Farm Confessional: I Deliver CSA Veggies in Manhattan
Illustration by Ben Karis-Nix
I’m sick of produce.
I am so tired of royal purple heads of lettuce, tie-dye heirloom tomatoes, luscious ears of corn and speckled kabocha squash. Fan-like collard greens plague me and I do not want to discuss melon season. Every week during CSA season I haul 4,000 pounds of produce with my bare arms, and I’m seriously over it.
This is what life is like for a fruit and vegetable delivery girl in New York City.
I’m a small but very legitimate part of the invisible logistical web of our food system. I work for Katchkie Farm, an organic farm in the Hudson Valley with over 600 workplace Community Supported Agriculture members. These aren’t your average workplace CSA members, either. I deliver produce to the folks who more or less run the world at companies including WNYC, employees from the New York City government, NBC (I deliver to 30 Rock!), and a sprinkling of gigantic companies at the Empire State Building. In this way, I guess I play a small part in running the world, too.
Two mornings each week I show up at a SoHo loading dock at 8:30 in the morning. Into the truck goes Harry, our aging hippie driver who comes down from Kinderhook with Farmer Bob’s harvest; Amy, my quirky boss in her late twenties; and myself, a scrappy vegan chick on her way out of graduate school. A typical day begins with a strictly monitored Financial District drop off, then up through Midtown where we stop at the Empire State Building to deepen our friendship with Persia and Lolo, the dopey but well-trained security dogs. Next the trek to a premier art auctioneer where we pull up onto an already-congested sidewalk to sweatily lug 40-some bags onto their loading dock — alongside multimillion-dollar artwork. Then comes the sleepy crawl down Second Avenue around 1 p.m. to bring shares up an elevator to a Flatiron architecture firm. Our last stop is a café in the West Village with a nefariously heavy, out-swinging door. At last, we arrive back at Catering HQ to unload even more shares for community distribution.
The bags are surprisingly sinister. The tough plastic digs into sweaty inner forearms leaving disconcerting scrapes and bruises.
The bags are surprisingly sinister. They leave a powdery finish on our clothes and hands, and the tough plastic digs into our inner forearms leaving disconcerting scrapes and bruises. At the height of the summer when dense tomatoes, corn and melons are at their peak, each bag weighs 20 pounds. To carry as many as possible, we stack three or four (or five) on each forearm then scuttle down the sidewalk, arms in an L-shape. When we reach our destination we meticulously count each identical bag. Basic arithmetic, I quickly learned, is harder than I thought.
Another thing I did not consider about a delivery job is human biology. I soon discovered that loading dock bathrooms are for men only. Most delivery crews in New York City consist of dudes with tattoos and bellies, not curly-haired ladies with tight jeans and bulging biceps. I learned how to sneak into unsuspecting delis when nature calls.
Yes, biology. It is fascinating to be a female lifting heavy objects in public. I can pull down heavy shares from the truck and carry them to the loading dock with more dexterity than our male driver. Despite this, men often stop to stare at me in the street and ask if I need help. They try to pick me up with a wink and a witless line like, “Wow, that’s a lot of salad!” to which I have thought of many unprofessional comebacks.
The cramped, humid truck has the specific conviviality of a restaurant kitchen. Each week we discuss the same things: life in New York City, the atrocity that is McDonald’s, weird humans, alcohol, childhood, religion, sex, drugs. We poke fun, we whine, sometimes we yell. Sometimes we provoke fights between our driver and particularly incompetent cabbies. We have our own set of unspoken rules about who sits where and how. The truck is the great equalizer.
Though the work is deeply satisfying, it is also grueling. The people entrenched in the so-called Good Food Movement are entirely dedicated to knowing who grows their kale and where, but how frequently does anyone consider who delivers the kale? We can theorize on the meaning of “farm-to-table” cuisine, but the final stretch of the phrase encompasses nothing more than a complex set of logistics. The push for a better food system has many components, but in the end someone has to take care of the tangible. That someone happens to be me, schlepping delectable produce with a customer-service smile and a nearly finished graduate degree.
There are times I love what I do — just don’t get me started on the horrors of pumpkin season.