Thursday is Produce Day. It’s the day on which our Produce Project shares are ready for pickup from the local shipping container turned “Produce Cave”, a name coined by a child of a shareholder. This week, as I loaded the share into my box to take home, a man and his elementary age daughter came in behind me. Immediately after crossing the threshold into the container, the man stopped, took a deep breath, smiled, and asked “Doesn’t it smell good in here?” before prompting his daughter to try and pick out their box among the alphabetized containers of fruits and veggies. The question seemed to be directed partially to her, partially for his own acknowledgement. Though I didn’t answer him, I silently concurred. The distinct smell of fresh produce laced with a bit of cardboard is oddly refreshing, a reminder of the earth from which the bounty was cultivated.
I think there is great value in knowing where something comes from, and knowing where it’s going. I think there’s even greater value in turning that knowledge to action & trying it for myself. While picking up a share of produce on a weekly basis is not the same as growing it, or speaking with a farmer, it’s one step closer to the source – and the smell is a reminder of this.
As evidenced by today’s politics, we fear what we do not know. Similarly, we may often take for granted that which we have not witnessed.
More and more people don’t know where their food actually comes from – there is a disconnect between what stocks store shelves and the origins of the products. Some may argue that we don’t need to know – that we can leave these things up to the professionals. But I think it’s imperative that we are familiarized with the livelihoods and processes that enable us to live day to day the way we do, even if we never plant a single seed, pick up knitting needles, or wield a hammer.
That being said, I think there is a certain value to making. I was once told that consumers express greater satisfaction with their Ikea furniture than other pieces on the basis that they had to assemble it themselves: they have a greater personal investment in and appreciation of the product. Is that true? I’m not sure. But I think it’s at least plausible.
Speaking with the perspective of the society in which I live – middle class urban America – I don’t think we need to individually be the source of our own goods, 100% of the time. As much satisfaction as I get out of making – whether that’s baking, making yogurt, growing my own food, building a shelf – I know that there are so many people who have a mastery of these skills and I’m 100% on board with supporting them in their craft. No need to sew all your own clothes or grow & process all your own food – but more power to you if you do, and perhaps an increased empathy for those who must if you do try.
One semester in undergrad I took a pottery class through the craft center on campus. Though I learned that I simply do not have the patience for throwing pots, and find it more of a stress-inducing rather than therapeutic exercise, I gained a much greater appreciation for this art. I simultaneously gained a much better appreciation for the industrialization and mass production process – while not comparable to the skill and care of potters, the ability of machinery to (pseudo) replicate such a labor intensive task is astounding. (That is where my inner engineer shows herself, I suppose).
I know it’s in my nature to want to go to the source, to identify components and attribute the final product to each of its components. In fact, I even study this: the field of life cycle assessment is all about decomposing products and processes into their fundamental parts to be able to categorize their impacts (environmental impacts, in my case). I’m biased: I hold a degree in a field that handles numerous aspects of our lives we don’t acutely recognize until they don’t function as designed – roads, buildings, water, waste management, air quality. I operate in a world of the behind-the-scenes. (As an aside, if you want a good & informative laugh, check out this Last Week Tonight episode on infrastructure.)
I absolutely don’t think it’s necessary for each one of us to be fluent in the language of primary, secondary, and tertiary water treatment, or be able to reduce renewable energy technologies to the chemical reactions that produce divinylbenzene. But I would encourage everyone to visit their local landfill or recycling plant. Meet a local farmer, or check out a farm or community garden. Read up on where your water comes from – is it sourced from groundwater, reservoir, river? Consider the fact that the item you picked up off the shelf in the local department store in a conglomeration of resources that, one way or another, came out of the ground.
The development of our society over time has necessitated separation of producers and consumers for the sake of efficiency and expedience. It enable scientists to do science, writers to write, doctors to treat illness, and so on – all acts made possible by the growers and producers who will remain anonymous to those who reap the benefits. But, by knowing how these fundamental processes work, we can be reminded of our humble origins & those who are the silent backbones of contemporary existence, in a way.
If you’re curious about learning more about some of the day-to-day conveniences to which we have access, I’ve compiled a short list of resources to get you started:
Resources in Raleigh:
Landfill & Recycling Facility Tours: Check out the Sonoco Recycling Facility. The South Wake Landfill has historically given public tours, but have temporarily suspended them due to construction.
Water Treatment Plant Tours: The City of Raleigh gives tours for those curious about where your water comes from & what happens to it once you flush. I know brewery tours are hip – this is kinda, sorta like that, right?
Well Fed Community Garden: An opportunity for anyone interested in learning more about urban agriculture & food production. They host volunteer days throughout the year, as well as various workshops on sustainable living topics.
Resources for Everyone:
How Stuff Works: A website started in 1998 by a professor (from my institution, actually) that has expanded into a reputable source of accessible information on an array of topics.
YouTube: With 300 hours of new footage uploaded per minute, there’s likely to be an answer to your inquiry out there. While I don’t think there’s truly a substitute for say, visiting your local landfill, info on YouTube can get you close (lucky for you, we don’t live in the age of smell-o-vision).
Meetup: A global platform for groups of people to “do more of what they love”. Want to learn to cook? Knit? Write? Check out your area to see if there’s a group holding a free workshop near you.