Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Veggie balance

Disclaimer: While this is about my veggie co-op, this is not a health food post.

For the last ten years I have been volunteering at a local organic co-op, most every Wednesday at Way Too Early in the morning. When I started I mostly counted the produce as it came in, but eventually I moved up the volunteer ladder.

Basically my job is to manage variables.  First, I work with whatever comes in the door to create satisfactory shares for everyone who has preordered. Then whatever is left over goes to open market, where it is available to anyone who might drop in. We sell more when we have a welcoming variety of items out there, beyond a full box of turnips and two cases of seemingly expensive blueberries. (Co-op cannot offer the loss leaders of $1.40 pints that a local grocery might!)

From week to week things shift. Will the Valencia oranges be fifty-six to a box, or seventy-two?  Do the red onions weigh out at an even pound, or are they all over the place, from half a pound to two pounds? Will our local grower send the bunched broccoli we asked for, our bagged broccoli, which is smaller but more expensive? Did a late freeze knock out the spinach? Are we short twenty-two grapefruits? So many things are beyond our control, and do not always fit neatly into those spreadsheet cells. With this task come opportunities for mental flexibility.

In some ways this is very much like my 'day job' at church--doing very practical work to balance needs so all may be nourished.  We have a core group we know to plan for, and some idea of possible resources, interest, and support. And members let us know if we miss the mark. The same lettuce-tomato-apple-cucumber share, while we all know what to do with it, would get boring week after week, and not reflect the rhythm of seasons. People like and need a little stretching, but if we include too many dandelion greens or persimmons, we definitely hear about it.

Most important is the understanding that what we are doing is much more than vegetables.  It is education--recipes for unfamiliar produce, lifting up sustainable practices. It is about clarifying values and finding meaning communally, checking in with one another from time to time.
It is about creating community, both onsite Wednesdays, at other events around town, and through social media and door-to-door promotions. Like any human endeavor, we have plentiful opportunities to try new things, to fail spectacularly, to apologize and to be gracious, and to find joy and wonder in the smallest caterpillar.

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