Friday, October 20, 2006

The Virtue of Scarcity?

The Community of the Holy Trinity has decided to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program through our local organic food market True Nature Foods and Kings Hill farm. Walking my wife to the train this morning we were talking about why issues of sustainability and industrial farming etc. were not in her awareness until recently and how it was not an issue for her parents. Then she asked about my parents, and it occurred to me that my mother grew up on a farm not unlike Russet House Farm. She has stories of killing chickens they ate, of having a milk cow that they ate when it no longer could produce milk etc. My grandparents always had a garden. Much of this was economical it was more sustainable to own your own cow for milk then to buy milk from the store or dairy, and to grow ones own vegetables.
I also remember going to the grocery store when I was a kid and the grocery store would be out of things that were on our list or we just knew wouldn't be there because it "wasn't the season for it." and we simply didn't have said item for awhile. (and it was not just that the store stocked poorly! So there was no question about going to another store to find it).
As a kid we had a garden, we grew many if not most of the vegetables we ate, canning and freezing preserved the any abundance from the garden, and we did buy frozen vegetables from the store. In some sense what CSA programs are now were something like what my mother new as a child, not that my Grandfather was an "organic" farmer as fertilizers and chemical pesticides were produced and made available he bought and used them, but he saw them as new tools.
My thought is that in some sense what CSA and Russet House Farms and other movements are responding to is to some extent a situation that hardly existed at all when my mother was a child and even young adult and only came into its full horrid reality in my life time. Even I as a child in rural California, in the bit of "Sweden in the Desert", Kingsburg, did not know what is now taken for granted. Even when I was a child in the 70's there was living with the natural cycles of scarcity that anyone much younger than I has no experience of except as the scarcity of exclusion and poverty.
To some extent the abundance we find in our chain grocery stores is a falsehood and an illusion. Scarcity is a good and proper thing, to not have things from time to time is good and natural. Granted as well a certain sort of scarcity (of famine, of drout, of poverty, and of oppression) are not good possibly even evil, but our society and culture has come to view all scarcity as evil and so we never want to go to the grocery store and not find the food we want at that moment. We don't want our water heaters to run out of hot water ever. We don't want to use our water or anything with the thought that we might not have it at time X if we aren't careful with what we have now. This expectation of abundance and denial of the reality of scarcity is foreign to me and I find Dominick's and Jewel chain stores both overwhelming and offensive for this reason.