09/03/2009 05:12 am ET Updated 5 days ago

48 hours of Food

Dawn, Saturday - looking outside to savor a brilliant morning. There will be abundant sunshine. I am reminded of the E. E. Cummings poem - when water turns to ice does it remember it once was water; when ice turns back into water, does it remember it was once ice?

Will we remember the intense rains of the past few days? Will the city folk even know how devastating it was to upstate farmers? I am thinking about the connections between upstate producers and downstate consumers; the interdependencies of completely unconnected individuals; the nature of empathy and the lack of empathy in nature.

I downloaded 2 days worth of photos from my camera and was taken aback by the change of scenery and realities that I have been engaged in since Thursday morning. All part of the same cycle - like sunshine, clouds and rain. Yet so diverse and seemingly disconnected, the common elements being only food and me.

Yesterday - opening day for the Friday participants in the Rockefeller Center Greenmarket. For 3-year veterans of this market like ourselves, it only means one thing: Rain. And sure enough, a not so gentle shower greeted us as we off-loaded the truck and began setting up. By 7 AM we were ready to greet early arrivals. Thunder Pickle fans were jubilant and we were excited to introduce some new cousins (like Tomato Jam) to the Katchkie Farm product line.


Then it was time to head north to the farm. Heavy rains greeted me as I drove up Route 9H to Kinderhook. The faces on our farm crew and the dispirited look on the face of Farmer Bob said it all. Mother Nature. The few dry early hours allowed for harvesting produce for the Saturday market in Delmar. A few other small tasks remained, but the day was a washout. Bob and I drove to visit 2 neighbors.

David Rowley, of Monkshood Nursery had a sense of humor as evidenced by his Neptune Harvest t-shirt though one could see more in his tired face and good-natured smile. Fields flooded and business impacted (fewer people in restaurants = smaller wholesale orders) he saluted the impressive greenhouses where he grows the most photogenic cherry tomatoes. Field hands were at work, the 2 Saturday markets would still need to be supplied.


A quick drive to Roxbury Farm illustrated the dramatic impact of the rain in ways words could not. 4" of rain fell in 2 hours on Thursday. This was the day after Wednesday's intense storm. The water had nowhere else to go but to neighboring fields of corn and crops. I am trying to understand how 7" of rain result in fields being submerged under 6-7 feet of water. Grazing cows headed for high ground where they were up to their necks in water until they were rescued.Again, the quiet faces captured the emotion of the past 24 hours: the call to work, the intensity of the moment, and the frustration because they could only react. Months of planning did not include provision for this.


At Katchkie Farm: the pond almost doubled in size; and portions of some fields had pools of water; lots of very soggy ground and the sound rushing water in the various creeks was unusual for mid-summer. This time, we were lucky.

All week long I have fielded questions from different media outlets asking about Tomato Blight. And while the blight is devastating and unique this year, it is symbolic of the never-ending obstacles that farmers confront. A fast and localized hailstorm changes the season for apple growers. Flooded rivers and creeks change the financial outcome for farmers who lose fields of anticipated crops. In May, there was no rain, now there is too much.


Turn back the clock a day to Thursday in New York City and look at where our food travels. Again, dawn is load-in time at another Greenmarket for us - Port Authority Bus Terminal where it is week 7 of this new market. It is uplifting to begin to see familiar faces of commuters who are equally happy to see us. Early sales include our fragrant garlic. It is joyful to share with our new friends, regardless of the hour. One feels the bond growing each week between us as we trade ideas about cooking and favorite dishes.

There are 2 more food experiences to round out the day. I return to the office where the Sylvia Center kitchen is in full swing with a group of campers making zucchini boats, potato salad and peach desserts. All local; all healthy and delicious - and all easy items to make at home with their families. It is a happy kitchen and fragrant smells fill the office along with the sounds of their voices. It is perfect background 'music' for our corporate environment.


At days end, I find my way to the Plaza, we are in the midst of a birthday celebration hosted by a generous billionaire. What more can I say? The team has worked hard to make the evening perfect - and it is flowing smoothly. Seven exquisitely crafted courses embody our local harvest and delicacies beyond. Service, the secret ingredient of hospitality and food preparation, is warm and attentive. The room is amazingly decorated and filled with the most magnificent flowers; we are far from the flooded fields and disconnected from the world of the overfed yet undernourished.


The dichotomy is sometimes overwhelming, but I feel it differently today. There is a common thread in all these experiences - and it is their connection to our journey. Life encompasses so many different moments and realities. I am astonished that in the course of 48 hours I can experience such a diverse range of food experiences that are all a part of my reality where we (my co-workers and co-dreamers) can weave a scene where we connect growers and growing to local eaters, special events and cafe menus; children hungry for knowledge and for good food with teachers hungry to share; and the profits of our business endeavors to the obligations of our social agenda.

The sun came out today. I am thinking about the farmers in our Hudson Valley community who got out of bed this morning and onto their tractors, into the fields, behind the tables in farmers markets - and tacked the challenges of the day. We will all eat three times today. Let us think about Mother Nature and her earthly crew who make it possible.