Shortly after everything shifted due to the pandemic, that was back in March here in Southwest Idaho, I realized that there was a good chance I would not be traveling much this summer. I also was reminded that being a good steward of my body would help me with the new extra layer of stress. I found a website listing CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) in Idaho and found one that delivers to the Nampa Farmer’s Market each Saturday morning.
This food has been one of the bright spots of a very different, and often deflating, spring and summer. I get particularly weary and sad when I glance at my wall calendar and notice another event that has been cancelled, but then I remember that I get to pick up my produce on Saturday morning. Many of you readers actually grow your own food, but that was not going to happen for a single pastor, facing steep learning curves on the job, who had never gardened on her own before. The CSA has been the next best thing to a garden. Each week is a surprise. Some items stay the same; I have received mixed greens and baby beets every week so far. Some produce changes; I was given scallions the first few weeks and this week included my first heirloom tomatoes.
I grew up in the Black Hills and my family had a greenhouse full of mulch, great for growing produce on a hillside, near our home. Serving as a pastor in rural Iowa and Southwest Idaho, I have always received produce in the summer, either on my front porch or in the church’s narthex. But the bounty from the CSA is different. It overwhelmed me the first few weeks and I almost let some of it go to waste.
I grew up with older parents, including a father raised during the Great Depression. The clean plate was not strictly enforced, thanks to my mother, but wasting food was definitely frowned on. The produce in my CSA is beautiful and I know that plenty of neighbors in Nampa are food-insecure, so I do not want to waste food. My solution is now to cook it all up (at least the produce that I believe tastes better cooked than raw) on Sunday afternoons. I put on music, a podcast, a webinar I missed earlier in the week, and just accept that my kitchen is going to heat up.
Even as I write this, I recognized that my life affords me some real luxuries. For example, I know that not everyone has the ability to plan ahead like I can. Plenty of households could not afford to pay upfront like I did in the spring. Recognizing those disparities in our community, I am so grateful for the many organizations getting produce, not just processed foods, to people in The Treasure Valley this particular summer.
Besides eating healthier and feeling closer to the food that is part of God’s good creation, the Sunday afternoon food preparation has had another surprising benefit—I feel closer to my mom. My mom baked birthday cakes and taught me how to bake cookies, but her great love has always been cooking. As different produce finds its way to my kitchen through the CSA, my mother in turn gets emails and phone calls from me asking for recipes from my childhood. And as I prepare the food, I picture my mom preparing meals for our small family, my friends, our guests. She always made it look so effortless, especially the timing of it all. She was not always successful, depending on the audience. A bit of a gourmet chef for Western South Dakota in the 1980s, she would take dishes to church potlucks and hers would often be the one still quite full at the end of the event. As a pre-teen I would think, “Just put mushroom soup in Mom. And add some potato chips on top and everyone will eat it!” But by my last years in high school I began to realize what a gift it was to eat her meals. It was not just the food itself, delicious though it was. It was the way she made everyone feel so welcome; she made every evening meal feel special. Knowing what I know now, I think my mother might have been a Benedictine, known for their hospitality, in another century.
All of the thoughts about guests and hospitality brings another kind of heartache as I cook up my produce on Sunday afternoons. During this chapter of life, I am of course preparing the food only for myself. But pondering guests and remembering my mom’s gift for hospitality also gives me small sparks of hope. I trust that the Holy Spirit is using this time so that someday I can have people over to my home once again. I will have new recipes to serve and share. I will prepare delicious food for our banquets. We will discuss all the things, all of the very hard things, and we will have those deep and beautiful conversations that only happen when people are literally breaking bread together. Until that time, my meals of beets, coleslaw, and roasted zucchini are wonderful foretastes of the feasts to come.
The eyes of all wait up on you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living creature. Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these your gifts, which we receive from your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (From Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, ELW p. 1167)