Friday, June 3, 2011

Watching the Corn Grow

If you drive into the city of Fresno from any direction, you will see the same repetition of scenery in slightly different forms. Highway 99 from the northwest takes you through vistas resembling Napa Valley, with curtains of grape vines stretching for miles-cultivated for any of the fruit's 3 forms of consumption: wine, grape or raisin. Coming in from the West follows a straight, flat highway 180 bisecting the most abundantly fertile land in our country, home to blinding amounts of cotton, tomatoes, lettuce, onions and cantaloupe. Highway 41 stretching into town from the South acts as almost a mirror image of its northern counterpart, Highway 99. Grapes are truly King in Fresno County; so much so, in fact, that there's a little town south of the city aptly named Raisin City. And to the East, slowly crawling up into the Sierra Nevada foothills along Highway 180, are the county's true poster-child: the stone fruits. Now, I have not tried any yet, for 'tis not the season, but I have heard that Fresno county's apricots, plums and peaches are the greatest in the world. "Like taking a bite into a juicy sphere of pure sugar," they say. After having already tasted the strawberries grown here, I trust every word any Fresnan tells me about the quality of fruits. They know their produce.

And I believe that to know your region's produce is the first step toward truly understanding your environment. Ever since I arrived here 4 months ago, I have felt a shift in my perception, my whole way of thinking even, towards food. Perhaps it is the fact that we're completely surrounded by agriculture, but I have noticed that everyone who lives here knows exactly when the best time for oranges is and where the best farm is to get them. People here reacted to the cold snap earlier in the Spring by noting that the strawberries would mature later than usual. They were right. Everyone is well versed in the myriad varieties of cherries, lemons, and oranges.

Maybe this is simply an anthropocentric knowledge of just caring about what we can eat and when, but I believe it's more than that (at the least it's more than what I can say for myself growing up in Connecticut). The seasons are what shape our world. The cycles and ebb and flow of Nature do more than just tell us what and when we can eat; they alter our moods, they release different aromas, they dictate lengths of days, they attract and deter different animal species (human too), they teach us about life. This new-found awareness of the cycle of life has changed the way I look at food. Food is no longer something to stop my stomach from grumbling. Food is life. And life has to be born from a certain location and in certain conditions. Driving into Fresno on any of the highways is like an introduction to life here. To see where my food comes from is to be aware of the subtle changes that bring on the new crops that give life to the region (and much of the US). This is why I make a conscious effort every time I buy food to make sure I know where it is coming from. As you consume that grape, you consume the land where that grape was grown. And now, having been properly introduced to Fresno County grapes and having grown an awareness of my Fresno County surroundings, I much prefer to eat a local one.

Everyday I bike past the Fresno State corn field seeing the stalks getting taller and taller. Right now they are about 5 feet, sprouting tiny ears at the bottom. Everyday I watch, and everyday my mouth waters in anticipation for their harvest and my subsequent visit to the Fresno State produce stand. I understand Fresno for no other reason than I watch its corn grow. I watch how the seasons, climate, soil condition, air quality, etc. here are like no other place on Earth. It is this uniqueness that creates its produce output, thus its food provides me with a glimpse into my environment. Food from anywhere is the visible, tangible, edible life of its surroundings.


  1. Great post, Mr. David. I think you should send this to Nikky Singh. It's always good to hear when others begin to think of food as something more than a means to sate hunger. What we eat might be one of the easiest things to take for granted, but the impact of our food choices is profound and far-reaching, and deserves consideration from many perspectives -- political, moral, economical, environmental. And maybe taste has to figure in somewhere too!

  2. Glad to see you back in the blogosphere Hippobrotamus. Send me some peaches when they're ripe, my mouth is already watering thinking about juicy fruit.

  3. Yay Brot! I am so excited that you are are so excited about food. Awesome post. I might have to plan a visit when the stone fruits are ripe. Yumm.

  4. I hear Mackinaw peaches are better...