It was well over a year ago that I first got a look at the painting destined to grace this issue’s cover. Helen Krayenhoff’s startlingly beautiful portrait of an autumn haul from the farmers’ market speaks eloquently of the season’s gifts to hungry creatures. (Yes, squirrels and bears are enjoying those now as well.)
Throughout the year, as I looked again and again at Helen’s painting in anticipation of sharing it here, I noticed that a word kept floating above it in my mind, one that did not connect in any obvious way to fall produce. The word is “conviviality.” Oddly enough, as this issue gradually took shape, a theme of congenial and symbiotic relationships appeared to hover around one story after another.
First, I should say that I count Helen and her partner Peggy Kass, the Tomato Gals of Kassenhoff Growers, among my personal friends, but I also know that when they are selling their plant starts at the farmers’ market, the day’s profits include a lot of goodwill and satisfying relationships with both customers and other market vendors. It’s part of the ethos of the market that the farmers and other food producers trade leftover goods, stories, and general amity throughout the day and especially as they pack up to head home. As shoppers, we walk into that convivial environment, and I, for one, find it hard to get away with anything less than too much booty. That in turn generates an urge to fashion it all into a convivial feast to share with whomever is available to celebrate a long summer evening.
Conviviality had been popping up during a series of winter and spring road trips with my friend Mary Tilson, which landed us at a special Tahoe Airbnb. Through conversation with our vivacious hostess, Suzanne Lo Coco, we became acquainted with her father, the now departed Giovanni Lo Coco, an entertaining East Bay chef whose family members keep him alive through raucous storytelling. Sharing some of those engaging tales in this issue has been one of the great pleasures of our editorial process.
Friendship is dyed into the wool at two entwined local businesses, Preserved and Broth Baby, as writer Rachel Trachten tells us in her story about entrepreneurs Elizabeth Vecchiarelli and Cassandra Gates and their mutual support system. Such connections can make all the difference in how a business thrives, and I see it happening throughout our local food community, whereever sharing is employed as a strategy.
Alix Wall’s story about Chef Tu David Phu reminded me about how communal tables, a hallmark of the pop-up/underground dining scene, are places where connections form. Recently, I found myself making new friends around such a table at one of Philip Gelb’s Sound and Savor vegan dinners in West Oakland. As he does each summer, Phil was featuring the luscious heirloom stone fruits from Masumoto Family Farm, and that brought me back to the time a decade ago to when I made the trek to the Central Valley to help harvest peaches from trees stewarded under farmer Mas Masumoto’s unique “adopt a tree” program. There’s no question that harvesting under the hot summer sun is hard work, but it also can be a powerful social event as it was that day and has been on many other such occasions.
That leads me to something we didn’t have space for in our events section this issue. Crop swaps are a great way to knit together a neighborhood of home gardeners and make food production something to appreciate as participants. This season’s crop swaps list is on our website under the Gardening tab.
The chiaroscuro of Helen’s painting is part of what creates its richness. As she says in her artist statement, those variations in light are what allow us to see the shapes around us. But shadows of the future are another story. I’ve been dwelling on what Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market might foretell for our food systems. Do we really want robots to do our shopping for us? Are we prepared for the undoing of that matrix of human connections that has tied together our food systems for centuries? I’m no Luddite, but I fear for a time when people have no choice but to rely on digital technology to get their nourishment. Options are already on the decline in many rural and inner city areas of our country where mom-and-pop stores are no longer viable businesses and chain grocers are reluctant to replace them. Human efforts and interactions are part of our nourishment. I hope we can keep growing, harvesting, shopping, cooking, and eating together. ♦
Happy harvest season,
Cheryl Angelina Koehler