My own roots

In the fall of 2004, my grandfather sought care at Memorial Sloan Kettering Center. Though we were given great odds for his survival, his treatment was not successful. Our family was lucky enough to stay right in Manhattan, thanks to a generous non-profit program that offered accommodations just a bus trip away from the hospital. Had these apartments not been available, we would not have been able to have these extended stays with my grandpa. His last days were there, and we were able to spend them with him.

A different generation/time

My grandpa was a good man. He was a hard worker- never sitting still, always busy. His skills were not wasted on frivolous things. Like his house and garage, his vehicles and boats were meticulous, clean and organized. Most of my memories involve playing cards or board games and gardening at his house. His garden was something, matching his intense care and attention to detail as he did everything. Overflowing with corn, cucumbers, tomatoes and green beans, he loved to share. He’d be 95 this year if he was still alive and I think he’s pretty typical of his generation. Having lived during the Great Depression, people were frugal, resourceful, self-reliant and thankful for what they had, regardless of the amount or what others had. He died more than a decade before I became a farmer and I think about him often while I am in the tunnels. I wish badly he could see them. I think about his lifestyle, one I really believe was lost in the 60s and 70s, when my generation was forming some different opinions of food and the social culture surrounding it. 

A shift

There was a such a marketing movement for prepared foods, the population fell for it hook, line and sinker. I was born in 1970. When my children were born in the 1990s, I recall a huge push for breastfeeding, which was something I honestly didn’t know much about, but decided on it as it seemed healthier. Formula feeding was presented as an equal option, not better or worse, just different. I asked my mother why I was formula fed and I clearly remember her saying, “Only poor people breastfed back then,” and she firmly believed that statement. Somewhere in her brain she’d been convinced that because she was paying for formula, it was better. I also believe it attached a social element, if you could afford formula, premade meals, boxed dinners, you were doing well. You were better than those raising their own chickens, making their own bread… or anything from scratch really. I grew up on Chef Boyardee, Rice-a Roni and frozen Banquet fried chicken. It wasn’t until I was a mother and cooking for my own family that I realized those boxed foods were imitations of real foods. Real ingredients. I truly did not know.

That time in the city

While our stay in Manhattan was brief, I recall something I’d never experienced before. Each evening we’d get off the bus a little early and walk back to the apartment. We’d peek into different shops, deciding what to eat for dinner. There were full grocery stores, narrow shops with only cheese and olives for sale. Meat markets, places with just fish, just bread…. one night we had cheese, olives and bread for dinner. It was glorious. It was different and I liked it. 

Bulk buying

At home, I was a bulk shopper, making lists and sticking to a weekly menu. I’d found myself promoting that now, since opening a grocery store, but found I don’t do it myself. Instead, we decide what we are eating every night and carry it up to our house in a shopping basket. I was thinking recently how lucky we are. We never get home and realize we forgot the eggs, or an important ingredient, or if we do, we can run back down to our store and grab it. So lucky.

Another thing I realized is I never have to have that guilt attached later in the week, arising from my spirited meal planning on a Sunday. Maybe by Thursday I’m whooped and not committed to the chicken I had planned to roast. Maybe I’ll half-heartedly cook the chicken because it was the plan. Or maybe I’ll skip it entirely, pretending I’ll get to it later (but I won’t) and waste food, then feel yucky about it. That’s not a feeling I want attached to anything we offer. I think about my former overflowing carts, overloaded SUV and and oversupplied pantry. It doesn’t feel like me. It’s not wrong, it’s just different than I am now.

I so enjoy eating to whatever we are feeling like each day. I like not feeling a burden of making something that seemed like a good idea days ago. I like freeing up a space in my brain where meal planning and that burden used to reside. I like eating fresh, every single day. My salad isn’t a week old. Because we cut daily, our greens are typically hours old when you buy them. I like listening to my body, my mood and the amount of energy I feel I can devote to cooking that evening. We are organic farmers with an organic store with the best the region has to offer, and some nights, I just want boxed mac-n-cheese….but we have that, too! 

Full Circle

So I think back to my time in Manhattan. Fresh food every day, whatever struck me when I saw it. It’s a much more European food model actually, no big box stores, no home delivery of gobs of what you don’t need, hoping it stays fresh until the next delivery. We actually see it a lot in the store. So many come in to decide what they are feeding their family that night. Maybe it’s soup and a salad, maybe they grab chicken to grill and a ton of sides, maybe a frozen pizza is all they can manage or maybe it’s cheese, olives and bread! Whatever it is, it’s what they need right then. I like that a lot. I like being a part of peace in people’s day. I like that they can grab that frozen pizza or boxed mac-n-cheese because we only bring in ones with good ingredients. I like they can find specialty or seasonal things, like fresh mushrooms, fiddleheads, monkfish, ramps, pickled scapes or fermented lemons. I like that we get to chat about introducing these new items, share recipes and ideas. I like that we offer so much goodness, that we can fill almost any need, with good ingredients and maintain our focus on local.
I like that I’m doing things my grandpa would love. Growing our own food, being resourceful, not wasteful, but mostly appreciative of it all and what we’ve created here. For me, that’s just a piece of knowing my roots.

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A grocery store selling fruits and other produce