Make Me a Plate

I really enjoy hearing people’s food memories. It’s a simple way to connect over something absolutely universal and it inevitably becomes a very personal conversation.

My most vivid food memory is from when I was little, returning to New Orleans from San Diego every Mardi Gras and smelling eggs, grits, sausage, toast and coffee wafting up the stairs and permeating every crevice at my grandmother’s Uptown 2-story double house. The windows were often open to circulate the air, but that never diminished the beckoning power of that savory aroma. It let me know it was time for breakfast. I got to see my Paw-paw (grandfather), though he was no longer married to, nor lived with my grandmother, and my Marran (godmother), but hardly ever my Parran (godfather). It was time to watch Rev, the old man who rented the front room from my Grandma, head out in his 3-piece suit and matching hat to parts unknown (to me at least). It was time to dive in to what was probably not SUCH an amazing a meal, but to me, it was absolutely everything.

I grew up in an apartment in San Diego, an only child to a single mother. Things got fancy at my place when we had Waffle-O’s for breakfast and not her favorite, Corn Flakes. She cooked, but it was what I could characterize as “survival cooking”. Mom became expert at a couple of meals that she made up. My favorite of them was smoked sausage in red gravy over rice (which wasn’t really red gravy at all – it was just jarred tomato sauce; and yes, now I know there is a difference). Otherwise, we did Swanson’s TV dinners a lot so we would not miss an episode of important shows, Arby’s because there were coupons in the Sunday paper, Jack-in-the-Box because it was on the way to my school, and a fair amount of Hamburger Helper.

Having a big breakfast that wasn’t from McDonald’s and didn’t come with a side of donuts was an anomaly. It being home cooked was amazing, again not because the food was so incredible, but mainly because it was a time to catch up on the “news”.

More of my grandmothers’ friends and neighbors had fallen invariably ill, some had relocated to be closer to their children, some had died. The new hotspot was the Senior Center where grandma was learning to paint and enjoy her crotchet circle. My Marran was well into her 30s and still not married. She spun lavish tales of her job at the shoe store on Canal Street and her “near misses” to her settling down. She and my Parrain hadn’t spoken since 1973 (which could be an exaggeration) when he broke off their engagement to marry another woman. But far as she knew, they had some kids, lived someplace, and seemed to be happy. My Paw-paw would only ever talk enough to say hello, ask us how we were doing, and complain about my grandmother just enough to irritate her, then head off to his new family (to be fair, he had been married to whoever she was a good 20 years by then).

What I mean is that this wasn’t just about the food – it was the feeling and experiences that came with the food being there on the plate, on the table, in the kitchen, with my family, that sticks with me. That feeling of connectedness, a sense of belonging. And no matter how the characters change or what the actual food is in the memory, that is exactly what I remember: the togetherness. And so we learn from our family and pass on our traditions across the table, just as you would pass the peas.

For instance, we had milk or water with meals – never wine, soda, or juice. The only wines I recall were Manischewitz or those gallons of Gallo, so no great loss there. But Grandma would hide her pink canned Tab sodas in her room, so that no one else would drink them. She was on a fixed income and was a diabetic so she needed her Tab. I learned soda was reserved for special occasions and certainly not to be consumed willy-nilly.

There was no drinking any of whatever you had before you had cleaned your plate. This was along the same vein as “having eyes bigger than your stomach”, which was a major sin punishable by stern reprimand, about don’t waste food because it was hard to come by. Now, as an adult, I look back and see that my grandmother had survived the Depression. She lived in a time long before mass food production, for her there was no such thing as food waste, and everybody had a Victory Garden. Food really was hard to come by and growing it was hard work. So I learned to be respectful of the value of food; it is to be consumed consciously and intentionally; it is not to be discarded carelessly.

We said thanks to the cook and Grace before eating, no matter what the meal. If Rev was around, he would lead the prayer, but it was generally just an expression of gratitude to have something to eat. It wasn’t until I got my first job and my own apartment that I understood intense gratitude for having food. I learned appreciation.

My food habits started when I was a kid, but they evolved much more when I had children of my own. My kids wake up to the smell of baking quick breads, muffins, or even granola fairly often. They understand that “eating with the seasons” means we only have blueberry pancakes in the summer and pecan pie muffins in the Fall because that’s when the fruit/nut is available. They know that crawfish is a spring thing, but shrimp and okra smothered with creole tomatoes is a gift that summer has to offer.

For me, it’s still not just about the food – it’s about what comes with it. It’s the zany stories from the family, about knowing who you are and who your family is. It’s still about being respectful of food and learning to consume it consciously and intentionally. It is still about gratitude and appreciating the greatness in the most humble constructions and presentations…just like I did then and do now.

 

THANKS – for another AMAZING year!

cheers editedWe here at RFC send out a BIG THANKS to all our supporters, collaborators, volunteers, partners and friends. All the things you do – from writing letters asking policy and lawmakers to make important changes to weeding in our community gardens – support our many projects and programs nationwide! Check out our national and local newsletters highlighting the many recent exciting accomplishments and events this year!

So here’s to you and yours this holiday season – we are thankful and grateful, and look forward to an exciting 2016!!

RFC Awarded USDA Grant – Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden Visits!

Dep Sec Hardin at GLNFebruary 2nd was an exciting day for us here at the Recirculating Farms Coalition. We learned that we’d been awarded a New and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to supporting training and mentoring for urban farmers in innovative growing methods like recirculating hydroponics, aquaculture and aquaponics, combined with traditional soil-based farming. AND the announcement came with an in-person visit from USDA’s Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden and various USDA staff from Louisiana and Washington, DC! Read USDA’s press release here.

Deputy Secretary Harden, accompanied by Louisiana and Washington, DC staff, toured RFC’s community garden, spoke with food and farm project leaders and enjoyed assorted treats prepared with ingredients from local farms.

Shout out to the various local farms and food businesses that provided food for our menu:

7th Ward Boys and Girls Garden – 7th Ward, New Orleans; Capstone Community Gardens – 9th Ward, New Orleans; Grow Dat Youth Farm – City Park, New Orleans; Growing Local NOLA – Central City, New Orleans; Happy Hen Farm – St. Rose, LA; Inglewood Farm – Alexandria, LA; Landry-Poche Strawberry Farm – Ponchatoula, LA; Locally Preserved – New Orleans; Schwars Citrus – Braithwaite, LA; and VEGGI Farmers Cooperative – New Orleans East!

The Deputy Secretary spoke to a diverse crowd of farmers, educators, community members and press on this initiative to train, mentor, and enhance the success of future farmers and ranchers. See video here.

“As new farmers and ranchers get started, they are really looking to their community for support. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program empowers these farmers and ranchers to bring innovative ideas to the table when it comes to addressing food security, creating economic enterprises, and building communities,” said Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden. ”

Our Executive Director Marianne Cufone followed with thanks and appreciation for the grant, the visit and for everyone who works so hard in the food farming community:

“I want to first thank Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden and the rest of the USDA folks for coming here, to New Orleans, to make these announcements. Highlighting our community and supporting training and mentorship in farming here is so important for us all to have access to healthy fresh affordable food, and for our farmers to be both ecologically and economically sustainable. We are very excited about being part of the New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

I also very much thank all of you for joining with us here. You are each a critical piece of the food and farming community and the time, energy and heart you put into this work has empowered us all to create green spaces, more good local food and perhaps most importantly, a network of friends, colleagues and partners, who work together to grow literally and collaboratively in this City and beyond.

There are so many innovative, amazing projects and programs in food and farming that you all make happen – I look forward to us all sharing them this morning with each other, Deputy Secretary Harden and the rest of the USDA staff.

Thank you so much for all that you do!”

We’ll be posting more pix from the event on our Facebook page and you can read our press release about the event here.

THANKS!!!

The Recirculating Farms Coalition is very thankful for all of you – our members, supporters, friends, partners, colleagues, staff and all those who help us accomplish important goals every day. Our Coalition has grown so much in a very short time, and it is entirely due to the commitment and hard work of many people who genuinely believe in recirculating farming as an innovative green growing method. We here at the Coalition so appreciate your support and look forward to many more successes that we can be thankful for in the future!

THANKS!!!