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Of the Earth: In search of fresh native corn, and a just farm bill

  • Nicole Ciesluk and David Grover in Ciesluk’s Market in South Deerfield. The store opened in May, offering bakery, deli, ice cream and grocery items. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • David Grover waits on a customer in the deli of Ciesluk’s Market in South Deerfield on May 23. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Ciesluk’s Market in South Deerfield opened in May. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The Ciesluk’s Market crew, fresh and local all the way: (From left to right) David Grover, Ashley Barrington, Abbie Fydenkevez and Nikki Ciesluk. For the Recorder/Wesley Blixt

  • BLIXT BLIXT



For the Recorder
Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Has anybody seen the 2018 farm bill lately? We could have sworn it was around here somewhere. We’ve looked everywhere. My dear Sadie thought it might have fallen behind the couch with the stray popcorn kernels, the cable bill and other detritus. We looked. It wasn’t there.

Last we knew, it was right behind the compromise immigration bill before the House of Representatives, and was next in line for a vote. But that was in early June.

Wait, this just in ... the Senate on Thursday passed its version of the farm bill, one that retains the food stamp program — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) — essentially as is. The bipartisan vote was 87 to 13. The House, by contrast, voted June 21 to approve a version of the bill that would impose dramatic new work requirements on those receiving food stamps, including those up to age 59 and those caring for children. The House version, which quietly passed on a straight Republican vote, would also put new limits on state governors’ ability to waive work requirements in economically depressed areas.

It is the House bill, you will recall, that was kept under strict Republican wraps until the last moment, much to the dismay of Congressman Jim McGovern, among others.

Anyway, while I was waiting to hear about the farm bill, I thought I’d check in on the local corn crop. I have it on reliable authority that the first of the season’s sweet corn will be available today, Friday at the latest. The hot weather, apparently, pushed it across the threshold of maturity.

The date, of course, depends on the grower and the micro-climate — the “corn terroir” — but by our reckoning, the first day of corn season is always when the big, grinning corn sign goes up at the Ciesluk Farmstand on Routes 5 and 10 in Deerfield.

The corn sign always makes us feel good, reminding us that the old dictum “knee high by the fourth of July” is as antiquated as a prompt bi-partisan farm bill. The sign also makes us feel like we are living in a big, buzzing, happy Robert Crumb cartoon.

Sadie and I moseyed down to the other end of Deerfield to see how the other Ciesluk — Nicole, better known as Nikki — is doing with her newly opened market just off the Town Common in South Deerfield. The heir to a string of somewhat tired, if competent, food markets at site, Ciesluk’s Market is bright, airy and stocked full for local vegetables, baked goods, meat and yogurt — not to mention an ice cream shop featuring SoCo Creamery ice cream from Great Barrington. It’s the kind of place you like to hang out out, have a cup of coffee and a deli sandwich, and that’s apparently what folks are doing.

“People are taking the orders outside to the Town Common and spending a lot more time there,” Ciesluk said.

It’s not entirely unreasonable to note the impact the nearly $900 billion farm bill has, even on idyllic scenes like the one on the South Deerfield Town Common and at gathering places like it throughout the country. Aside from the fact that more than 12 percent of our friends and neighbors rely on SNAP, the program also impacts our growers and food retailers, not to mention an alphabet soup of social services. Then there’s soil and other resource conservation, Extension, rural development and efforts to stem the opioid crisis in rural communities. All are funded under the farm bill. And the stand-off is anything but a predictable event for which we are well prepared. The last farm bill was passed in 2014, and was praised as an example of one thing Democrats and Republicans could agree on.

Get out, stand up

The Free Harvest Supper of locally grown food is on Aug. 26, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the Greenfield Common, and now is a great time to both save the date and sign up to volunteer. T he volunteer coordinator for the Free Harvest Supper, Shirley Holmes, reminds us that it takes a lot of people to make/serve/set up/clean up/etc. for a fabulous free meal for 1,000 of our neighbors. To volunteer, contact Holmes by email at: Redhairedgirl19@yahoo.com.

From behind the couch

Another thing we hoped we’d find behind the couch was all the lost recipes that we hoped you had been sending us, but had been misplaced. We looked. They weren’t there. With a couple notable exceptions, we have gotten few local recipes, and we need them to survive. Our editor hungrily eyes this space, which is only as good as its reader participation. Thank you!

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at wesleyblixt@me.com.