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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

From Our Valley to Theirs…

Sky Valley FBAnother fall pancake breakfast under my belt. As I’m about to exit the Grange, I notice a large cardboard box perched on a table just inside the door. In honesty I have to admit it’s the word “Free” that catches my eye. That and the fact the “free” stuff is a box of quince. Now I’m perhaps the Valley’s biggest (and only) grower and advocate of quince. On the back of the property I planted a quince tree of my own four years ago, and it has exceeded all my quince expectations. The particulars of my quince experience I posted last fall:( “A Breath of Fresh Air in the Valley…,” 10/30/2010.)

Mrs. Butch Olsen brought the quince to the Grange in hopes some of the breakfasters might find a use for the fruit in their fall cooking. (I’ve supplemented quince with apples in my mincemeat recipe.) This crop looked to me like windfalls, just a bit beyond their window of usefulness. Mrs. Butch remarked if no one seemed interested in the “free” produce, she might take the box to the Sky Valley Food Bank. “I heard the Hispanics use the fruit in some way,”she said. The big box of quince, plus Mrs. Olsen’s intent to share it with the food bank, got me to thinking about my own plentiful crop of quince and other excess produce in the backyard garden. Quince, anyone

A few days later I roll to a stop in the delivery lot of the downtown Sky Valley Food Bank and unload a large box of peppers (caliente!), a half bucket of tomatillos, a large bag of dried walnuts—and a milk crate brimming with freshly picked quince. The produce weighs in at 78 pounds, bringing my season’s contribution over the summer to nearly 150 pounds. I take aside Ruth, one of the volunteers, (Ruth happens to be the mother of Coach Marilyn, my daughter’s softball coach a couple decades back) and we discuss the produce I’ve brought in this morning. As we talk, the other volunteers are already bagging the quince. None among them have heard of the fruit, know anything about it. I tell them quince is used in fruit preserves, jelly in particular…that it’s a fruit prized by the English and it also makes a great air freshener for your house or car. Next into bags are the peppers. The volunteers seem to know to separate the “hot” from the “cool.” The Food Bank is very appreciative of anything you bring in: even zucchini, regardless if it’s the size of watermelons. (“Oh, we get them bigger than that,” a volunteer said when I dropped off several hefty green cylinders a few weeks back.)

You have only to wander through the produce section of a grocery store to understand why those who struggle to put healthy food on the table shake their heads at the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables, pass them by and head for the inexpensive, less nutritious foodstuffs. Apples over two dollars a pound; winter squash seventy-nine cents a pound; leaf lettuce nearly two dollars a bundle; even zucchini out of season is over a dollar a pound. And the “organic” (just what does “organic” mean, anyway?) produce section seems to require a second mortgage on the house. 

So I started thinking about our own small garden plot, all the food it provides us and the excess it yields (you’d expect a little surplus from fifty-six pepper plants, I guess). We have, perhaps, a garden about one-sixth of an acre in size, and our pantry shelves are brimming with home canned produce from that small plot. Why didn’t I take more to the food bank before the frosts ruined much of the excess?

I think, too, about all the produce our Valley yields, how much of it must certainly go to waste.Pumpkin wasteland Case in point: the pumpkin and squash field south of the Lower Loop bridge. The pumpkins don’t even appear to have been harvested. And beyond their rows I see butternut squash hunkered down there waiting to find their way to someone’s dinner table.Squash at loose ends In years past I have seen fields of produce lying unused, wasting away, a scant mile away from a distribution center that could disseminate Valley nutrition to those who need and could use the surplus. Willie Green's Green Grocery

This season the tomato greenhouses at Willie Green’s Organic farms hung heavy with beautiful, blight-free tomatoes. Were all those marketed? I wonder. Not meant to be critical, but all those rows of sweet corn in the Frohnings’ family garden? Can one family eat that much corn? Just a thought. I’ve seen bean rows at Broers’ Farms laden with beans right up until the field is cleared. Did more than necessary end up as compost? (Although I did take two five gallon buckets of my own beans to Sky Valley FB, I admit I should have taken more; I see beans going to waste in my own bean row, now dangling there limp, moldy and black.)

A little more Food Bank food for thought: Thanksgiving is next week. The city’s service groups will be camped out at the entrances of local grocery stores taking donations for the less fortunate, counting on the spirit of the season to prod the charitable natures of those who have excess to give. During the holiday season this display of community  service is always somewhat unsettling to me…almost as if these well-meaning groups are taking advantage of the festive season to leverage their cause. What about the other ten months of the year? Isn’t mealtime a daily event and putting food on the dinner table an important part of the day’s routine? Each national holiday I notice flags lining the streets, testimony to the patriotism of the community, but doesn’t the need for food and sustenance remain the same regardless of the day of the month? Perhaps these civic-minded groups should man their stations at least once a month to remind the public that food is a daily need; biannual feasts will hardly sustain a family the other 363 days of the year.

If we tend to be selfish about anything, we’re most selfish with our time; it seems there is never quite enough to go around, to accomplish all we need to do—or set out to do—during our busy days. (Even fewer minutes now that it’s Standard Time--unless one works well in the dark.) Granted, it takes time to harvest the surplus produce; granted, too, a trip to the Food Bank steals more time yet. But I look at it this way: if I spend the time to plant and grow the crop, I owe it to myself to see the food is used prudently—and with the least amount of wastage possible.

I recall there used to be a charity organization, that if notified, would send volunteers to gardens and farms to harvest the excess and transport it to food distribution centers. Most organizations like Northwest Harvest rely on cash donations; as far as I know, NWH has no procedure in place to send volunteers out to the countryside, harvest excess produce, and see that it makes its way to local food banks. Such an effort, I would think, could harvest the excess from our Valley and see that it was put to good use.

Now is the time to lay out next year’s garden. I suggest you consider our local food banks and plant extra crops: one more row of corn, an additional pole or hill of beans, a few more hills of potatoes, add a half dozen feet to that row of beets. As far as zucchini? Plant a couple extra seeds: even if the fruit grows to watermelon size, the Sky Valley Food Bank will take it and put those  excess squash logs to good use.

Note: the Sky Valley Food bank accepts donation drop offs Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. For additional information, give them a call: (360)-794-7959.SVFB food wagon

And a post script: The Ripple has heard a rumor that the Jim Werkhovens plant a communal cornfield adjacent to their home and Sargent Road. This year the field lies fallow. Just wondering why….

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