Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pondering potatoes...

Turns out that gleaning potatoes one day is fun. Two days is beginning to be tough. The third day was exhausting. Not only was it HOT, but we were truly gleaning...going back over fields previously harvested, some with just a small potato gem or two every 10 feet. Still I managed to gather about 50 lbs in three hours.  Yesterday it was more like 50 lbs in an hour.

You have a lot of time to think picking up potatoes.

The farmer allowing us to glean raises potatoes for large chip manufacturers and local grocery chains. His customers have very serious standards and requirements. So potatoes have to be a certain size, and the harvester is set to screen anything that doesn't meet the standard.  So imagine what is left behind...really small potatoes and really large potatoes. You know all of those packages of tiny little high end potatoes sold by Trader Joes?  I picked up a lot of cute little tiny round potatoes today. To go to he food bank. But if we didn't glean, they would go to waste...  Because some other farmer is growing cute little potatoes that will sell for outrageous prices to foodies (like me) shopping at TJs.

It seems inefficient. And for the market in which these farmers participate, it is highly efficient.

So how do people get fed? 

Switching topics a bit, we are fed lunch each day by a different local church. Today it was a beautiful old Presbyterian church that is mostly home to two large extended (and probably related by marriage) farm families. This lovely high school student was taking great pride in the sanctuary as she told people about the windows and the graves outside. She shared a bit of her family tree. 

She said her last name was Long. I told her we had been gleaning on a Long farm. It was her uncle. Her father is also a farmer. I asked if she was interested in farming. She beamed. Yes, she was anxious to learn all she could so that she could go to Washington DC to lobby for farmers.

Her energy was evident. We talked about her 4H and FFA involvement. Her brother wants to do the same. 

As we drove back, I found myself wondering where justice is in the system? Is there a way for farmers to survive in vibrant communities, where people can stay because there is work and good education and fair wages?

I don't know the answer. But I do know that as a consumer, I am participating in a system tooled to benefit stockholders. And that doesn't seem to trickle down to the very people on whose back the profits are built.

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