[Warning – I’m about to talk a lot about miso. I cannot promise that the title is where the ‘miso happy’ jokes will end.]
Last weekend, Mike and I went to visit his godfather, Christian. [I am tempted to go on a tangent here about how I love the idea of godparents, less for the what-to-do-with-our-kids-if-we-die idea and more for the way-to-involve-friends-formally-in-your-family idea, but I’ll stop myself.] Christian is a homesteader and the owner/operator of the largest miso factory in the U.S., South River Miso. You can find jars of his miso in Whole Foods and the like. Mike’s parents know Christian from the Boston macrobiotic food movement, in which they were deeply involved in the mid to late 70s, and Mike grew up going to school with Christian’s son.
The land that their home and factory is located on is incredible. Their house was built by hand (with a little help from friends) and therefore reflects their personality and lifestyles perfectly, and everything overlooks the South River. It was an especially gorgeous day, I recognize that, and although it did take a fair amount of driving to get there (it’s pretty isolated) it was impossible not to idealize the lifestyle. Mike and I were both having visions of living like his family someday – and soon, we will be, to a certain extent. It was just hard to imagine why anyone would want to live in any other way.
We got a tour of the miso factory (and I ate some of their miso on rice this evening – it’s amazing) and then we walked around the land with Christian and his son, Isaiah. Mike and Isaiah hadn’t seen each other in years but fell right into step. We got a tour of the land, including the cabin which Isaiah proudly told us he had been born in, and the adjacent farm.
I am unclear if the farm resides on their land or if they simply have an agreement with the folks that run it but, regardless, both families happily share the land. The farm itself is a CSA and the folks that run it don’t use any machinery – everything is done by hand or with the help of three very large horses. Christian’s family is free to take food from the farm at any time and they also have a regular share in the CSA.
I was a little wide-eyed and overwhelmed throughout all this. The only time I have ever really been on a farm is on a field-trip in elementary school. Walking around and seeing the huge system that is actually involved with running a farm – horses to plow, pigs, chickens, rows and rows and rows of vegetables, seedlings in greenhouses, various structures (all built by hand), meadows manually cleared for animal grazing, even bee-keeping! Totally overwhelming. I didn’t know anything about anything and yet this system is something I take part in three times a day, every day, by eating its products. It was a little terrifying, to realize just how out of touch I was. I think I thought I knew but I didn’t. Unknown unknowns.
We picked our lunch according to what was ripe, ready, and delicious looking. It having been an incredible summer for agriculture, we had an overabundance to choose from. Armed with a basket and a knife, we chose heads of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, herbs, and more, eating greedily as we walked. Have you ever eaten lettuce 15 minutes after it has been cut? It’s unreal.
Perhaps the most mind-blowing part of the day for me, however, was the rice. Christian is growing rice. In New England. Rice. He has a series of experiments going – some rice has been planted directly while others have been grown into seedlings in a greenhouse before planting. He has a rice patty, fed from the river, but he is also growing rice without a patty. While there are varying levels of success, they are all growing. In case that last sentence wasn’t clear enough – he is growing rice in New England just by planting a seed in the ground.
The rice he grows is for his consumption (it is not used in making the miso) but he grows more than he and his family can eat in a year and gives much of it away. We had some for lunch (delicious!!!) and Christian’s wife, Gaella, spoke with us about how fresh the rice tastes when compared with rice from elsewhere. Have you ever considered how fresh your rice tastes? This is a concept that had literally never occurred to me. Rice freshness. Another unknown unknown.
As if to prove just how unique this rice growing is, a group showed up during lunch just to look at the rice. Rice-peepers. They recorded the interaction and, thankfully for us, put it on YouTube. Watch these. For real. First, some background video and then the day that we were there.
There are days, like these, when I realize how different my life is because Mike is in it. I never, ever would have had an opportunity to do something like this if I didn’t know him. I might not even care. But I am so thankful for this new information and for the perspective he has given me.
As we were leaving, Mike and I waded in the river with Isaiah. Isaiah is also an urbanite and we were talking about his desire to be involved in the business and to keep the land. To do what Christian does involves giving up a lot. He works all day every day – there is never a day off as a farmer or as an entrepreneur. I don’t know if I could do it. I love libraries but part of the reason I chose it as a profession was for the lifestyle it will allow me to lead. When I am home, I will be home, away from work.
We’ll see how three months in Baja will affect my thinking. I think Mike and I will be incorporating aspects of our life there, and aspects of how Christian lives, into ours when we return. But only time will tell how and to what extent.