counter culture

Counter Culture - Heirloom Mothering
Blueberry picking at Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, NH

We’re at the farmer’s market. My kindergartner is already looking for a place to spit out the pit of the plum she just consumed in  nanoseconds, but my preschooler is still deciding what to purchase. I kneel down in front of her for a better look. She’s holding a sweaty, crumpled dollar bill in her chubby hand and frowning slightly. I see the wheels turning in her mind. Will it be the peach or apple today?

“Aw, here. Let her have both. On the house! I hate to see her have to choose,” the farmer suggests.

“You’re not helping!” I reply, smiling. “She needs to learn the value of money.”

“Not today she doesn’t. Here you go, little lady,” he leans over the wooden table and hands her a free apple. I buy a few pickling cucumbers, shaking my head in mock rebuke as she grins at her prize.

As we walk away, I ponder how positive our experiences have been with farmers since we first started eating locally. Selecting food from the source gives us a chance to converse with farmers about their day-to-day difficulties and joys and contrast them with my own. I am grateful for their stories and for building a personal relationship. The farmers know they have our support and are thus able to afford keeping their animals, and I feel great comfort in knowing we have a healthy meat source. I feel lucky for this symbiosis.

These interactions slow my life down in measurable ways. Rather than selecting a recipe at random and then heading to a grocery store for the meat, I get meat our farmer chooses to give us based on season and availability. She even offers recipes she knows compliment the particular cuts of meat and incorporate seasonal vegetables. Our conversations have opened up a new way of eating. Our kitchen counter brims with what is plentiful and tasty.

This newfound joy radiates to other aspects of family life. We enjoy the seasonal pleasures of picking our own fruit and watching the newborn lambs learn to walk. We’ve entered a rhythm with our farmer and with the local land. Knowing a farmer also eliminates a product of consumerism I’ve always hated. Buying meaningless products we’re told to buy leads to a “devastating cycle of prescribed and disembodied consuming, processing, and production” (a favorite line from this beautifully written memoir). Eating local connects me to other people in an intrinsically powerful and satisfying way.

Charlie observes the newborn lambs at a local farm
My preschooler observes the newborn lambs at a local farm.

It occurs to me this special connection is not a new concept; instead, I’m reincarnating an ages-old relationship between farmer and eater. It was a bond my great grandparents had with farmers eighty years ago. My grandmother remembers her mother and father driving past the outskirts of town to pick live chickens that would then be killed and plucked as they waited. They took the chickens home and ate them within hours of the slaughter.

Why had I never had this kind of affiliation prior to moving to Boston? Why have we been in search of new and different ways when the tried-and-true methods worked better all along? Why is the culture of my kitchen counter so…counterculture?

Perhaps it won’t be for long. Every day I hear more people beating the sustainability drum (yes, I do believe a hippy metaphor is apropos here). My goal is to transplant the lesson I learned from supporting local agriculture to more of my daily interactions. I choose to slow down my interfaces with others, to make my relationships more meaningful and pleasurable. To sit and chat, to sip tea on front porches.

The girls blow bubbles on a recent trip to Asheville while Nate & I dream about the future
The girls blow bubbles while adults chat and play cards


Author’s Note: I acknowledge the privilege happening in this post. I am a white, middle-class wife and mother who can afford to buy whole foods (in Whole Foods, even). I can afford to stay home with my children, to sit back and navel-gaze at my own habits on my own website.

In effect, I am allowed to slow down.

I realize that to many others–whether they are single moms or are struggling to find work and make ends meet–my reality, and this post in particular, will drip with advantages not available to all people. Perhaps you’ll view my world as a fantasyland of smug swagger. I hope it won’t be quite that bad.

My purpose in writing about the friendships I’ve made with farmers is to demonstrate the power of local purchases and to show that as a culture, we can go back to living as our great grandmothers did. As Alice Waters noted in the Wall Street Journal last month, we can teach our children the importance of supporting sustainable and locally-sourced agriculture. Thanks to the grassroots sustainable food movement, there are programs to engage the broader community in the effort to bring healthy, local food to institutions such as prisons and schools and urban food deserts. If you can afford time or funds to the cause, I encourage you to support one of these fine organizations (Sustainable Table is one example).


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