For all intents and purposes, Sherod and I live in a food desert. The closest grocery store is 10 miles away, in Hayneville, the seat of Lowndes County. In the middle of a number of little towns with no grocery stores of their own, the A&G can get away with being quite expensive; this is supply and demand. We drive about 24 miles each way to do our regular shopping at the Publix in Prattville. At this time of the year, our pantry and freezer are also well stocked with the produce we grew and put up this summer. For some of the more exotic food we enjoy, I am always grateful for the UPS person who delivers our packages and is kind and friendly. Less and less though, does it seem right to get food delivered when I know how much it adds to our carbon footprint.
As much as we put up, sometimes, the harvest is so plentiful we struggle for space to put it all up. We continue to be more than a little apprehensive about the fragility of the Earth we call our ‘island home’ so we are planning and preparing for the season of sowing in 2023 that will come as quickly as all the seasons seem to arrive these days. If all the pieces come together, we will have so much!
While I was in Maine last month, mostly driving along country roads, I was very aware of all the little farm stands, that dotted the routes of coastal Maine. They tugged at me. Then, on the last leg of my journey, I stayed in a “Tiny House” in Sorrento, about 45 minutes away from Acadia National Park where I hiked as much as possible. To get out to the road that carried me to Acadia, I drove by a small stand quite different from others I’d seen. The sign on the side only said, “Flowers.” It had a little overhang covered in what I assume was something like “Sunbrella” fabric—bright pink with a floral print, resistant to the elements. It made the stand pop! At first, I just drove by, tickled by its existence. Finally, one day, I stopped and went up to it. There were mason jars filled with beautiful, simple arrangements, and a small sign that said, “Bouquets, $10.00.” I noticed a videocam high in one of the corners of the stand, a piece of technology to pay by credit card, and a money box bolted into another corner.
I couldn’t resist myself—I ultimately bought a bouquet for my godchild, delighted beyond all measure by a ‘shopping experience’ that was both so gracious and easy, and paradoxically, a little unsettling because I couldn’t thank the person who daily gathers and offers her flowers to folks like me.I saw a little post-it pad and pen on the shelf with the flowers and I was glad to at least get to leave a note.
I’ve been back from that glorious trip, for a little over two weeks now. I keep thinking, “I can do that.” Even more, I hear myself say, “I want to do that.”
There are layers and layers of desire mixed together in that small voice. In a week, 12 little biddies will arrive in the mail and if all goes as I hope, by the spring we will have quite a few eggs available each day, way more than Sherod and I can use. If I have learned anything in these 8 years on the farm, I have learned about the abundance of creation (including chickens and chicken poop–endles amounts of it!) My faith instructs me that abundance is for sharing, not hoarding.
There’s also that whole thing about being true to myself, all of me. My extraordinary friend C was an actor from before we started college so she took all kinds of theater courses, including one where she focused on the tech side of theater production. I remember being astounded when she talked about building sets—sawing, and drilling, and hammering, all those good things that go with construction. It was one of the first ways that my very stereotypical understanding of what it means to be a woman was shattered. Increasingly, and especially on this last trip, I have allowed myself to be surprised by all that my body is capable of. There is a deep, quiet joy that goes with the realization that this self, even past middle age and now in the beginnings of the final chapters of life, can do so much. The thought that C. and I could build a stand like the one in Sorrento is at once mind-blowing for me and also very reasonable. We’ plan to take on this project next spring.
I am intrigued by the notion of ‘honesty farm stands’ as some folks call them. My spouseman has already wondered aloud if something like an unsupervised stand can work where we live, one of the poorest counties in the whole country. In the quiet of the insomnia that usually visits a couple of times a week, I have imagined our stand serving as a ‘break-in magnet’ and felt that feather-light touch of fear that makes me hesitate and stumble. Of course, it’s entirely possible that an enterprise like this would fail. But what if we take some reasonable precautions and refuse to let fear make our choices?
Because you see, in the end, for me, this is about extending hospitality to the stranger. I can still hear my Hebrew Scriptures prof at Sewanee, Mr. Griffin, with a voice as beautiful as God’s, speak to us about the phrase, “My father was a wandering Aramean” (Deut. 26:5). Mr. Griffin explained how it reflects a fundamental truth for desert people: you don’t put down roots, you are a nomad, and not only a nomad, but a nomad in the midst of harsh and dangerous desert realities. If you know this is who you are, you also know the imperative of hospitality, perhaps especially to the stranger. You provide for that stranger because it could just as easily be you standing in need, because almost for sure, you will one day depend on the generosity and hospitality of a stranger for your very survival. I may not have lived in the desert, but I know in my bones what it means to be a wanderer.
During the season after Pentecost, the growing season (which in a liturgical church is also called “ordinary time”), we almost always have way more than we need, even if we make provision for storing food for the months when the land lies fallow and the chickens ladies feel too chilly to want to lay any eggs. I may not have a garden like the person whose flower stand brought me such joy in Maine, but there are some weeks in the late spring and early summer when the roses, the daisies, the lavender, and black-eyed susans are just breath-taking. Flowers, some eggs, some blueberries or blackberries, maybe even a few loaves of peach loaf, could bring real delight to others.
It would be nice to get a little cash for whatever I put out. But what really matters is the thought that someone will receive a gift of our land, even if they don’t have the means or will to drop a bit of change in the cashbox. This simple plan feels like a very real way of giving witness, of being grateful for, an abundance that isn’t mine to hoard.
Every Sunday, right before the start of the Eucharistic prayer, the Great Thanksgiving when, I raise the collection plates brought up by the ushers at my church. I say, “All things come of thee O Lord” and the congregation responds, “and of thine own have we given thee.” Maybe a little farmstand almost at the end of Brown Hill Road, will be a way of living that truth out in the corner of Alabama that today I call home.