With Which We Measure

by Marykate Smith Despres, Salem Depot

A peck is equal to eight dry liters or two gallons. Four pecks makes a bushel. In the US, a peck measures dry goods such as apples, beans, or peppers.

At the Coop, we measure our produce in pounds, bunches, ears, and pints. But we don’t use pecks. I once belonged to a CSA out in the western part of the state that did use pecks and half pecks as standards by which to weigh our fruits and vegetables. A twenty-year-old kid from Jersey, I swooned, my knees nearly buckled, the first time I picked up my vegetables, still dusty with summer dirt, and offered up for the taking in units of measure that seemed quaintly, romantically anachronistic.

It is easy for those of us who grew up in cities and suburbs to romanticize places and processes by which we get our food. I would guess that some of this naivete is what keeps coops and CSAs in business. Farmers need us to value them, their work, the literal fruits of their labor. But they also need us to believe in farming, in small, family-owned and operated business, in the idea that local entrepreneurship that is better for our community and our environment.

I believe in all of this. But I also believe in charm.

I like aesthetics. I like the way kale looks in a fresh, wet bunch better than how it looks pre-chopped in a plastic bag. I like the idea of picking my produce out of bins, under a tent by the train tracks better than out of the refrigerated case, under florescent lights in the supermarket. It reads better.

Does that make me vain? Maybe. And maybe it’s OK to like being a part of a Coop both because it’s better for my local and global community and because it makes for a nice narrative. I am aware of both the politics and the poetics of food. They are equally important to me. If you haven’t let yourself delight in the self-awareness of carefully selecting and weighing your peppers and then dropping them, one at a time, into your bag in the late afternoon, end-of-summer light, try it. Indulge in the idea of it. You’ll still be supporting farmers and local food. I promise.