I remember, when I was a kid visiting Grandma’s farm, that Grandpa and Uncle Tom were volunteer firefighters and a kept a radio in the dining room that once in a while would squawk out a call for help – someone’s house or barn on fire whether from hay combusting in summer heat or old wiring gone wrong – and they would grab their coats and be out the door. While they were out, it seemed Grandma kept her mind on their safety, one ear to the radio. I was wondering too about the poor animals left without shelter and how they would get a new barn. But I was reassured that neighbors would help to build a new one. Classic barn-raisings were still a given, a kind of community safety net. Over the last couple of weeks, we have been barn-raising at my farm. Not because there was a fire, but because climate change is making it necessary to be more protective of our plants.
A 96 foot long hoop-house is going up, arching rafter by rafter, and not only would it be impossible for me to do alone, it would be hugely expensive if I had to hire more than one professional person to manage this. Paul, the “handyman” in charge came recommended from a friend, which was a huge favor in itself. Honest, hardworking, collaborative people are solid treasure! My wonderful neighbor, Dave tilled and smoothed the site, moved the big pieces of the puzzle into place with his forklift, and has been insightful and invaluable every day. My cousin Norman, a very think-it-through kind of person (I think he inherited my other grandfather’s engineer mind), moved us quickly and efficiently through assembling the 25 rafters. A college friend, Javier, came all the way from Stockton to help and learn, as his organization will be doing something similar soon, and his positive energy and hard work meant we got nearly ALL the rafters upright and fastened in place in one day. Everyone has worked with respect, good humor and camaraderie, and I mentally step back and envision the kind of barn-raising my relatives attended back in the day and how the family receiving the new barn must have felt… really I am flooded with gratitude, honored to receive these contributions and to have such stupendous human beings supporting my farm! (Incidentally, several studies have shown that gratitude is a key to happiness.)
How is it that we no longer practice this genteel and neighborly custom? I don’t mean it literally. You don’t need a barn to need or give help. Heck, we don’t even pay the neighbor’s teenager to mow the lawn or weed the garden any more. Are we so isolated and afraid of each other? Is it because we all move around and don’t have lifetime neighbors? Are we so busy or so afraid of owing a favor to a friend that we’d rather pay $40 an hour for simple labor rather than make a project into a party?
A related, gracious custom that ought to be revived is what I call the “casserole ethic”. When a relative, neighbor or friend is sick, has a baby, loses a job, has a death in the family etc., one makes a large and hearty casserole, comfort food with nourishment, drops it off without over-staying, and says, “If you need anything, let me know.” For example, this Baked Veggie-Ziti:
3 cups marinara sauce (organic from a glass jar or homemade) or finely chopped fresh tomato.
- 1 med. eggplant, diced
- 1 med yellow onion, diced
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 5 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Salt, pepper, basil and oregano (remember you need twice as much of an herb if you use fresh rather than dried)
- 16 oz package ziti or penne pasta, cooked according to instructions, but a little “al dente”. If you are sharing with gluten-free diners, there are many options, but the best seem to be made of rice and corn. Note they are often in 8 or 12 oz packages, rather 16 oz.
- 1 cup Vegan ricotta
- 1 package shredded Vegan mozzarella
- Warm the oil in a sauté pan on med-low and add in the eggplant. Once the eggplant is softening and glassy, add the rest of the veggies. When they have softened, add the marinara.
- Season with salt, pepper, basil and oregano to taste. Let simmer on low heat.
- While preparing the pasta, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- When the pasta is al dente, drain it well and mix it into the sauce (or vice versa). Then mix in the “ricotta”.
- Put the mixture into a medium sized baking dish and cover with the “mozzarella”.
- Bake for 40 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melty and a little golden brown.
I’ll be serving this to hungry barn-raising friends later this week, for sure, but you can share it with whoever needs a yummy dish and an act of connection and kindness. This can be gently re-heated, and anything with garlic tastes better the next day anyway.