An early morning lesson
The alarm sounds on the night stand next to my bed. It makes the usual sound, but it seems earlier than usual: 5:15 a.m.
Yes, it’s Saturday. It’s time to rise even earlier than usual and go to work. I quietly put on my favorite old pair of Carhartts, and make my way downstairs as quietly as possible. I look forward to work on Saturday morning. Many hard-working adults can’t wait for the weekend to come so that they and their children can sleep in. My three kiddos are still lying in slumber as the sun rises slowly. Is this second job to help make ends meet?
I arrive at the Dutchess Farm’s barn in Castleton. Stephan has left a note for me, as he is already off harvesting fresh greens for market. “Fill the small washtub, sort Co-op order, empty the walk-in, cut basil in 3d greenhouse, if done before I get back, peel basket of garlic on table.” Each Saturday morning I do my part in getting Dutchess Farm’s weekly harvest to the market. In bushel baskets and wax boxes we pack the van full and send the fruit of lower Champlain Valley sunlight, rain, minerals and nutrients down the road to the Rutland Farmers Market. As the van drives away, I open greenhouses for the day and feed the chickens.
I could easily find a second weekend job to make ends meet, but I choose this 26-week “work share” with my favorite local grower. It is not that I cannot afford to buy a share. It is also not because it is a fun way to start the weekend. I do it because it is real. I am doing a very appreciated task. I have a true connection with the land. I have a genuine relationship with the man who grows my family’s food.
In reality though, I do it for my children. Perhaps they are learning the same lessons as I, a young worker on a Vermont dairy farm and in my grandfather’s bountiful garden. On a couple of occasions I have brought my children with me on a work-share shift. I have seen an afternoon of laughing and pulling beets magically develop into a love of steamed beets. I see the occasional Sunday visits to their uncle’s grass-fed beef farm developing into a respect for the steak on their plate. I watch them toil through the snow with buckets of sap half as big as they and understand why they should only put as much syrup as they can eat on their waffles. I smile when their first successful deer hunt turns into a lesson for friends at the Friday night sleepover, as they ask for “more venison, please” and hope they can some day learn to have the same respect for a single leaf of Swiss chard.
I don’t want my children to need their vegetables hidden in something. I want them to love the taste of vegetables. I envision them understanding why they need to eat healthy and keeping this wisdom into adulthood, some day teaching their children to grow food and have a connection to the land. They should value food that has more value and spend money on food that supports their local farmers and keeps the land open.
When we choose our weekly goodies from the farmers at the indoor market on Saturday mornings, I want them to be excited about the things we will make with them. I want them begging for something in that old building.
I awake early each Saturday so they some day will realize where their food should come from — down behind the yellow barn on the East Poultney Road, not just from “the store.” I am a weekly lesson in being grateful for the food we receive. I hope they will some day share these values with their children and they become the type who would write about why they love Vermont farms. I also hope this letter inspires you to go down to the new indoor market in the old Mintzer Brothers building and get some groceries from your neighbors.
Michael R. Stannard is an earth science and biology teacher at Rutland High School.