I’m still having a hard time believing we’re getting towards the end of August; the summer has raced by in a succession of daily produce tides, rising with the incoming swells of the returning trucks, and ebbing by the mornings when we come in and the loads are already out on the road.
This summer has been more manageable than any summer I’ve experienced yet; we implemented a huge summer routing shift that took until the third week of July to actually enact in full, and last night we thanked our lucky stars (and our several years of waiting) that we finally got our new cooler on line.
The summer passes in the blur, with certain distinct seasonal hurdles. The first major balloon in volume happens the first week strawberries are in; the summer people kick into gear, and we feel the reverberations of that as all packing volumes bump up. Sweet corn season is more of a steeplechase than a hurdling event; it’s infinitely more challenging to stack mixed pallets with unwieldy, heavy, sharp, non-regular bags of product.
As we pack, we do our daily prayers of budgeting pallet spaces on the truck and fitting orders together on each pallet.
The Packer’s Prayer
Our truck, which hath ten pallets,
And pick ups on the way,
Thou hath two freezers, and a tomato pallet,
Which leaves us with just seven…
There’s milk and corn and grains and eggs,
And let us not stack up on lettuces,
lest we crush them with syrup and potatoes.
Lead us not into potholes,
but deliver us with shrink wrap.
As we race through the summer, there are surreal moments that make you wonder out of context whether that was a serious thing that happened. For example, this:
It was indeed a serious task, dictated by customer request. A customer needed a size reference for some cucumbers they were contemplating, and warehouse crew was asked to provide that with their hands. So many puns I was rendered mute.
Then there was this that Katrina sent us from the road as she filled in last minute as a ride-along:
Many thanks to MDI Ice Cream for the double scoops of awesomeness, and to many of our other wonderful, generous customers who treat our drivers like kings and queens.
In an extended Wolverine send-up, this happened:
A couple notes: no rhubarb destined for customer consumption were harmed (or adulterated) in the making of this joke; and yes, my mother encouraged us to play with our food (ask me sometime about re-enacting the food fight from the movie Hook).
Some friends from Oregon were in town, and jumped in to put their shoulder to the wheel with us. While we received product and packed Monday night, they took warehouse extras and prepared us a midnight meal at my apartment down the road. They showed up with the feast as we were finishing the last pallet, and we all sat down to share in the bounty of the season.
If most of these seem blurred or disjointed, that’s because most of the summer tends to feel like this:
Our days, like those of our farmers and food producers, often feel like a sprint, but one that just happens to be 26.2 miles long. We always wish we had more time to capture the beauty of the season, and the incredible diversity of foods that come through our doors, but instead we’re left with elisions of color and form creating impressions of a summer.
My memory of this summer will likely be mostly composed of quips and banter half-shouted over the hum of the cooler evaporators, and stars over brick on the nights I leave the warehouse late.
Hopefully as we get into fall, we’ll have more time for well composed, contemplative reflections on the business of moving food, and the building of local foods systems. For now, we’ll leave you with these snapshot impressions of summer in a local food warehouse.
Enjoy the summer,