By Francie Lin, GFN Writer-in-Residence I think everyone would rather forget the early pandemic days…
Ellena Baum has been an essential part of the Grow Food Northampton team since September, 2017. As a TerraCorps member with the title of Land Stewardship Coordinator, she has led the Giving Garden, taking care of all aspects including preparation, planting, growing, and harvesting. Ellena has also worked on deliveries of the harvest to local food pantries and meal sites, and on a variety of other farm planning and stewardship tasks, from GIS mapping to composting outhouse protocols to helping manage relationships with the farmers who lease our land. She also spent a significant amount of her time helping with our Youth Education program, including designing and running farm field trips. As Ellena’s TerraCorps term comes to a close, we are pleased that she will join the staff as a part-time employee to complete the Giving Garden season!
As a part of her TerraCorps service, Ellena writes stories about her interactions within Grow Food Northampton and the community. Her last story is below.
Monday’s Delivery, by Ellena Baum
“The sun is already starting to beat down on my neck and shoulders as I load up the van with the morning’s harvest, and it is only a little after 9:30 am. The three volunteers wash off their hands at the spigot and write down their hours in our log-book.
I get out the scale and notebook to record the weight of each crate of produce. This is our most varied and colorful harvest yet this season: beets, purple top turnips, swiss chard, garlic scapes, yellow patty pan squash, cabbage, cucumbers, and the list goes on. The crates of dill, basil, cilantro and parsley make the van smell a little like a freshly made pizza. I can’t help but take out my phone to take a photo of the array of colors, knowing that it will make everyone happy back at the office.
‘See you next week!’ Karin says, walking back to her car.
Once everything is measured and recorded, I’m ready to make the rounds. Usually someone else does the deliveries around town, but this week Rose is away at another internship, and Michael is getting married, so it’s my turn.
I hoist myself up into the van and start the rumbling engine. First stop, Star Light Center: a program that offers services to adults with mental illness to prepare for, find, and retain employment. Star Light facilitates training opportunities, and members and staff work together to cook fresh lunches for minimal cost to members. The center is just around the corner from the farm.
I pull into their tiny driveway that has just enough space for me to maneuver to the back door and test my confidence in driving large vehicles in tight spaces. I walk in and I breathe in the air-conditioned air. I find Vanessa at the front desk looking a little flustered. ‘Crazy day, Ellena’ she says to me shaking her head, “We’re totally understaffed.”
She still follows me outside where I open the van’s back doors and climb up to sort through vegetables that she might want for the week. We go through each item, and she tells me how many they’ll take, while she and two members mull over what they might be cooking for meals at the center. ‘For our 4th of July barbeque!’ they decide, when I show them the bright yellow patty pan squash. ‘You’re like the ice-cream man’ they say, ‘except you are a woman, with vegetables.’ ‘Even better,’ we say, and laugh.
I head out to my next stop, MANNA soup kitchen- where I double park in the church parking lot, and find Lee downstairs in the kitchen, chopping carrots. He comes outside to look at the assortment of produce to pick what he wants. MANNA soup kitchen has been operating in Northampton since 1986, cooking meals 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year for people who are homeless or hungry for many different reasons. Lee is currently the head chef. ‘Basil, i love the fresh basil because I put pesto in everything I cook,’ he says, ‘It’s so versatile.’ I mark down to harvest 2 lbs of basil for Lee next week.”
The final stop on the tour is Easthampton Community Center, and I pull up and cart in the remaining crates of produce. Purple top turnips, beets, cabbages, zucchini, basil, dill, cilantro. The ECC has been serving families in the Easthampton area for over 40 years. Each week hundreds of families come to the center for produce and other groceries.
Just as I’m leaving I notice the mulberry tree at the edge of the pavement, with so many purple berries dangling in the low hanging branches. I jump out of the van, walk over to the tree and start pulling off the easiest ones. They taste so sweet. I realize I haven’t eaten anything all morning. A man who had helped me crate the produce into the community center comes out of the building with a donut and a cup of coffee and stands on the deck.
‘Did you know you have a mulberry tree here?’ I ask him incredulously, still picking at the berries and popping them into my mouth. ‘What’s that?’ he asks. ‘Try one,’ I say as I pick some and reach up over the railing of the deck to hand him a few berries. I notice my dirt-stained hands now have purple mulberry spots too.
‘Huh,’ he says, tasting them, ‘really good.’ He walks down the ramp of the building to stand at the edge of the pavement, looking at me on the grass under the tree. ‘The birds like them too,’ I say. We talk for a few minutes about the tree and berries, and what one could make with a bucketful of mulberries. I hand him a few more, ‘You could also tell the folks in there about these berries, if you want,’ I say.
‘Nah, he says smiling, as he heads toward his car with his handful of berries. ‘I think I’ll just come back and eat them all myself.’