Imagine the hardiest slice of seasonal fruit pie you’ve ever eaten, cut and served to you by two Canadian sisters baking in a space barely big enough to hold the three of you. Despite the petiteness of the space, the shop still sports the familiar hip accoutrements: a chalkboard menu, pour-over coffee, even hand-glazed pottery. Now imagine leaving that space, an open pie box in your left palm, your right hand clutching a compostable fork as you try to maintain some level of decorum while shoveling huge chunks of pie into your mouth. But instead of walking past other familiar sites, perhaps a vintage clothing store or record shop, you find yourself in the middle of a fully functioning Chinatown, with vegetable, fish, and meat vendors hawking food, non-English speaking Chinese of all generations bustling about, and the overall din at a level you’d expect to hear in any vibrant market place.
As much as they might crave a comfy couch, a relaxing beverage, and a sturdy ottoman, farmers don’t have the luxury of sitting down for an extended chat. At best, they can allot an hour for an interview, a catch-up with a partner, an email check, or a nap (that’s wishful thinking) before they’re off to the next task.
A farmer’s life is defined by its transitions. Seasons pass from one into another. An afternoon of harvesting follows a morning of weeding. Vegetables move from seed, to plant, to boxes for CSA customers; animals are born, grow, and die. Any given year reveals a careful navigation of crop choices, soil temperatures, and pest problems. As large as some of these transitions may be, they serve as only a minor illustration of the much larger, even existential transitions a couple faces when they choose to farm.
We stopped at People’s Coop several rainy Fridays ago, drawn to lower SE Portland with the idea of enjoying a smoothie from Sip before heading inside to re-fill a few bulk spice containers. After ordering our smoothie, we sat underneath the store’s awning, watching the store cat slink by, undeterred by the pelting raindrops. Besides the cat and the Sip employee inside the cart, we were by ourselves in the normally bustling courtyard. Instead of keeping my head down and my eyes focused, as I normally do when I’m in People’s slightly chaotic vortex of roaming toddlers, dogs, buskers, and bikes, I took the time to glance around at the outdoor displays heaped with winter squash.