Daily Hampshire Gazette Guest Column:
Tastes Like Freedom
By MARY A. NELEN
(Published in print: Monday, December 29, 2014)
EASTHAMPTON -- Summer people line up under a leaf canopy on the green.
An al fresco supper awaits them. Sunflowers hold down 40 fluttering
tablecloths and a hula-hoop woman cavorts with a red-headed boy in
face paint. Laughter is heard over an insatiable appetite for heirloom
tomatoes and pedigree peaches.
It's high summer, the kombucha is being poured and everyone is happy
in the city of Greenfield. Last year over 1,000 souls were served at
Free Harvest Supper, an annual event, where food left over from the
harvest is shared with one and all, rich and poor.
It all started years ago when someone whispered something to someone
else at a Saturday morning peace vigil. That somebody was Juanita
Nelson. She was spending Saturday as usual, marching around in front
of the green. Juanita and others carried hand-made signs that read
“End Violence Now!” and “Guns into Plowshares.” Cars and pickup trucks
drove by and honked, sometimes in agreement, sometimes not.
It was August and the Farmers Market was in progress. Farmers with
leftover produce were giving it away in the final half hour of the
market. During a lunch break and while eating a tomato, raw and warm
from the sun, Juanita got an idea. She looked at her friends and said
in a whispery drawl, “There are so many farms around here, why don’t
we just collect all extra harvest and feed everybody?” Juanita’s voice
on the radio is how I first got involved as a volunteer for Free
Harvest Supper. It was about seven years ago. A DJ from WMUA asked
about her politics.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “What does sharing food have to do with the
Juanita replied, “If you know who grows your food, if you depend on
each other for food, you’re not going to fight with them, are you?”
Juanita Nelson knows something about violence. She met Wally Nelson
when he was in jail and on a hunger strike. Juanita was on assignment
for a local paper to interview the man who participated in the first
wave of Freedom Riders protesting segregated transportation in the
south. Juanita’s first act of civil disobedience was to eat lunch in
the whites’ only section of a Washington, D.C., restaurant which got
her arrested and kicked out of college.
She and Wally were perfect for one another. They moved to Woolman Hill
in Deerfield in the 1970s and lived simply growing all their own food.
With a community of like-minded souls, they put up what they grew for
That community resulted in the formation of the Greenfield Farmers
Market, the Pioneer Valley War Tax Resisters and the Valley Community
Land Trust. Wally lived to be 93 and Juanita, now in her 80s, lives in
Greenfield, inspiring Winter Fare (the first winter market) and Free
Juanita and Wally were onto something with their garden. The hegemony
of processed food with its addictive cycle of salt, sugar and fat has
put the nation into a diabetic coma. Eating is an act of intimacy
second only to sex. Surely you want to know where your partner has
been. Should food be any different?
We have the advantage in the Pioneer Valley of good soil and farmers
who give their lives to the work. Grow your own, buy local and learn
to cook. Not only is real food better for you, it tastes like freedom.
Mary A. Nelen is a writer and photographer who lives in Easthampton.