Sunday, January 18, 2009

Egg Gathering Among Strangers

I KNOW there are worse things. I realize that in the scheme of things that register on the Richter scale of life experience, this . . . well, doesn't register. But in the clean, flourescent ballad of the lonely grocery-shopper, this was an entire verse. I bought grocery store eggs for the first time in 4 years. It was a jolting moment.
I can rationalize up a whole diagram of excuses for why I bought eggs from the store. (I need to get some baking done a.s.a.p; I spent most of the weekend already moving 2 and a half feet of snow out of my various pathways; The signs along the road that read, "eGGs $1.00" are not visible under the 7 foot snow banks at this particular point in time.) But the fact is that I just didn't plan ahead and the grocery store was really convenient.
So, there I was in the grocery store where yuppies go to get great deals, half-expecting to find a local source of eggs, but I found only a multicolored stack of styrofoam that began on the floor and towered over my head. Here is a brief summary of the thoughts that crackled and popped through my brain's circuitry as I tried to select some eggs:
1) "Okay, what does 'Grade AA' mean? Do I get the light blue styrofoam eggs, or the light green? Okay, I'm going for the blue. Blue's pretty. There are more blue ones than green or pink or white."
2) "This guy waiting for me to get out of the way must think I'm a total weirdo."
3) "Right, you're supposed to check to make sure none of them are cracked" (as I looked around to see what the other 4 egg gatherers were doing).
4) "AHHHH! White!"
5) "Hmmm . . . no cracks: good."
6) "Put it back! Put it back! This package has an egg with those small see-through speckles that mean it's like totally more than a month old!"
7) "Actually, do I really believe any one of those zillions of egg cartons are going to be fresher?"
8) "Um, no."
9) "Check the sell-by date. FEB 15 00097776389. Check."
10) "So. These are my eggs. These. Here in my hand. Blue styrofoam: soft."
I really needed a human interaction at that moment to put the smack down on the chorus of voices in my head. (But it was more likely that I would have gotten a 'bow to the ribs for blocking the door to the egg cooler for so long.) The hard part of this experience was that it was a tangible, in-my-face example of how my life is changing. We're moving. I don't have chickens. I don't have any idea where I'll be getting my eggs for the forseeable future. At the moment, lots of other things feel a wee bit out of my control. Grrr.
Like I said, I understand that there are worse things. It's just that 1) Eggs have come from my chicken coop the past 4 years; 2) Lots of people have chickens around here and I really could have found some fresh eggs from backyard hens, easy; and 3) These are the facts of my life in transition. So, while I'm rationalizing, maybe I will chalk this one up to an "anthropological expedition" to discover the modern, suburban methods of egg gathering. And it only cost a buck and nine pennies.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Chapter of Grateful

The Rock Garden Project was named after the many mini-boulders I dug up from the garden over the past 3 years. In the spring, when the vegetation was just a dream, the garden was full of rock sculptures and rock steps. The stones pointed the way to the rows of seeds hiding in the warming soil. Rocks anchored the cold frame plastic. Some rocks still bear faded labels: "cilantro" and "buttercrunch."
I like keeping track of my quest to be one with my food sources. I plan on continuing the quest and the keeping track, but I'm not sure where I'll be growing vegetables next. Over the past few months, without even trying, I started plotting my next moves. And this is what I've come up with.
Looking out the kitchen window into the back yard of the house we rent in mid-Michigan, you see a large fenced-in area. The piles of junk and long strands of dried brown grasses lead me to believe that the landlords (it is their yard, actually) don't garden every inch of it. There will be a conversation in the future, wherein I gently inquire about this garden and its potential for producing for us some fresh veggies. From what I gather, the family is a busy, frugal, do-it-yourself kind of tribe, with not a lot of country living experience. Though, they do have a wandering flock of chickens, peacocks, ducks, guinea fowl, and llamas. There is potential here.
I also have learned that llamas are communal defecators. That is so much more exciting than you might think. They politely perform their poopies in a pile of garden fertilizer! All I have to do is haul it over to the garden!
From what I've gathered about the natural history of Michigan, I will most likely be working on a Sand Garden Project. It was too easy to garden when I owned my own land and animals. Too easy. I'm no longer a landowner; that will make things more interesting. This is really about where my food comes from, so I'm going to continue to document that.
I was really surprised to learn that groceries are about 30% more expensive in East Lansing than in grocery stores north of Syracuse. They are about 10% more expensive than groceries in Pulaski, NY. A couple years ago, after realizing that we're all getting ripped off here at the P&C in Pulaski, I started making trips every 3 or 4 weeks to the Wegman's store in Cicero. I think it's perceived as the more "upscale" store. But the prices and quality were both much better there. But my point is that it is convenient and obvious to go to Meijer for groceries in our new home. It will take a bit of detective work to seek out other sources of food than these most obvious ones.
I'm still interested in the details of our food systems. This move will give me a chance to ask more questions and face more challenges. I can make comparisons between regions as well. I'm thinking of my Amish neighbors here in NY, who provided me with beautiful vegetables when I needed more or my bell peppers were wimpy. The suburban jungle of East Lansing is in sharp contrast to the rural, even wild, landscape of northern Oswego county.

one llama... and the fertilizer pile