Farmer for a day, and what a beautiful day it was!

I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) this year, and what a beautiful start to the season. Yesterday was sunny with a few beautiful clouds and a cool breeze, perfect gardening weather. This CSA is on the edge of a forest preserve (Brunner Family Farm) just 10 minutes from my home in Algonquin. I signed on for a Worker’s Share because I want to be part of the process as I once was when I had a farm of my own. Although I’m interested in growing a lot in a tiny space like my deck, being out in the fields has so many advantages, and I couldn’t resist the experience. This was one of those days that provided them all!

Yesterday I got to water some of the plants just beginning to come up, moving from plant to plant, up and down the rows, giving each little plant a good soak. As I finished two rows, I moved the very long hose over two rows and began again.

After a couple of hours, Bob, the CSA owner-operator, came back to check on me from the fields where he was working, planting more rows. He thought I might be getting bored. Bored?! Oh my goodness, no. Being out in that beautiful place on a day like yesterday, feeling the warm sun and perfectly cool breeze, hearing little other than breeze and birds, watching the tall grasses wave and the plants grow, seeing the sunlight sparkling on small puddles of water as I worked…knowing that cows were over in another area being cows and chickens in yet another area being chickens…there’s just nothing better to restore one’s soul.

I thought about the plan I’ve had for several years to move but then thought how fortunate I am to not only live with my husband next door to my younger son and his family and not at all far from my older son and his, but to look out on a pond in a wetland conservation area, to walk to the corner for my groceries every day, and now to drive just ten minutes from my home and farm to my heart’s content. It’s time to give my soul a Sabbath, a rest from planning and reorganizing, and just be, appreciating where I am in this moment in all its amazing, miraculous details. Time to just watch the plants grow.

If you’d like more information about the CSA, please visit Bob’s Fresh and Local (produce) and All Grass Farms (livestock, chickens, milk and cheese).

060816_CSA_trees

 For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Our Brain: All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

brain-diagram

A brain is an interesting thing. I was just thinking about brains the other day. My thought process began this way:

I took a walk with my husband. Along the way, we saw a dead rabbit in an area where we had seen a feral cat the evening before. His reaction reminded me of times we had watched nature movies together. If one animal hunted another to kill it, he turned off the TV. Of course, I don’t like to see animals killed or hurt, but I wondered about his reaction. I said, “It’s natural. It’s just the way life works. It’s designed that way.” He said, “It’s a stupid design.”

That generated something of a paradigm shift for me. It’s the way nature works: it’s always been that way. I never questioned it. Whether or not there is divine intention behind it, sustaining life requires taking life, at least in this universe, even if it’s “just a plant.”

So my next thought was, what went through the mind of the first person who ate an animal? I mean, it had to start somewhere, right? How did a human being see a living creature and think, “Yum, that would be good to eat?”

Which brings me to brains. I did a little research about my questions. While I never got an answer to them, who first ate meat, and what went through their minds, I did read that the fact that human beings ate meat had a great deal to do with their larger brains.

One thing I know for sure: what was going through the first meat-eater’s mind wasn’t, oh, this will give me a bigger brain. The fact that someone back there ate meat had nothing to do with intelligence originating from their brains.

Yet we value our brains, right? If there is one thing we believe explains our great success in terms of survival and even dominance over creation, it is our brains. Our brains place us above the rest of creation, “only a little lower than the angels and crowned . . . with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:5) We are the masters of creation because of our brains. Or are we?

Does it really make a difference that our physical brains are larger than other creatures? Or even that we have a brain at all? Does the presence of a brain make us more intelligent than other life forms with which we share our world? Are only human beings with big brains capable of intelligent reactions to their surroundings?

Some science suggests not. In “The Intelligent Plant,” an article in The New Yorker (Dec. 23, 2013), Michael Pollan presents findings that plants exhibit reactions to their environment like alarm and demonstrate intelligence related to their own survival. Plants engage in group behaviors aimed at protecting the community. They recognize “kinship” bonds. They adapt to their environment and manipulate it.

The new (and tendentious) field of plant neurobiology presents us with the idea that “it is only human arrogance, and the fact that the lives of plants unfold in what amounts to a much slower dimension of time, that keep us from appreciating their intelligence and consequent success. Plants dominate every terrestrial environment, composing ninety-nine per cent of the biomass on earth. By comparison, humans and all the other animals are, in the words of one plant neurobiologist, ‘just traces.'”

Pollan adds, “Indeed, many of the most impressive capabilities of plants can be traced to their unique existential predicament as beings rooted to the ground and therefore unable to pick up and move when they need something or when conditions turn unfavorable.” Organs that cannot be regenerated, including brains, are not an asset for plants.

The article was fascinating, but even more fascinating than the article was the reaction of some scientists to the findings of their colleagues. A lack of willingness to contemplate the possibility of intelligence among plants hardly communicates the intensity of the reaction among some.

Admittedly, the thought that animals possess intelligence and react to their environment, experience pain, fear and love and react to immanent death, is a paradigm shift still in progress. It is not as unthinkable, apparently, as the idea that plants might have intelligence and reactions to their environment. And these ideas do present some problems, not the least of these, what can we eat?

If we contemplate for a moment that brain size, or even the presence of a brain, does not make us superior beings, where do we get the authority to kill and eat anything? Finally we come face to face with the central moral paradox of our existence here on earth, that it requires taking life to sustain life.

As we journey through our lives, we both eat and nourish, destroy and enrich. Our gift and our burden as human beings is that we can make conscious decisions about the balance of eating and nourishing, taking and giving.

At the very least, plant neurobiology may induce us to pause and reflect on the source of each and every bite of food and the wonder of creation. Perhaps it will serve as the ultimate test for human beings to learn to respect and honor “otherness,” something for which we have limited skill, even among our own kind.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.

To Market, to Market, to buy fresh . . .

My "finds" at the Woodstock Square Farmers Market opening day.
Here’s my bounty from the Woodstock Farmers Market on opening day, this past Saturday: fresh basil from BlueLoom (Keith & Nancy Johnson), a Spanish onion, red and purple potatoes and early kale from Edmonds Acres, my favorite popcorn from Brook Farm and a beautiful ceramic bowl from Woodstock High School art student, Tyler Owcarz.

 VEGGIES! Beautiful spring veggies!

It was a spectacular day on Saturday, a perfect day for the opening of the Woodstock Farmers Market. I love the Market and look forward to it moving back onto the Square each spring.

Keith Johnson, Market Director, has built this award-winning Farmers Market into a happening twice a week May through October on the historic Woodstock Square.  Off Square Music performers fill the surrounding area with music. There is no better way to celebrate spring and summer days than to greet friends and shop for local products accompanied by Woodstock’s talented musicians.

And it doesn’t end in October. Now we have a winter Market as well that meets two weeks a month in Building “D” at the McHenry County Fairgrounds.

What I made from my Woodstock Farmers Market goodies

One of my favorite stops is always Edmonds Acres. Troy Edmonds specializes in specialty garlic and onions, unique apples, fruit and vegetables, wild mushrooms and fall squash.

Troy Edmonds of Edmonds Acres in Marengo
Troy Edmonds of Edmonds Acres in Marengo.

I can always find something that I want to run home and cook up at Troy’s table, and Saturday was no exception. I combined that organic onion with some organic celery and carrots I had to make up my delicious Red Lentil Soup. This time instead of cilantro I added Troy’s early kale to the soup.

Red Lentil Soup topped with fresh kale and served in a ceramic bowl created by Tyler Owcarz of Woodstock North High School.
Red Lentil Soup topped with fresh kale and served in a ceramic bowl created by Tyler Owcarz of Woodstock High School.

I confess I had to have some right away in the beautiful bowl made by Tyler Owcarz of Woodstock that I purchased at the Woodstock High School table. Art students created about 100 small bowls that they are selling for $10 each to benefit the Woodstock Food Pantry.

Will the circle be unbroken…

And talk about the circle being unbroken! Not only did that bowl go from the High School to the Market to me and the Food Pantry . . . but Troy’s beautiful veggies went from his table to my pot to serve up to the musicians and audience at First Saturday, an open mic sponsored by Off Square Music that meets once a month at Unity Spiritual Center on Calhoun St. in Woodstock.

And now for the fresh basil from Keith and Nancy Johnson (BlueLoom) that I snipped onto the potatoes that I just couldn’t wait to cook up and eat: nothing says spring like fresh basil! I enjoyed it twice on Saturday, once with my potato lunch when I got home and again later with a juicy tomato snack.

Fresh red and purple potatoes ready for roasting with a little extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.
Fresh red and purple potatoes ready for roasting with a little extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.
And now ready to eat after roasting for a few minutes in a pre-heated hot oven.
And now ready to eat after roasting for a few minutes in a pre-heated hot oven. I snipped a little basil onto them. Yum!

So as I mentioned, I went to the First Saturday open mic that evening, which is always a wonderful music event. I didn’t get to service my popcorn addiction that evening, tho. You can bet I did the next evening!

I ran out of Rich Brook’s (Brook Farm, Harvard, IL) popcorn over the winter and was waiting eagerly for him to return to the Market. I don’t know how he does it, but that popcorn is sooooooo much better than what I can get in the store. I’m halfway through the bag I bought already! Guess I’ll have to plan to visit the Woodstock Farmers Market again next week.

All in all a wonderful day Saturday. Welcome back to the Woodstock Farmers Market!

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.