I’m tugging on a stout carrot that I’d spied in the harvested row. Wiggle. Pull. The carrot comes free. It’s longer than my hand and as wide as a bratwurst, and sports a sweet little arm that wraps around the root. I wipe off the dirt and can’t resist a bite spiced with good organic soil Mmmm… still sweet.
Saturday, October 20th, was gleaning day for CSA customers at Rainshadow Organics, a 200-acre Central Oregon high desert farm between Sisters and Terrebonne. Owner Sarahlee Lawrence grew up here and in 2010 took the reins. Today, she and a cadre of farmers raise heirloom vegetables and heritage breeds best adapted to a land of little rain. Beyond steering clear of any chemical pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides, Sarahlee stewards the land as “an intricate ecosystem with companion planting, nutrient cycles, flowers, bees, riparian areas, crop rotation, and undisturbed native desert.”
We’re fortunate to be subscribers to the winter CSA (stands for Community Supported Agriculture). From November through May we pick up monthly deliveries of meat and vegetables to Bend that is part of a circuit for the farm that supports communities in a 50 mile radius. Right away, I’ll make a CSA soup with whatever comes our way, like potatoes, kale, chard, carrots, and squash. A four-season greenhouse also assures tantalizing fresh greens to brighten the stormiest of days.
To come to the farm and follow in the wake of the fall harvest is to root ourselves in the home of our larder. For one day, we join this union of body and the sustaining soil. I like that the word “glean” entails gathering “little by little or slowly.”
You don’t want to rush this act of communion with the farm that feeds us. We walk down the long rows with deliberation, breathing in the scent of juniper and sage on the breezes as a northern harrier glides overhead and diminutive sparrows hop among the cornstalks. Feel the heat of the sun that all the cabbages, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, and squash leaves have captured and converted into energy to grow and produce a bountiful feast. In the wake of freezing night temperatures, now the only rows of green are the toughest plants. I pluck small broccoli florets and tuck them into my bag, and then move on to the cabbage plants to find palm size cabbages too small for the main harvest.
Here and there, I run into other gleaners intent upon the search. Our eyes meet and we exchange a wordless greeting. This is community. This is a wild church of sustenance, one that invites children to race down the long rows, kicking up dust and hooting. When my box is filled with all that our gleaning hearts desire–beets, carrots, kale, broccoli, winter squash, and calico corn, I use all my strength to hoist it up onto my head and walk straight and tall, feeling the grounding of this day.
Back at the farm store, chef Rebecca and crew have prepared a simple and affordable meal for the gleaners–of carrot-ginger soup, potato soup, pumpkin scones, and wood-fired pizza bedazzled in surprising veggie toppings. We sit at long tables on the covered porch with fellow harvesters and listen to a couple folksingers strumming guitars. I try the beet-shrub vinegar drink and find it sweet, tangy, and cleansing.
It’s a day of wholeness, of unity, and closeness to people who are changing the world with local agriculture grown in synchrony with the land. Even now, a few days later, I’m gleaning the memories of the day and the taste of a fresh carrot spiked with flakes of organic soil.