Sometimes a zucchini is just a zucchini. Sometimes, it’s an insightful metaphor for public policy direction, guiding Minnesota growth and community stability strategies.
I subscribe to a Community Supported Agriculture farm. In return for an upfront share purchase, I receive a weekly box of fresh produce. Moving into fall, I’ve learned that the box yields more than my family consumes.
I’m not alone. I hear the same concern from friends and neighbors, pleased with their CSA vegetable deliveries and the high quality, locally produced diets they provide but worried that they can’t exhaust the box’s contents in a single week. What, we collectively ask, can we do with the excess?
What should be a joy risks becoming a chore.
Take a page from our grandparents’ sustenance strategy book. They understood that food must be preserved for a year’s worth of meals. Garden fresh tomatoes are a unique August-September joy but planting for a year’s needs means that we can’t and won’t eat all of them immediately.
Fresh veggies can be readily preserved for later use. It just takes more work and planning. Freezing is the easy step. Depending on future use, peppers can, after cleaning, deseeding and slicing, be blanched. After several minutes in hot water, pepper pieces are shocked in an ice bath, then bagged and frozen. Some veggies don’t even require blanching although this step retards bacterial growth, even in the freezer.
If you have a deep freezer, you’re already walking the preservation path. Most refrigerators lack the capacity for large-quantity frozen storage. Similarly, home canning is a proven, effective food preservation technique. However, it requires jars, lids, a big pot of boiling water and time enough to can correctly.
Our grandparents had iceboxes, not freezers. Canning was their principal food preservation option. While the technology has demonstrably and unquestioningly improved our lives, technology serves the human experience and not vice versa.
We enjoy extraordinary access to cheap calories, a productivity triumph that now complicates our lives as obesity and its consequences rise. Too much of a good thing is this age’s burden.
Eating better and eating sustainably can intersect. They can also diverge. If I toss out my fresh produce, I don’t just waste the opportunity for a better, healthier meal; I waste the time, energy and fuel required to grow and get it to my table. I waste a tiny slice of our planet’s future.
I pay a financial premium for my locally-sourced CSA produce share. It’s not excessive but it’s more than I would pay for supermarket produce trucked across the country. Consequently, I’m keen to avoid wasting my CSA produce. That means developing a food preservation strategy to compliment daily produce consumption. In other words, I eat many fresh tomatoes but I also blanch, core, skin, deseed and freeze some, too. I’m investing in this winter’s dinner as well as tonight’s.
That’s the public policy lesson. We balance immediate needs and long-term interests. It’s not one or the other but both. Conservative policymakers, on the other hand, minimize community sustaining structural investments like recapitalizing depleted public roads, bridges and buildings. Through their “no new taxes” policy, conservatives prioritize immediate reward over future growth. They expect, in other words, that the weekly box of fresh produce will always arrive, followed by another a week later, ad infinitum.
It’s short-sighted and unrealistic. As policy, the conservative approach compromises Minnesota’s opportunity for expanding economic growth and destabilizes communities. It benefits a few wealthy, high income earners at the expense of everyone else.
Our grandparents had it right. Bounty must be captured, filling stomachs now as well as during the winter. Conservative “no new taxes” policy is the public equivalent of wasting my CSA box’s produce. Given the opportunity, conservative elected state leaders preserved lower tax rates for the rich while forcing local property tax increases. In an accounting dodge, they’ve shifted school funds into future fiscal periods, making schools borrow money to pay bills.
This is no way to run a state.
I don’t eat locally-grown food just for the principle. I eat fresh food because it tastes good and yields other, tangible, important community sustaining benefits. I expect the same of Minnesota’s state public policy. Wasting the chance to create jobs that will, in turn, move Minnesota’s economy move forward is worse than wasting a couple of zucchini. What we lose together is far worse than what we waste individually.