Good Food Story

My paternal Grandmother, Catherine Jones, was for every day of 89 wonderful years of life, a voracious learner, a scholar and librarian, a country cook, and self-identified “simple farm folk” who grew up on a German-heritage farm in rural Pennsylvania, USA.  Over one of the meals we prepared and enjoyed together weekly in her later years, she told me, “you know I’ve seen a lot of changes in my life,” (born in 1908 and reading several newspapers every day, she didn’t miss much!), “but I think in the future, food will really be important.”  She explained her thinking that food is and will be increasingly important for human bodies and health, for global environment and economy and politics and social justice, for pleasure and enjoyment of life, and for our own personal journeys.  

My Mom, also a woman of mind and taste who knows how to enjoy the pleasures of life like no one I’ve ever met, heartily proclaims while smilingly licking her fingers, “Food is fun!” 

In July 2011, I decided to let my food journey guide me.  As an adult I had studied philosophy and religion deeply, had worked for ten years in urban school improvement and teaching literacy in inner-city public schools in the US, daily enjoyed my home in the progressive community of Cambridge, MA in the US, and had a wonderful community of friends who let their social consciousness and humor guide their good work and good attitudes.  Food was not really central to my life up until then.  Intellectually I knew that my Mom and Grandmother were right, that food is important and fun, and I shopped consistently at organic markets and farmers’ cooperatives because I had an idea that chemicals and corporations aren’t good for my belly or our growing societies, but I really had no idea how a broccoli grew. 

I set down in Australia in July 2011 as a Willing Worker on Organic Farms – a “wwoofer” – and was immediately folded into a series of brilliantly warm, hard-working, and conscientious farm families.  Over the next two years, I worked on a strawberry farm in the Glasshouse Mountains; a sweet-potato farm in the Mareeba Tablelands; a tropical permacutlure food forest teaching- and demonstration-farm up in Cooktown; an intentional community large-scale garden in New Zealand; a blueberry farm, a goat cheese farm, and a honey bee farm in Tasmania’s Huon Valley; a variety of other properties with gardens in Tasie; an intensive no-waste urban permaculture property and an epic Community Environment Park in Melbourne; the 30-year homestead of David Holmgren, co-founder and intellectual leader of the permaculture movement; and a well-known medium-scale and financially viable orchard and teaching farm in the middle of the South Australian desert.

For me, this food journey let me step into a whole range of beautifully simple lifestyles that grew out of a food-producing vocation.  I found amazingly warm, supportive, and practical connections among community and family, a sense of pride and delight in self-sufficiency, a conscious awareness of personal and global sustainability (and the connections between these), enjoyment of the land and light and earth, an appreciation of the helpers and working travellers who keep the farms and properties productive and connected to a larger global network of friends, and a lot of good meals and laughs. 

I was addicted to farm life, and to the glowing energy I found everywhere on my open road -- even on the many challenging days, it was always beautiful.  I couldn't stop exploring.  

From Australia, I went to Japan to live and help on homesteads in the Japanese countryside, accompanied by a dear Japanese friend/tomodachi.  It seemed like a good idea to wind my way home overland, so a boat-trip to North Korea and onto Vladivostok, Russia landed me at the Eastern tip of the Trans-Siberian Railway.  A few weeks in Siberia turned into two months -- that vast land struck its spell on me.  A month in St. Petersburg and a month in Berlin, living simply with generous friends of friends, resulted in more paintings...and more love of the open road.  It all started with good food, and art.

Among the many treasures I’ve found is the lived learning that real sustainability is about all living things – land, people, worms, berries, chooks, goats, veggies – in healthy relationship with one another, sharing and growing together with a sense of perspective and fun.  

To balance our organic farmshare foodbox, my Melbourne housemates became infatuated with the magic of American marshmallows.  I proudly taught them to roast these manufactured wonders  to the size of tennis balls, golden brown and dripping from long twigs, in our woodburning stove.  The sticky heavenly laughs we shared over these most artificial but yet interactive of American foods remind me how fun food is, and that sustainability can be found in the organic garden and at the end of a marshmallow stick whenever it is about embracing balance and joy in many forms.  

I’m discovering again that the best food comes from places where the energy is positive, joyful, and inclusive.  Food is fun, and important.