All seed saving of now for a future still unknown - a text from Olivia Wischmeyer
I feel dissonance in abstract gratitude. At meal time, I give thanks to the people who grew this food. But what does she look like, the one who picked the scallions?
How have I lived so long without knowing your face, when eating is the most intimate business. When did I decide that it was sensible and normal to digest the labor of strangers.
Beautiful strangers, living lives as intricate as my own. And more so - they live in the weather, and in the smoke.
I can go to the farmer’s market. I can make eye contact with someone who is dazed from the heat of the day, and from heavy lifting. I can exchange bills for produce. Often, the food is quite expensive. But I am hip to the fact that the farmer is tired, has worked so hard, and is owed real money. Still, I am not great with small talk, and the farmer stays a stranger.
After a Saturday at the market, my wallet is exhausted. I am not a CEO. I don’t understand anything about money, or why I’m so lonely, or what we are all working toward.
Produce gets lost in the fridge. I am too sad to cook, and the peppers and herbs rot in the crisper. Why is this happening when I am trying my best?
A fearful cycle begins. I turn to the grocery store and buy pre-washed greens in a plastic shell. As if it came from thin air. How this plastic box arrived into my life is unfathomable. So I do not think of it. And I eat my salad thoughtlessly. And my stomach hurts in a numb, empty, hopeless way.
I felt this way, until I met Olivia.
This is what happened. I wanted to walk down a private road in town, but I was afraid of being scolded or shot or both. So last summer I’d walk to the No Trespassing sign, and calculate how brave I was feeling. Never brave enough. And I would turn around and walk home.
Last winter, I went to Google Maps and looked at an aerial view of the private road to see what I was missing. The image must have been taken in summer, because the land was all green. Then I saw little white letters over the green - the end of the road was labeled “Marshview Farm.”
A new sensation came into my belly that had, all winter, been filled with nothing or dread. It was joy, glowing through from the inside out.
I can only speculate that this was my intuition. More likely, I was just glad to witness the possibility of green again. And like a sleuth, I was thrilled to find an entrance to this impassable road.
I signed up for the summer half-share through the Marshview CSA. In the spring, I asked about volunteering on the property. But then, I was surprised by sickness, and I couldn’t move my body much at all. I picked up the produce each Wednesday afternoon from their farm stand. It was set up in a parking lot, far from the farm. A real bummer. But the food tasted good, the farmers were kind, and I was happy enough.
A few weeks later, through some conversation at the pickup, I learned that one of the farmers, Olivia, had painted the sign that leaned against the tent leg. (The beauty of that painting is a whole other story. I’ll just say, it moved me).
Conversation led to more conversation. Brief, but with big smiles. My body healed. When I was short of breath but well enough, I finally set a date to volunteer.
On a Monday morning at 8am, I got to the edge of the property. Jaime, Olivia, and her sister met me at the gate. Jaime dropped us off in a patch of scallions.
Olivia taught us how to pull them from the ground. To wrap a hand around a group of them. Hold near the white base. Pull up gently. Dirt rises with them. Must shake them. Comb through the white roots with fingers, like washing hair. Peel off the outermost layers. Make it look a little clean. Grab a bunch of rubber bands. Put them in your pocket. Wrap around the group of scallions. Wrap three or four times. Toss into piles as you go.
Scallions in the hot field smell a bit like scallions cooking. The land was as beautiful as I expected it would be, but as I helped harvest, it didn’t seem like the right time to notice.
I noticed the heat of the sun, and the bugs.
Olivia asked me questions about my relationship to bugs. How it had changed, or if I was bothered. I asked the same of her. No, I wasn’t bothered. I was delighted.
Weeks later, in the rain, we were back picking scallions. We pulled them up from thick mud. I think the joy of our conversation protected us from the storm.
The season passed in waves of love and friendship. There is so much more to say. I have come to learn that good food is only possible with good company. And I am learning, through lived experiences of gratitude, that I am never alone in the kitchen.
I hope that next time you are in the grocery store, and you grab a bunch of scallions, you feel it in your hand as a handful. When you are holding scallions in your hand, imagine you are holding hands with someone you have not met yet. Imagine the bugs that surround her. Ask whether she tolerates them or has reverence for them. Imagine that she is able to breathe clean air. Imagine that her family is safe and healthy. Send all the love and gratitude you can muster for this gift. Send it anywhere, to wherever she is. Like waves of light, hope, or joy, the soil of the land between you may absorb the prayers you send her way. Because she is not unfathomable. Her fingernails are embedded with dirt - the same dirt that’s nestled deep inside your scallions.
Carrot and Grilled Scallion Salad (inspired by Joshua McFadden’s Carrot Burrata)
1 bunch carrots, peeled and grated with cheese grater
1 bunch scallions, tops and bottoms trimmed, rinsed and soaked in cold water
1 spoonful of olive oil
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
Combine the grated carrots with lime juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt.
Heat a skillet to medium high heat. Once hot, add the scallions, trimmed but whole. Cook until darkened on both sides. Let cool, slice into 1/2” pieces, and add to the carrot mixture.
Top the salad with the toasted pumpkin seeds, and add more lime juice, salt, or olive oil to your liking. This salad is great with stewed black beans. Enjoy with loved ones, or by yourself, and know that you are never alone.