Every other Wednesday, I drive with a few friends 20 minutes north to Clark Park near ASU, where we pick up our $20 cash fruit and veggie boxes. The box consists of whatever was considered not “grocery quality,” but to me seems like a smokin’ deal. I fill two large cloth bags with fruits and veggies that we honestly have a hard time consuming in two weeks. I take the squash to school and give it away–I like zucchini and crookneck, but all the rest of it is not my jam. When I was six years old, my mom made me eat pureed butternut squash even though I told her it smelled disgusting . . . I had one bite and immediately threw it back up on my plate. (As an adult, I love Trader Joe’s butternut squash soup that tastes more like a dessert.)
The last two boxes I picked up were mostly fruit, and I felt so bad throwing away a whole package of grapes and two mangoes. I was raised not to waste. My grandma and my mom would re-repurpose Sunday’s roast into a casserole to use up the veggies that were going bad. It’s like a game; what new recipe can be created from what’s in the crisper? I love being busy in the kitchen and am happiest working in the kitchen and creating something delicious to be enjoyed by my family (music blaring and kitchen dancing always).
Whenever I have to throw away produce that’s gone bad, I feel really bad. It feels like poor planning . . . and I do consider people in the World who are starving. Recently, I think about the powerful exhibit at our Phoenix Art Museum in 2014 by Don Coen about migrant workers. Because I was working as a docent at the museum at that time (“docent” means giving educational tours—I gave student tours), I was fortunate to not only meet the artist but also attend the tour training given by the artist himself. The huge portraits of migrant workers (whom he followed across the U.S.) are painted with brushes and then airbrushed to overlay the images in veils of color. He paints the young and the old, and while he was creating his art works, he formed relationships with these people who work for terrible wages and for long hours to bring us our fresh fruit and vegetables. It is a labor of love for him, which you can see in these large-scale portraits. This exhibit took over our third floor and was only there a few months; each time I visited the museum I spent a great deal of time studying the art and reading the biographies of these workers.
This may seem like a complete segue, but it’s not: I was feeling so stressed at school today (man, our students at this point are just so incredibly LOUD and they aren’t listening and it will get better but OMG it’s been really hard) that during my 25-minute lunch time instead of chatting and lunching with Andrew in our classroom, I grabbed my purse, walked down the hallway, and yelled over my shoulder, “I’m going for a drive!” He asked where I was going. “Not sure. I just need to drive and sing so loud with the radio.”
So I did that. And not far from our school is a very special place called The Farm at South Mountain. The first time I went there for lunch in the 1990s, there were no buildings around it; just miles of the Chinese flower farms. It was magical. When I first got my driver’s license, I would drive down Baseline Road, windows down, and just inhale the sights and scents. The Farm has been a special, favorite place for me 30 years. Today with no intention at all, I ended up at The Farm. It was far too hot to park and walk the acres of pecan grove, but I drove the length of the drive all the way back to the swank restaurant, Quiessence, and paused to admire their huge, organic garden, which provides the fruit and veg for their restaurants. Connecting with nature always helps me center. My serenity was restored, and I drove back to school and was able to finish my day with composure and patience. I’m sending out good karma to ALL the teachers during these first difficult weeks of school. Find peace wherever you can.