When it Rains

A and I are members of a CSA. Once a week we pick up a box of veggies from the nearest drop point—the garage of a family in our neighborhood, a place Ingrid has come to know as “the vegetable garage.”

The food from this farm has been a highlight of our summer. Unloading the box and checking out the sight and smell of all that ripe, perfect stuff straight from the earth never fails to make me feel wealthy as can be. Last week’s box held, among other things, an armload of sweet corn, a pile of perfect purple eggplants, a big fistful of basil, four fat heirloom tomatoes, and a bunch of something called red Aztec spinach.

We divide our produce share with our friends Chris and Jo, and they come over every week on “veggie day” to split up the bounty and cook and eat together. This year we’ve barbecued zucchini and peppers, rolled nori with fresh radishes and cucumbers, gorged on sweet, ripe melons, and even figured out how to eat burdock and black radishes.

Our weekly dinners at the picnic table out back do more than keep us well fed; the basic ritual of sharing dinner builds a really wonderful sense of community—not just with our friends (who, incidentally, have started to feel more and more like family lately), but with the people who plant, cultivate, and harvest the food we eat. We haven’t met them, but we read the notes they send with the produce each week, and, almost every time, our dinner conversation turns, at some point, to exuberant praise of this farm: the great, quality stuff they grow, the terrific ideas they send along on how to cook and eat it.

Part of the point of CSAs is that members share in hardships the farm faces as well as successful harvests. And, sadly, this week we’re learning what that means, too.

This past weekend, the farm was hit with 12 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, for a total of over 17 inches (and counting) in the past week. Even to someone as isolated from the real effects of weather as I am, this sounds like bad news, and it is. The farm straddles the Bad Axe River, which is currently so full and swift it’s unsafe to cross, so they haven’t been able to assess all the damage yet, but already it appears that over a third of the crops are a complete loss, and the flood has washed away topsoil, taken down trees, and destroyed the erosion control measures they’d put in place over the past year.

The flooding has been headline news all over the place, and the affected area is not far from us at all, but for me it took this connection to turn background radio noise—flooding blah blah blah farms blah state of emergency—into a sock in the gut: not our farm!

It’s distressing. The loss of our source of beets and brassicas (whatever those are) for the fall is the least of it. The people who grow our food, right now, are trying to figure out how to out how to access and harvest what’s still salvageable. They’re scraping to pay a large work crew that suddenly doesn’t have much to do. And they’re eyeing an upstream dam that’s in danger of bursting and causing even more damage. Some of the work crew will likely lose their jobs. The crew and owners alike will feel the financial impact of this for a long, long time.

As often happens when things go very wrong, I feel helpless. I doubt that the pennies I could contribute would bring measurable relief to the financial strain this business is facing. I’m glad we’re members; in theory, the subscription payment we’ve committed for the year will help ease the burden; we’ll share the loss by receiving lighter boxes in the months to come. But it won’t begin to cover it all; much of it, I think, is associated with the farm’s sizeable commercial business (they sell to food co-ops and local restaurants).

A small consolation, one that’s easy to crow about from inside our dry, intact home, is that at least we are close enough to our food source to feel this. At least we’ve got the opportunity to know where our produce comes from, who grows it, and what they’re up against this week. And maybe, as we hear more from them in the days to come, it will become clear how we can be more than sorrier-than-average bystanders to this mess.

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