On being food renegades

P1000178The U.S.D.A. in its infinite wisdom pays farmers to NOT produce food.  To keep the prices high, the consolidation of growers of (let’s give a relevant example) sour cherries all stick their fingers to the wind and decide how MUCH of their harvest to pick on a given year.  This year, it’s 60%, which means that 40% of your crop is not to be sold and must rot on the tree.

Rot on the tree!

Well, we fruit renegades did a bit of patriotic tea-dumping and picked 150 pounds of cherries on the Fourth of July for our school.  We in no way even dented that 40% of this particular farm’s trees. Having the full support of the farmers, we pickers had to be surreptitious about it, parking our cars way out of view and picking in the dead middle of the orchard early in the morning.  At one point a plane flew over and I had a true Goodfellas moment, getting somewhat paranoid.

P1000186About a third of our harvest

So for the price of pitting them at another farm, we have a nice huge stock of cherries to make into snacks for the school.

P1000193KathunkKathunkKathunk:  This 1937 pitter can process a ton of cherries in an hour

21 responses to “On being food renegades

  1. Now that’s a great bit of gleaning – BRAVO!

  2. A great 4th of July story–what our revolution has become.

  3. Michele Megna

    Picking winners and losers….what a sad state of affairs our government has become over the last one hundred or so years! But, great harvest El. Better than the waste.

  4. Good idea! Way to take the bull by the horns.

    Have you seen the film, The Gleaners and I (Les glaneurs et la glaneuse)? You might like it.

  5. That is awesome. I wish my schools had done such things. Are you getting a lot of fruit this way?

  6. I am glad you are doing this, but this story makes me want to weep…

  7. If you haven’t already read it, I think you would like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle A Year of Food Life. Oddly enough, I’ve been gorging on cherries this weekend, I just read a chapter regarding cherries in Kingsolver’s book, and sure enough read about your cherry adventure! Happy 4th of July!

  8. Wonderful report, though the fact that 40% is purposely let to rot makes me cringe. Interesting that the farmers were entirely supporting of your efforts. Maybe that is a small sign of hope?
    On another note, where did you find that old cherry pitting machine? Its great!

  9. I love cherries! Can I go to school there too?

  10. Good for you! Our local schools eat pre- (and individually) packaged crap. I would love to do something like this in my area!

  11. grandmabecker

    Leaving fruit and veggies to rot is a crime. So many people eating crap, kids not getting what they need to grow.
    People having to decide to eat fresh or buy processed food because it is cheaper.
    This is a sad state of affairs…

    The cherries look wonderful! Now I wish I could do the same!

  12. Come the Revolution, we will eat ALL the fruit off the trees!!!

  13. teresanoelleroberts

    1) I envy the cherries.
    2) I weep for all that wasted food. Does that kind of growers’ pact actually help farmers make a reasonable living, or is it mostly the distributors that benefit? (I understand it’s that way with dairy “price supports,” at least if you have a small to medium-sized farm that you’re trying to run at all sustainably–the farmer and the consumer are screwed and Crowley and Hood benefit.)

  14. You realize you have a book to write.

  15. Some of the places around here have food-bank gleaning projects, but frankly most of them are in urban areas. That’s a wonderful project and the pitter — my heart literally goes pitter-pat.

  16. This is why I return to your blog again and again. I love your perspective, your politics, and your pluck.

    What a perfect July 4 story. Glean on, revolutionary cherry-pickers! Long live free local fruit for kids!

  17. I second the motion that you need to write a book. In all your spare time, I know. But seriously. You are my food revolution hero!

  18. Leigh I suppose technically this was a gleaning, even if we had a plethora to pick. Thanks for commenting! You seem to be a gardener after my own seed-obsessed heart.

    Here’s hoping, Ed! Viva la revolucion!

    Michele, hi neighbor! You know, it’s just nonsensical to me. That and all the abandoned orchards around us: why, when people don’t have enough good stuff to eat?

    Denise, I have! I tend to have a hard time getting my husband to sit through subtitles but we both enjoyed it. But yeah, we’re looking for more crops to pick.

    Amara, well, yes and no. Gleaning crops once they’re finished is a more traditional way of getting free produce, though admittedly it’s harder on we pickers. Here we just got lucky.

    Oh Sylvie I agree. Such waste.

    Hi Liz, yep, I read it when it came out, because frankly I am a food-life dweeb. It’s quite a coincidence though that you were reading that particular section!

    MC, the pitter was at a long-standing U-Pick farm. Same family, same ground, 145 years. Pretty cool machine!

    Tameson, well, sign up! Montessori believes that learning and learners happen at any age.

    JCC, change starts with YOU my dear. I will just be here to give you a nudge.

    Grandmabecker, totally topsy-turvy world. Let’s not even get into chronic health issues directly related to diet, but yeah, people have been sold a really bad bill of goods. But these tart ones were actually rather sweet, and tasty.

    Randi, (bows deeply)

    Laurene, let us hope! It’s criminal, the alternative.

    TNR, my feeble understanding of it is just that flooding the market with an actual good harvest does nobody any favors. Unlike corn, soya, wheat, cane sugar or cotton that the government directly subsidizes, veggies and tree fruits undergo the price setting of the growers’ consolidation. And unlike milk it’s not fixed to a dairy’s distance from Eau Clare WI. Byzantine, convoluted, and simply wrong, but maybe that’s just me. The alternative is that the farmers bulldoze the trees which is likewise not terribly pretty, but it happens, especially around here with the fruits that require hand-picking (peaches, pears, some apples). Cherry trees can be shaken for their harvest. One tree can be picked in under a minute, with 200-300 pounds on the tree.

    CC, I have thought about it. You know any publishers?

    Stef, stay tuned, there’ll be more food renegade posts as the season goes on. But yeah I do know about the urban gleaning, makes lots of sense. Here they discourage fresh produce at the drop-offs! STUPID!

    Aw, Milkweedy, thanks! “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

    Amanda, thank you! A book would be a fun diversion, and might even make me keep better notes! We’ll see…you know how fun it is to spread yourself very thin.

  19. I haven’t even any words. Each time I am confronted with these issues, I am angered again to new heights. Funny how our price fixing system is based on allowing food to waste, people to starve, and farmers to have their hands tied…

    And people still believe that our government has the best interests of the people at the forefront when creating food legislation?

  20. El: I don’t know any publishers, but I know a LOT of food bloggers who are doing books (or have done, or are already writing their second…). I think the first trick is to get an agent.

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