Backsliding With the Best

Even the super-green have their dirty little (very little) food secrets

I really do try, pretty hard, to do the green thing when I eat. For example, I buy the one-pound bag of baby carrots, not the four little individual bags banded together with a giant sticker, cute as they are. And I try to drink locally brewed beer, and only buy donuts that come in recyclable paper boxes.

Something I've noticed about myself, though, in all matters of discipline or vice, is that things backfire if I am too rigid. Trying to diet? Can't deny myself that brownie, or I'll soon be eating half a cake and a bag of Doritos, besides. Decided to start working out? Have to let myself sleep through at least one 6 a.m. water aerobics class per week, or I'll promptly call and cancel my YMCA membership.

This system—sort of—works for me, and I was thinking of how it applied to green food habits early last spring, when I went to the Beardsley Community Farm off Western Avenue to talk to farm manager Ben Epperson and a handful of AmeriCorps workers—Beth Hilliard, Jeff Martin, Frank Callo—about sustainable farming. Back then, they were tilling the ground for community farmers, and harvesting some lettuce and early potatoes and whatnot they supplied to charitable organizations. We oohed and ahed over their brand new composter and talked about how Callo rides his bike to work, every day, rain or shine. I was mulling over what it would take for me to be able to be this dedicated to environmentally conscious food production—at least one major slip-up, maybe per day, maybe per half hour—and decided I would draw them out. What did they let slip every now and then?

"For myself," I almost said, just to get the conversation rolling, "I eat red meat. And I can't help ordering those vanilla diet Cokes, even though they come in extra-large Styrofoam cups. And..."

But before I could speak, Callo did. "Every now and then," he said, "I just have to have a trashy snack cake," and the others nodded solemnly.

Martin looked stricken, but soldiered on. "I, er, still buy produce out of season once in a while."

And Hilliard topped them all. "I sometimes clean the counter with—paper towels!"

I'm reminded of the contrast between my green and their green on my second visit to Beardsley in late October. New AmeriCorps workers, same old Ben, now demonstrating how to gather seed and plant cool-weather crops, and showing off a new solar dehydrator.

"We are drying herbs to put into soup packets to extend our donation season," he says. "Three types of basil, thyme, oregano, a very slight amount fennel and rosemary. We'll be combining them with garlic—we started that in November and harvest it in early spring—dried peppers, and tomatoes. We may put some dried greens in there. You can add a packet to beans and stock, and it makes a truly delicious soup or stew." The soup starters will make their way to Family Promise, a rehab center for homeless families, a family crisis center, an after-school program for low-income families. And they'll go to anyone who swings by to work for a while at the farm. Like me, only all I've done so far is talk, and still Epperson is welcoming me and everyone else to take as many cool weather crop seedlings home as I'd like—broccoli rabe, mustard greens, cauliflower.

Which I do, and because I'm trying to follow the Beardsley Farm example, I only accidentally let one four-pack freeze before I get it into the ground, which is enough of a mess-up that I plant the other, er, 18 plants.

As I'm leaving, Epperson is fretting. "I haven't grown any bay this season. The packets would probably be better with a bay leaf." That's okay, Ben. Everyone has their faults.