I grew up in California when much of it was rural, still so like the farmlands that lie just beyond the suburbs here. Moving east a few years ago made me understand how Californian I am--it is, I guess, as indelible as fingerprints. I hold so many of the standard prejudices and expectations, I sometimes feel like a cultural stereotype. Among these biases is a deep affinity for fresh fruits and vegetables, a faith that's not always easy to sustain in this climate.
The Berkeley Wellness Letter cites nutrition experts' long-held belief that a family has a "gatekeeper" who defines healthful eating for a family because he or she--usually she, of course, usually Mom, of course--does the shopping, meal planning and cooking. This gatekeeper likes everything about good juice. I try to push the better commercial juices at my family, but I don't get very far. They're more like a meal than a drink, my daughter says, when a meal may not be what she has in mind.
So I got a juicer. It takes about 40 seconds to reduce three unpeeled Golden Delicious to the drink we call Apple Essence. My juicer doesn't so much press fresh fruit and vegetables as it devours them, so even the bargain-bin apples, too soft to eat, nevertheless make perfect juice.
Another favorite is called Red Tide, invented on a spring afternoon by my daughter Eva and one of her friends. Basic equipment needed is a juicer, a 24-ounce beaker and a hand-held blender. Juice two Valencia oranges; blend in a beaker with a handful of stemmed strawberries, a handful of fresh raspberries and a half cup of crushed ice.
This juicer of mine makes such wonderful juice, no one in the household can resist. So now that we've taken care of demand, what about supply?
When we moved from California to Washington, I immediately noticed a dearth of fresh, good quality, reasonably priced produce despite the rich farmland lying right next to us in Maryland and Virginia. Isn't this Zone 7, I kept asking, with its long growing season and abundant summer rain? It was a wet summer that year, so why was the produce so sad and old?
This was more than four years ago, before Fresh Fields opened in the District and I hadn't found Magruder's and was still driving over ruts and potholes out to Maryland to buy fruits and vegetables. Eventually I saw an ad for Washington's Green Grocers and met Lisa Zechiel on the phone. We were living in Dupont Circle then--when I told Lisa where I was shopping, she laughed, "Oh, the Soviet Safeway? Long lines? No food?"
Lisa grew up in Laguna Beach--it was out of her own longing and homesickness for California that she and her husband, Zeke, dreamed their business up. Washington's Green Grocers delivers fresh fruits and vegetables to your door each week. The price--around $30 for our family-size box, depending on what we add to the standard order--is about what we spend in a week on pizza.
Green Grocers buys locally when possible--a sound business practice in that the produce is fresher, cheaper and more varied than that found in supermarkets. It is also sound spiritual practice, because it connects those of us who care about these things to the place where we live.
Okay, I'm sentimental. I want there to be farmers where our kids grow up, and I believe in farmers more than I ever did in Santa Claus. I want these farmers to continue to haul their tomatoes and sweet corn to the open markets in the plaza by the Department of Agriculture or to the market that convenes on Saturday mornings on Newark Street NW by the dog park off Reno Road.
As I write this, the sky's large and cloudless, the air and sunshine are both soft, almost spring-like--or is it fall-like? My daughter and a friend storm into the house laughing at something impossibly ridiculous. I've just received word, via the Green Grocers newsletter, that Lily Rose Zechiel has arrived, weighing 8 pounds 10 ounces: "Lily Rose . . . little fingers and little toes," write these friends I've never met. Still a Californian, I light a stick of incense and say, "Guide our work and guard our children,"--praying, of course, to the god of growing things.
* Washington's Green Grocers: 202-789-2250 or 702-715-6686 and on the Web at www.edpage.com/veggies.
* Hale Indian River Groves (mail order): 1-800-289-4253 and on the Web at www.hales.com.
Jane Vandenburgh is the author, most recently, of the novel "The Physics of Sunset," published in June by Pantheon Books.