customer to come to you, and pick the fruit themselves.  Brilliant.

This is the very definition of eating locally; not only is the food not shipped in the back of a refrigerated truck over thousands of miles, but you get to see and touch the trees that bare the fruit, walk on the soil that grew the tree, and maybe even meet the farmer that planted the seeds.  Then you just have to hop in your car and drive home.

The missus and I took one sunny Sunday afternoon to make the hour drive out to Brentwood, and stopped at Bacchini's Fruit Tree, a family farm and fruit stand operating since 1945.  We spent an hour or so under the shady canopy of the cherry trees, snacking as we went.  We came away with about four pounds of sweet, delicious cherries and pluots, not including what we ate.  Each farm grows different crops, and make many of them available for picking when they come into season.  Some crops, such as tomatoes and corn, are left up to the professionals to harvest.

Whether you prefer organic or traditional produce is inconsequential; the less we understand about where our food comes from and how it is grown, the more disconnected we become from what we eat.  Organizations like Harvest Time are helping to reconnect people with the source of their food and the importance of local farms.  So if you can't grow your own, and I strongly encourage you to try, visit a place that does.  Notice how the cherries grow in clusters along the branches or how pluot tree leaves look different from peach tree leaves.  Then pick a cherry off the tree, drop it into your mouth, and taste the bright sweetness as your teeth bite through its soft flesh.  Spit the pit into the cool dirt, and take a moment to realize that this is where your food comes from.


seantimberlake said...

My god, those cherries are lurid! It's like they're pre-maraschino-ed for your convenience.

I regret missing out on the Brentwood picking days. I'll just have to settle for paying major coin for it at the farmers market.

Joel said...

Hey Sean, yeah, it was a great day, and the cherries were beautiful. Me thinks this will become an annual event for us.