A recent post at the Cassandra Pages -- Bonjour, summer -- moved and delighted me. Those photographs of berries, mushrooms, radishes -- holy wow! Summer's abundance in living color. I've walked through some of Montréal's markets, though not at this time of year. Last fall when I went north to promote 70 faces and Waiting to Unfold, I saw piles of pumpkins, gourds of all sizes and shapes, arrangements of dried grasses: some of autumn's late bounty. But Beth's post reminded me of some of the reasons I so adore summertime. Extravagant greenery, blossoms of every variety, fruits and vegetables grown in one's own local soil.
Here where I live we don't have markets quite like the ones in Montreal, but we do have a handful of community-supported farms. There's a new one right in our neighborhood, actually! But we still go to the one about fifteen minutes away, where we've been members for some twenty years. Longtime readers may remember hearing about this place before -- it's called Caretaker Farm. Every summer when we reach the first distribution week, the first time when members are invited to come to the farm and gather a share of the seasonal bounty, as I walk onto the grounds I say a fervent shehecheyanu (the blessing which thanks God for keeping me alive, sustaining me, and enabling me to reach this moment.) I am always grateful to be able to return.
Every year the first salad from the farm is a revelation. Tender Boston lettuce, a riot of tiny arugula and komatsuna and yukina greens, wedges of sweet bright white baby turnips and coins of spicy radish: it always amazes me how different these things taste from the boxed mixed greens and commercially-grown cucumbers we pick up at the supermarket all winter long. Even if I were to try to replicate Caretaker's bounty at the grocery store, it wouldn't taste the same. Once I sliced into a Caretaker carrot and a commercially-grown carrot at the same time and I was awed by by the local one's color and flavor. It's one thing to read about the difference between local agriculture and commercial farming; it's another thing entirely to see and feel and taste that difference.
There are few places in the world which are more beautiful to me than Caretaker Farm. I think it's probably objectively a gorgeous place -- fields of bright plants gleaming in the sunshine, cupped by the gentle curves of the Berkshire mountains; it's pretty as a postcard -- but for me the beauty is as much emotional as it is physical. This is a piece of land which has for decades been lovingly stewarded by farmers who we admire for their commitment to community and commitment to the land. It's a real community gathering place. Every week when I arrive with my canvas bag slung over my arm, I see people I know. We greet each other in the distribution barn, in the herb garden, in the fields where we're picking beans or berries or basil leaves.
I started coming to Caretaker when I was a college student, the summer before my senior year when I was hard at work on my senior thesis in religion. I came to Caretaker through the years I spent in grad school. I came to Caretaker the summer I was pregnant, and with my hand on my growing belly watched other people's children playing in the sandbox and picking raspberries -- and I wondered what it would be like to bring our child there someday. I came to Caretaker with our infant son strapped to my chest in a sling. The year he was newly-walking he ran around the grounds. The first tree he ever tried to climb is a little one next to the distribution barn, where he has seen bigger kids in the branches.
Longtime readers have heard me tell the story about running into my friend Rev. Rick Spalding in the cherry tomato rows, and his remark that the farm "is some of the holiest ground I know." That story keeps resonating for me. On Shabbat mornings in summer when I'm not leading davenen at my shul, the farm is usually where I can be found -- hanging out with our son near the sandbox or the frog pond, or walking down to see the chickens in their movable coop, calling "Shabbat shalom!" to congregants who I see across the fields. The farm is holy not because it's a consecrated structure with stained glass windows or a lofty dome, but because of the years of loving attention and intention which have been devoted to creating community in this place.
Caretaker Farm takes care of me. No matter what's on my mind or what's difficult in my life or in the world, stepping onto that piece of land uncoils my tension. It's a place which feels to me like Shabbat, whether I'm there on a Saturday morning or a Tuesday afternoon. There's something about this farm -- from the herb garden and the cupboard of fresh bread on distribution days, to the far pumpkin and raspberry fields across two wooden bridges and a stream -- which evokes some of that same feeling for me: the feeling of entering into Shabbat, of leaving my to-do lists and my workday consciousness behind.