I was sort of born into the local food movement. Not in a huge way. But sort of. Enough that when the local food movement started to flourish again a few years ago it was a natural fit. And I knew when I had found my farmer, John Eisenstein of Jade Family Farm. It was the carrots.
When I was a kid, we were part of a local food co-op. My mom tells this story of how at about two and a half I picked up a carton of eggs and methodically dropped the eggs one by one on the floor. As a father now, I recognize the classic moment. It was probably great and dreadful at the same time.
We had a big garden in our backyard. A strawberry patch, cucumbers galore that went into salad and became pickles, tomatoes fresh and some canned into sauce, green beans, raspberries along the back fence, and squash I couldn't stand if my 6-year-old memory serves at all.
At the garden's edge by the low stone wall behind the back porch was our big two-chamber compost. It was a classic railroad tie design. How many pounds of coffee grounds and grapefruit rinds went in there? My dad, bandanna wrapped around his head, turned it with the spade.
My best friend Elliott's family two houses down had a comparable garden. His mother was a canning machine and she made so many pickles, jams, and sauces all summer long. Emma's pickles were the ultimate. They are the apotheosis of pickles, the ideal pickles that the denizens of Plato's cave can only dream about.
As a boy I had to weed. I liked it as much as most 6-year-olds do which is to say not really at all. I'd have rather been climbing trees and riding bikes. My sister hated it more than I did. Sometimes we got out of doing it. Sometimes not. But it was great to have fresh fruit and veggies.
My mom is one of twelve children from a New York farm family. Every summer and Christmas we traveled to "the farm" to stay with my uncle and grandmother. I played in the barn with the cats, pet the cows, and climbed in the rafters of the hay mow. It was great. As a youngster I got to steer the tractor in the high fields on my uncle's lap. Even as a punk-ass teenager more interested in Slayer, skateboards, and the girls who tortured my very existence (you remember them forever right?) than the farm's operations, I still loved it. During summer visits I wandered the 100 acres alone or with a visiting cousin.
And then I went to college. I think it nearly totally separated me from food and nature. I'd occasionally go to the friday farmer's market. The summer peaches and blueberries were about all I cared about. I think I got my girlfriend Emily sunflowers and wildflowers a couple of times.
But it wasn't until my wife and I joined a small community supported agriculture group with Reeger's Farm Market when we lived in Indiana, Pennsylvania that we started getting back to local food. When we came back to State College and I started my Ph.D. program, we were ready for something more. That's the year Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle came out. In a class I took we read Kingsolver, Francis Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet, some essays by Wendell Berry, and Eric Schlosser's rather terrifying Fast Food Nation. I wrote some stories for Voices of Central Pennsylvania on local food and farmers, started a club for future teachers who wanted to embed ecological literacy and sustainability into their education, attended a PASA conference, and worked with Mike to launch this show. Our moniker, courtesy of Mike, has been, "We believe sustainability is best when it's fresh and local."
For two and a half years on the air I've brought up my farmer, John Eisenstein and his family's farm, Jade Family Farm. I call him my farmer (that's his hand, shirt, and jeans on the right) because from May to October we get most of our produce from Jade through our share of the farm. Why did he become my farmer? The carrots. It was very simple. I'd never had a carrot like that before. If I try to describe the taste I will mangle the flavor profile so I will just say that it's about as close to heaven as I think occurs from vegetable consumption. Maybe you know what I mean. The scent of soil is still on it and the sugars and the bitterness pop. See...I mangled it. Just try some Jade carrots and you'll get it.
Tomorrow, we'll have John on the show. He's a sort of romantic prone to making jokes, not serious and serious. We'll talk about his experiences as a farmer and how he's gotten there. As someone with a bit of familial history with sustainability pedigree, he'll have some good things to share we're sure. Carrots are out I suppose so we aren't likely to be crunching on the air.
As always, listen in on The Lion 90.7 fm from 4-5 pm and feel free to call in with questions or comments.