Industrial Harvest


What happened to the flour, part 5: The ones that got away by sarah kavage

My husband Rob is the documentarian of the family.  I was into photography back in the pre-digital age, but pretty much immediately upon coupling up with Rob I decided I liked having my own personal archivist, put the camera away and just enjoyed living without looking through a lens.

This spring, however, all of that had to change once I realized that I was on my own in Chicago.  No personal archivist, no husband – just me, alone with my poor documentation habits.  Undeterred, I bought a camera and carried it around constantly, ever-so-slow on the draw, trying to figure out how to work the daggone thing on the fly, and re-remembering all that stuff about apertures and f-stops.  Even though I feel like I did a passable job documenting the major events of the summer, picking up the camera to capture a moment never became instinct.

And so, I have some regrets.  Rob will occasionally mention a missed shot from years ago that has been burned into his memory, which I’ve always found impressive but a bit odd.  Why hold onto it?  But now I understand.  This post is dedicated to trying to tell, in words, what I should have captured in pictures.

Two stories stick in my head.  The first happened when D. contacted me about getting 50 lbs. of whole wheat flour this fall:

I am a hobby farmer who happens to produce more than enough pumpkins for myself, family and friends.  Generally I give away the pumpkins and bread I make out of the pumpkins.  The crops are organic and grown in glorious DeKalb County soil in Sycamore, Illinois.  I’d be interested in 50 lbs of the flour so that I can make dozens of loaves of pumpkin bread this season to give away.  I could accept the flour ASAP because I’m already harvesting pumpkins and baking.

A couple weeks after he’d picked up his bag of flour, D. emailed me saying that he had a few loaves of pumpkin bread for me.  I was of course delighted, but running around that day and told D. if I wasn’t at home he could leave the bread on our front porch.

Later that afternoon I got a text from D. that he’d just dropped off the bread.  Although I was home at the time, it took me about 10 minutes to make it downstairs to the porch.  On the porch was a small box containing 5 loaves of pumpkin bread.  And on the box was a little squirrel.  He had chewed through the box, the plastic wrap and was so contentedly munching away on the bread that he barely looked up when I opened the door.  No doubt that if I had gone up to get the camera, he would have stayed there feasting and we could have had an adorable, hilarious photo shoot.  Oh, I could kick myself.

Of course, when I told Rob about this the first words out of his mouth were “did you take pictures?”

The second tale of documentary woes started with an email from N., who works at Urban Habitat Chicago.  They were interested in trying to grow wheat, and maybe taking a little flour too.  We went back and forth to figure out a time for her to come pick some up, and we were both kind of busy and ended up doing one of those “let’s talk on Sunday night and see if we can do it then” appointments that didn’t used to happen before everyone had cell phones.  And then when she called I didn’t hear my phone.  When I finally called back, it was hours later – well after dark – but N. said that was OK.  It would take her an hour to get up to my place, though – she was going to do the hauling by trailer bike.

The trailer was a sturdy, well-built DIY contraption that utilized milk crates, steel tubing and big cart wheels.  Turns out, this was its maiden haul.  I grilled N. about the handling, the weight, the construction as we loaded it up with 50, then 100 pounds of wheat berries and took it for a test ride down the alley.  Getting the bike moving was really not too difficult – with 100 pounds of cargo, you’ve got momentum on your side.  Turning was not too bad either.  But stopping – well, that was tougher.  N. was headed down Damen towards Pilsen, and the only part we agreed might be a bit sketchy was the downhill part of the bridge across the river.  Truth be told, I was slightly worried when I did not hear back from her for a couple of days, but it turned out she, the wheat and the bike made it just fine.  It was only then that I began kicking myself for not busting out the camera.  What was I thinking?  The only human-powered haul of the project (and surely the most bad-ass) and I stupidly missed it.

N. came by again a week or two later to pick up more wheat, but it was raining and she showed up with a friend’s truck.  There are no second chances.

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catching up by sarah kavage

It’s been a hectic week, and I’ve got some catching up to do on recent events.  Rob (on a visit from Seattle) and I were lucky to be included as part of one of the semi-regular trips to Angelic Organics’ rural Learning Center with folks from the Heartland Alliance’s Kovler Center and their sister program, International FACES.  Both programs work with refugees and victims of torture.  Many of the refugees come from rural or agricultural backgrounds, and many of them rarely get to leave the city (for some of the folks, this was their first trip outside Chicago since their arrival in the US).   Angelic had a wood-fired oven, I had some flour, Rob had a camera, and the refugees had their traditional recipes from their home countries.  We harvested vegetables, rolled dough, and talked.

I think Rob, the son of refugees, puts into words what I can’t about the experience.

Speaking of putting things into words well, Martha Bayne really did an amazing job with her feature article about this project in the Reader.

And, one last thing, I got an answer to the question in the previous post about how farmers benefit from an increase in wheat prices if the harvest is already past.  I’ll be posting that in the comments section of the post momentarily (or maybe tomorrow).