Letter From California
02/28/10 0441.22 PST
San Jose, California
We are pretty late but next weekend the youths at St. Jude’s and I will finish their strawberry garden, 5 automatically irrigated raised boxes--380 square feet--are waiting from the excellent soil prep they performed last Fall for around 300 ever-bearing plants. With just 1,000 square feet the St. Jude’s garden will never seriously feed a lot of people, it may just be a foodie hobby or playground, but I always hold out hope that good political and social lessons can be one of its crops.
I think I was a little too much firebrand Chavez the first time I worked with the youths in the strawberry garden, explaining emphatically that the California strawberry market had presented California with enormous problems in the past, only to deliver a snow-topped piece of shit fruit at the end of it all. None of them knew of our horrifying methyl bromide history (sealing off fields to be pumped up with incredibly toxic gas, the rapacious strawberry capitalists hate profit-eroding bacteria) or the terrible problems and injustices of picking the fruit. Inherently fragile, the strawberry is picked unripe so it can travel to stores, it’s just maddening to be in strawberry season only to be presented with crappy fruit at the expense of all that often-illegal backbreaking labor and terrible environmental degradation. We still get so-so fruit at Safeway, but at least methyl bromide has been banned.
One can get very good strawberries at the Farmer’s market in Campbell if you don’t forget it’s Sunday only. Bring your wallet.
I learned a lot last year, the first year of the food garden at St. Jude’s, and this year we should be able to feed quite a few more people. We made 3-4 big hauls to the local food banks, but the garden really came through for 5-6 folks who showed up every week. I think I can get that number up to 10-12 no problem, it will take a big garden like St. Jude’s to reach that number. Is that playing around or a hobby? I don’t know.
What would happen if every church and every hotshot software company in the Valley raised food with 1,000 square feet every year? Just as, you know, an element of good and normal American corporate and spiritual citizenship. Enough fresh fruits and vegetable for 10,000 folks, I’d guess, with an acutely heightened sense of what good food really is, how good a real strawberry can be with no pesticides, picked properly and with fair labor. The St. Jude’s strawberries will make Dole’s sad contribution at Safeway look like red-painted dust balls, I hope the youths never forget it.
Of course every State in the Union has a justifiably proud agricultural history and background, folks have to eat, but in these modern times California truly holds a special, unique class of production to the US food market. Not only do we grow vast amounts of it, the variety is stunning compared to a place like Iowa, which hardly grows anything more than soy and dent corn these days. Strawberry, pistachio, artichoke, kiwi, we can grow anything, we were really worried about the lousy rainfall the last two years but ahhhhh, El Nino, our little brother is back with rain and snow through the Spring, likely. Water allocations will finally ease up, the sun will brilliantly bust out in Salinas and Redding and Calexico with food workers scurrying and toiling everywhere, all to enhance and promote the State’s famous reputation in a classically capitalistic way: eat me.
The more farmer’s markets we get with smaller local growers the better the food will be, and maybe if a great deal more of us participated in growing local food so many of our children wouldn’t go hungry. We’re trying.
It can be a little strange to rest at the garden, rich soils underneath stretching for miles everywhere in such a wealthy State and country, billion dollar software companies just a few miles away, yet so many of our own American are hungry, every year the number of Americans on food stamps sets a record. It gets worse when one realizes how cheap food is in the United States, yet our people can’t eat. We have so lost our way, and many times at the garden I’m sure we’ll never find our way back, but at least it’s an attempt.