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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Value

“That will be five dollars,” I say, handing the woman a plastic shopping bag of straight-neck yellow summer squash.
She turns up her nose a little bit, hesitating before pulling a bill out of her wallet, and holding it out to me. These are the first fruits of the season, finally harvested after hoeing up the ground into mounds, pulling grass, planting seeds, watering, mulching with horse manure, and hours of squishing squash bugs and scraping clusters of eggs off of leaves. I look down at the waxy yellow squash in the bag fondly as though they are my children, finally mature and ready to send off into the world. I want to admonish this woman holding out Lincoln’s bony face to me: I hope you can cook. You better not leave these unattended on the stove. You better not cook them in the microwave. Deep fry them. Grill them. Bring out their best flavor. I sullenly hand over the bag and take the bill from her as though trading my livelihood for a piece of paper.

I initially intended to start selling produce from the Neighbor’s Field at Jubilee at the new monthly Clarkston Farmer’s Market on the last Sunday of every month, where many of the growers in the field already have friends and potential customers who would be a good market for some of the specialty crops they grow and could purchase them on EBT. However, as I talked to the growers about the possibility of selling at this new market, many were excited about the idea of selling their surplus produce, but adamant that they did not want to sell anything on a Sunday. One woman told me, “Sah Yay Shu ta eh bah—Jesus doesn’t like it.”
There is great wisdom in the practice of taking a day of rest or refraining from certain practices for a one day every week, but in the world I come from the idea of stores being closed or transactions ceasing on Sunday is an antiquated fantasy. It feels like a tragedy to turn away from such an opportunity as the market simply because of the day of the week. I want to tell my friends in the Neighbor’s Field that the world of no selling and buying on Sundays is dead and that they should assimilate to the modern world. However, If I recall all of my attempts to set aside a day of rest with any consistency, I run up against the reality that all have failed and I often rather fall into the tendency of many Americans to overwork myself and dismiss mindfulness and gratitude as unnecessary luxuries. I decided to start selling at the much smaller and low-traffic Comer Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. Several growers contribute their produce to the market table but no one seems to quite share my excitement about the idea of selling their vegetables for supplemental income and perhaps eventually in lieu of the chicken plant.
After bringing in a meager sum at my first market, I return to Atlanta to spend the weekend with some of my closest gaw lah wah friends. Although all of us would claim to be critical of the consumerism in our society, but we spent much of our time together shopping: wandering around downtown Decatur, stocking up at the natural food store, REI, and wrapping it all up with a late night ice cream run. It is as though this demon is wired into our nature. It is the primary skill we possess and the practice that we fall back into unless we intentionally avoid it. We lost something of the intimacy of friendship and time spent together while filling our empty baskets.
Shopping as recreation is the most explicit manifestation of the disease of consumerism. As we give ourselves over to this disease, we surrender ourselves and all of creation at the feet of Babylon. Our economy is no longer based on the simple exchange of goods and the valuing of unique skill sets and resources, but on the lust of corporate empires. We must to find new creative ways to share our resources and abilities with each other in recognition of the relational value of these things, in recognition of the human dignity of the participants in the economy.
The garden welcomes me back at the beginning of the week with new Bermuda grass to pull from the mounds and many more ripe squash jutting out from under the leaves. I kneel in the unkempt dewy grass and pull weeds up by the root from the squash mounds. I pull out a kitchen knife and sever the ripe fruits from the plants, refilling the empty basket from the market with plump yellow squash, which might be fried, marinated, grilled, perhaps even pickled. This is a labor of love which never be compensated by the dollar, but only by the deep peace that comes from willing the land to spring forth with good food.
An old Karenni man meanders down the hill, his head wrapped in a stocking cap and a watering can swinging in his hand, as he does most every morning. I know he cannot speak a even a little bit of English, so I simply wave and smile as he enters the gate and he holds up his hand in return before loosening the spigot to fill his watering can. We come to this field with unspeakable wounds, but in working this soil, there is healing.

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