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Continuation. . ."Why Localism?"

Seasonal Living: Your Connection!

Seasons teach us to live in real time. When we purchase strawberries in January, we are not living in real time — perhaps there is even a measure of perverse awkwardness in this act. But in order to acknowledge this, we must first acknowledge seasons. I read about an average man in New York who was unable to acknowledge the current season. Granted, New York seasons are not as distinct as most Canadian seasons, the ignorance speaks of a deeply-rooted problem in a large segment of North American society — a disconnection between land and people. And this disconnect affects how we interact and perceive food. Barbara Kingsolver writes about this disconnect:

  • In two generations we've transformed ourselves from a rural to an urban nation. North American children began their school year around Labor Day and finish at the beginning of June with no idea that this arrangement was devised to free up children's labor when it was needed on the farm. Most people of my grandparents' generation had an intuitive sense of agricultural basics: when various fruits and vegetables come into season, which ones keep through the winter, how to preserve the others. On what day autumn's first frost will likely fall on their county, and when to expect the last one in spring. Which crops can be planted before the last frost, and which must wait. Which grains are autumn-planted. What an asparagus patch looks like in August. Most importantly: what animals and vegetables thrive in one's immediate region and how to live well on those, with little else thrown into the mix beyond a gag of flour, a pinch of salt, and a handful of coffee. Few people of my generation, and approximately none of our children, could answer any of those questions, let alone all. This knowledge has vanished from our culture.

But when people live locally, (i.e. garden or purchase local produce) there is natural healing to this disconnect. For example, summer should infer more than merely camping season, beach time, or those laid-back hazy crazy summer days. Yes, summer is a season to enjoy that much-yearned-for-sunshine and the pleasures it affords. But if that is all that we and our children think of when we think of summer, than we are tragically disconnected from the journey of food and the land on which we live.

Let me give you an example. Ask me if I want to go on a holiday the first two weeks of July, and I will say I can't commit. Even if the holiday were free! At the end of June I begin to make calls. Can you guess why?  Somewhere in the first two weeks of July is Manitoba's strawberry season. And it's a short season, my friends. And if you miss it, you are out "real" strawberries for a whole year! This would mean no strawberry preserves for winter. And if I want to enjoy a strawberry smoothie in January, other than purchasing the ever awkward and cyclically-perverse strawberry in the supermarket, I must be cognisant of the implications of summer. In Manitoba, strawberries are not available in August, and they are not available in September. To risk sounding redundant, they offer us their fruit in July. The strawberries do not rotate around my summer plans. I must honour their time.

Local living invites humans to respect time. Seasonal living is rooted in a cyclical acknowledgement that food is a gift of its respective season. Lauren Winner writes that in order to live seasonally, her first step was to read up on "vegetable birthdays." Vegetable birthdays — love it! Like many North Americans, she was so accustomed to the year-round display of a bright range of produce available at the supermarket that she had no idea which veggie or fruit was in season. Who knew that produce tasted so much better when it has its natural birthday?! Celebrating these "birthdays" is the indispensable link to healing the disconnect between people and land on which we live.

While all of this sounds wonderful, there is a pragmatic aspect to this that hurts and is most unpleasant to the common North American. One word: Restraint. The link that will heal the disconnect between humanity and the land is etched with restraint — a restraint that has nearly vanished from our culture. And what an unpopular notion this is... to the masses. But this notion of restraint will be lived out by responsible consumers and producers who are moved by principle and goodwill — not fear (I find that too many local and environmental ideologies are fear-based). Responsible persons who are willing to be taught by... time.

Go back to more on "Why Localism?"