One Saturday in August, some time around 1960, my mother loaded my three brothers and me into the back seat of our family’s dark green four-door 1950 Dodge Meadowbrook and took us on some errands. My mother, blessed be her memory, had limitless courage, and she exercised it regularly in raising four boys.
One of the stops was a produce stand that we knew as Hacker’s Farm. I don’t know how many times we made this particular stop, but we might have made it more than once because I can remember the location: the west side of Broad Street in Clifton between Colfax Avenue and Van Houten Avenue. I can also remember the proprietors. They looked like farmers: The skin on their faces and arms was tanned and leathery.
We had stopped to get corn on the cob. That was how we referred to fresh sweet corn back then. It was a huge treat and we were probably allowed only one ear apiece. We took it home, shucked it, and enjoyed it that day.
Fresh sweet corn is still one of those treats, like peaches and cantaloupes, that doesn’t appear often in the grocery stores in the off season. If it does, you can be pretty sure that it is dry and bland tasting, so we avoid it. Something I read recently reminded me that it is only within my lifetime that we’ve been able to get strawberries, apples, tomatoes, lettuce, and many other varieties of perishable produce pretty much year-round.
Much ink, digital and literal, has been spilled in recent years about the virtues of eating locally grown seasonal produce exclusively or primarily. That’s wonderful for about six months out of the year, and even toward the end of those six months it becomes challenging as the farmers markets, produce stands, and CSA shares fill up with things like kale and collard greens and other vegetables that might better be treated like controlled substances. Nonetheless, it’s a valuable and important discipline.
To a certain extent we subscribe to that discipline, although we eat our share of frozen and canned vegetables when the fresh varieties are not available, and we consider carrots, onions, and celery to be staples that we will purchase year-round. Then, too, what would chili be without fresh peppers? Still, we avoid eating apples in the spring and summer, for example, and we don’t eat much salad in the winter and early spring.
We don’t can fruits or vegetables, and we don’t have a big freezer, so we are limited in what we put aside for later. I make an exception for raspberries, because our bushes are loaded with blossoms and immature berries right now. It is so good to pull a few raspberries out of our freezer and add them to the pancakes in January or February.
Helping increase the local supply of fresh produce, and making it available to urban families, is why we have been volunteering for City Green and working at their Shultheis Farm facility. Which brings this post back to Hacker’s Farm. It took me most of the summer to make the connection, but at the far end of the lower farm field at Shultheis Farm, beyond the space set aside for community gardens, there are two small apartment buildings. Those apartments were built on the plot of land that was occupied by the Hacker’s Farm produce stand. That might well mean that some of the ground that we have been planting, weeding, mulching, and fertilizing most Wednesdays was once part of Hacker’s Farm, or was adjacent to Hacker’s farm, and it’s entirely possible that the corn that my brothers and I enjoyed that long-ago August Saturday came from that same ground. I think that’s pretty cool.
Thanks for reading.