[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly reflections, called Deep Down Things, published on Wednesdays.]
by Tracey Bianchi
Our local farmer’s market opens up in just over a week. For five glorious months I will spend every Wednesday morning grabbing everything from fresh produce to pickles to flowers from local growers who take time to plop their goodies in the center of our community. The old Greek guy who sells stuffed olives from his booth each week is by far my favorite. He stuffs the most plump, oval, gorgeous olives with fresh, soft bleu cheese. I don’t even like bleu cheese, but these olives melt in your mouth. The cheese oozes out all white and creamy (not blue at all). The old Greek guy smiles, stuffs a few containers in a bag and tells you in a thick accent how much you will love his olives. He makes them all in his kitchen two towns over. He is awesome.
I’m also a raving fan of a family farm that brings heirloom apples up from the southern part of my state, the fabulously flat Illinois. This family trucks well over two dozen varieties of apples I’ve never heard of before: Brown Snout, Adina, Prairie Spy, Akane, Pink Pearl, Chisel Jersey. Did you know apples had these names? My apple exposure typically comes from whatever is on the pile at my local grocer: Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. Maybe every now and again I dabble in a Jonathan Gold or a Honey Crisp if I feel daring.
The apples at my grocer are always perfectly smooth, no bruises, and quite hard. But interestingly, I get them home and they don’t taste all that great. They end up mealy and soft fairly soon after I’ve trucked them home. These apples come from all over the place, often Washington State or New Zealand. I find that fascinating since there are multiple apple orchards near my home yet none of the apples in our stores actually come from these orchards. Commercial apples are often plucked from the trees long before they are ripe, so that they will not bruise in shipping. This ends up robbing them of sweetness and color. Did you know that an apple that is green at your grocer might really, if left on the tree, become a yellow apple? Much sweeter than the one in your cart?
Last summer on one of our Wednesday outings two of my children (ages one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half at the time) were picking their apples. They ran from bin to bin and yanked whatever looked good to them from the piles of heirloom apples. Then they scurried over the stroller where an enormous canvas bag sat waiting to receive their selections. At first they gently set the apples into the bag. It was perfectly idyllic. I was the uber eco-mom with the gentle kids and the awesome apples. But the moment quickly changed. Suddenly competition and adrenaline took over.
They began racing back and forth, grabbing armloads of apples and throwing them into my bag. Beautiful apples bouncing around and bruising one another. I managed to stop the chaos for a moment and my then 2.5 year old said “OK mommy, then let’s go buy our apples.” His goal was to take our bag up to the table and pay the farmer. Before I could harness his ambition he darted over to the stroller, grabbed the handle on our canvas bag and yanked it with such force that the whole bag tipped and apples flew–then rolled–across the parking lot where the apple bins were sitting. Then he stopped and in perfect two-year-old vocabulary said to me, “Oops.” Awesome.
So we set about picking up and placing back into our bag the now bruised apples. I had no idea which variety was which at this point, and I started immediately to think of which friend I might call for a good apple recipe that I could quickly whip up with dented apples.
As we set them all back into the bag I noticed, beyond our bruises, that each apple had such character. Character you don’t
see in stores. Odd colors, lumps here and there, freckles and spots. Each had a sort of story to tell. An heirloom apple’s worth of history, seeds from France, family secrets from Germany, local color from Illinois. These farmer’s market apples were amazing, each in a unique way. In ways you do not see at the grocer. Some were tart for baking, and others oozed such sweetness you could hardly swallow them.
As we scooped up all our character and bruises I calmed down my children long enough to pay the farmer (who smiled and kindly said, “Happens all the time.”). He handed me change and bid us a good day. We pealed out of the apple booth and headed over for those olives. And as we did I felt embarrassed of course, but also felt such tremendous joy and history swelling through my little suburban veins. I felt a little moment of triumph over the commercial food industry and over pre-ripened shiny apples at the grocer. I had a bag of bruised apples and it felt a little bit like my life: freckled, bruised, and filled with character. Like the lives of my children as well.
So I beg you to get in touch with your local growers this summer. Not as an act of hatred against grocery chains or an act of defiance against the commercial food industry in the US but as an act of character, of learning and of growing. As a way to put your hands on freckled apples and along the way realize that you are connected to the same bizarre, bruised world as the farmers and the fruit and veggies in your bag. A way of growing and living into the reality that we are all connected to those apples, to our land, to our food and ultimately to one another as a result. May you find an odd-shaped apple this summer that fills your heart and your stomach with a glimpse of love and grace for this world and for your very soul.
Is it a far stretch to sum up our souls in an apple? Maybe. But just try to separate your soul from the land. We cannot do it and when we do the world sours and goes south fast. So connect that little soul to an apple and a farmer, to a tree and to the land, and see where God takes you at the farmer’s market this summer.
Tracey Bianchi’s first book, Green Mama: The Guilt Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet, was released in February of 2010. When she’s not chasing children, Tracey also writes and speaks for a variety of national organizations. She also earned an MDIV from Denver Seminary along the way. This article was originally posted at traceybianchi.com.