On almost every hill in this County stands a testament to the big work done by early settlers, to avoid starvation I imagine. I stop regularly to admire these silent, stately giants. Many are preserved, but many return to the earth with the homesteads they were paired with.
After a morning barn-admiring, I spent time at “Black River Cheese,” a cheese producer here since 1901. I buy my favourite “maple cheddar” and try a new, in-house Parmesan. Although “local,” I know milk is also big business, and a visit to the website tells me a large corporation is behind its operations. I wonder what the current regulations are around milk products on a small scale but am too busy sampling curds to ask.
I had a favourite farm stand nearby- operated by a young couple – and am sad to learn they’ve hung up their hoes. No one seems to know why, but it “feels” they may be moving on to something “bigger.’ I sense a collective hopefulness that it still involves vegetables.
I drive past their now-closed roadside stand and park to sulk. I took this photo the last time I was here, when I placed money for my produce in a tin can. I hate to imagine this was part of their demise. For the record, the can always seemed full.
For years I came to Vickis Veggies for their fall Heirloom Tomato Festival and returned in the spring to buy heritage tomato seedlings. Both events were celebrated widely by the community with music, artisans and energy.
To me, they were the face of a “new kind” of family farm. They made vegetables pretty sexy I’d say; I know I had a serious crush. I trusted Vicky’s match-making skills. She let the tomatoes spoke for themselves and she never touched up the photos in their profiles. The match-makers I remember from my childhood were much more dubious. Plus, they made vegetables and “community” inseparable.
Although I have a handful of happy “vegetable memories” from childhood, for the most part they were presented in the same way a vitamin might be; to be dutifully washed down for unnamed health reasons, or hidden in something else.
I was thus exposed to weekly rotation of canned peas (mushy, pale) canned creamed corn (sickly sweet) canned green beans (watery) and on particularly dismal days, canned beets. Dismal and somewhat frightening, because they made your pee red, but no one talked about it.
If these canned offerings were still (by miracle) hot when everyone reached the table, they were topped with margarine. Which even Gram said was “better than butter.” This opinion was accompanied by a story reminding us to be grateful we never had to milk a cow. The margarine we used has since been linked to plastics and cancer.
It was nobody’s fault.
Gram, born to farmers and one of 13 children, grew up knowing the hard work and lack of choice women of her generation faced. I’m sure the work she did at home was in direct proportion to the size of the barns I’ve been admiring with misguided nostalgia.
I’m sure canned goods and other convenience foods represented a certain modest liberation from the year-long work of planning, planting, irrigating, weeding, harvesting, saving seeds and “putting away” that the household garden represented. Having to do less “food work” probably freed her up to do more laundry or mending. Or to join the rest of her family who were mesmerized in front of the TV.
Plus, by the time she was “Gram” to my generation, the farm had long since stopped producing food and most of her family had found work in towns and cities. She was a modern woman! Besides, she was serving a family who considered Cheez Whiz a legitimate food. We were awash in food-gratitude, because Tang wasn’t just for Spacemen anymore , and there were so many ways to enjoy Jello!
Vegetables always took third place on our dinner plate, and always in smaller proportion to the mashed potatoes, which were sometimes real and sometimes from a box. Yes, from a box. The potatoes took second place, dwarfed by meat.
Vegetables seemed a little harder to market, but we were a generation associated with brand names and we were definitely a “Green Giant” family. Ho, Ho, Ho!
Main courses inevitably had a huge marketing department behind them: Shake & Bake chicken, Hamburger Helper, Captain Highliner’s Fish Sticks and “Manwich” Sloppy Joes were all regulars at our table. Everything we consumed had added sugar, and there were rarely leftovers, maybe as a result. Additionally, if we didn’t finish dinner, we didn’t get more sugar for dessert!
Why all this reminiscing? I guess I’m just wondering why my generation seems to suffer so much in our relationship to food. I have been “trying to eat better” my whole life, and still feel somewhat enslaved and often prone to bad “habits” and suffering confusion about what is “best” for me.
Perhaps part of the problem is we have two or three generations of insane marketing and hidden sugar consumption to unravel before we can create some food truths for ourselves. Before we can clear away the programming, and let food speak for itself.
Today, my mid-day salad had a lot to say. And since it didn’t have to work hard to speak through the Jello, I was able to receive it’s message clearly. And colourfully.