July 3, 2014 by Kristen Van De Riet
A bit less than a month ago, before I moved into the intern house on College Avenue, before I weeded my first bed of carrots, transplanted my first row of peppers, or seeded my first tray of butternut squash, I thought I understood the value of food. I knew that refined convenience foods were worthless compared to their nutrient-dense, unrefined counterparts. When I went grocery shopping, I passed by the highly processed, sugar-laden “food-like substances” (as Micheal Pollan would call them) without a second glance. My eyes were, without fail, unfalteringly fixated on the produce section.
Despite my unwarranted confidence at the time, looking back, it is astounding how little I knew about the value of real food. I scouted grocery stores for the lowest prices, determined to eat healthy – and cheap – food. However, if there is one thing I have learned during my time at Eighth Day Farm, it is this: food is never cheap. There is deception behind price tags that proudly proclaim enticingly low prices. When the price of a final product seems impossibly low, its cost does not miraculously disappear. Rather, the cost manifests itself in depleted natural resources, sacrificed nutritional value, or immoral treatment of laborers. The value of food cannot be quantified – and it most definitely is not determined by a price tag.
So, if it is not money, what does determine the value of food? I’ve discovered that the value of a vegetable lies in more than the attributes of the vegetable itself.
It is in the dirt that cakes itself into every fingernail and infinitesimal fold of skin.
It is in the conversation that develops while spending hours together planting potato after potato after potato.
It is in the sore backs that object to stooping down to dig out yet another patch of nutsedge.
It is in the sunburn that emerges after hours toiling under an unoccluded sun.
It is in the sense of contentment that occurs when every row of beans has finally been weeded.
It is in the old, beloved cars that break down after driving to one too many farm potlucks.
It is in the foreheads that bead with sweat after seeding trays upon trays of lettuce in the greenhouse.
And it is in the satisfaction of a day well spent – a day which, regardless of its inevitable difficulties, was a not a day wasted, but a day worth living.