On my regular route home to our beachfront respite for the season, I turn left off the main highway onto the 5km dirt road that winds through farmland, passed our favorite farm-to-table restaurant and the stable where we take our daughter to feed apples to horses.
Landing in El Pescadero somewhat by chance, we felt immediately welcome in this place where many of its residents share similar values and dreams to our own.
One of the many surprises life in Pescadero offered was an experience of living amidst farmland. One of the major produce distributors to stores in the US like Whole Foods is based here, along with many smaller farming establishments.
In the early months of settling into Baja life, I’d get somewhat lost in the rows of crops while doing that slow dirt road drive, as I’d wonder what was growing where; and when people were out tending to the land, I’d become even more curious.
The lone man in his 40’s wearing a plaid button down shirt, jeans, and firm wrinkles holds the reigns on the back of a horse-drawn hoe walking up and back through the fields methodically.
25 men and women wear hooded sweatshirts at midday. They are hunched over picking strawberries. A boy about 7 stands aside from the group. He looks up to the sky, walks over to a plant, and joins in on the picking.
Later in the season, I drive up on a small semi blocking most of the road. Another large group of hooded men and women are running to and from the truck. They leave with empty baskets and return with them full of shiny green chile peppers each looking to be about as long as length of a hand.
I am told by one of the local mothers to steer clear of the chile farms. They are sprayed with heavy pesticides. Another tells me that even the organic strawberries, which are the same ones we buy in the organic section in the US, get their dose of synthetic pesticide. She won’t feed those strawberries that are also sold here locally to her children.
On the one hand, living near my food is a spiritual experience. I witness people with their hands in the dirt, tending to the food that months later ends up on my plate. I watch it grow from pre-seeded dirt, to neatly planted seed, to sprout, leafy bush and then full-grown bounty which is eventually pulled up returning the soil to its barren state.
Even the sunflowers I buy at the market I know that 20-30 locals tended to from seed to nearly full form before they cut them so I can enjoy them in my home.
I give thanks.
I notice a twinge of guilt.
I notice also that I am reading more about conventional vs. organic fruits and vegetables, and this new information has me tied up in fear about genetically modified, poisonous (from pesticides) food. There is so much information out there. I look for reputable sources. Very little is consistent.
I am not always able to purchase organic fruit here in this small town. I watch my daughter eat conventional strawberries that have been soaked in water for 20 minutes. Is it better for her to eat the conventional strawberries or none?
I settle on an answer to do my best. Buy organic when I can. And trust that she is healthy receiving everything in moderation.
Not having the convenience of supermarkets offered a healthy opportunity to remember that nature produces in seasons, not in the 365 days a year of the same broad sampling of high quality products that we are used to. Out of season, produce like fresh greens and fruit weren’t available at all.
And back to the people who work on those farms, who stock aisle after aisle across nations with the beautiful, healthy food that nourishes us. I notice now through my writing that these people who I knew from a distance were not the ones I mentioned above who had similar values and dreams to my own. While I enjoyed friendships with locals, none of them I know of were with those who worked on those farms.
I am aware of my privilege and that there is still a lot about life in Pescadero that I have yet to know. I am aware that the simple fact that I can worry about whether or not my family is eating organic is an opportunity I have and many do not.