The Amish, Microwaved Plastic and Me

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If farmers had access to Styrofoam, plastic containers and microwaves for them to put said plastic containers in, they would have used them and been happier for it. Until the leaching from the plastic containers poisoned their eggs and the family dog choked on a piece of their takeaway box.

Today, I took a trip with Dad and Rose, his girlfriend, to the Columbus Farmers Market, in Burlington County, while the house was being bug bombed. As we left Hamilton, and Mercer County behind, Route 206 opened up into what likely existed along many New Jersey roads 40, 30, even 10 years ago. Lots of corn, old motels, open land, fewer cars cutting you off on the highway and not having the courtesy to at least use a turn signal. It’s a lovely drive; I highly recommend it.

If farmers had access to Styrofoam, plastic containers and microwaves for them to put said plastic containers in, they would have used them and been happier for it. Until the leaching from the plastic containers poisoned their eggs and the family dog choked on a piece of their takeaway box.

Today, I took a trip with Dad and Rose, his girlfriend, to the Columbus Farmers Market, in Burlington County, while the house was being bug bombed. As we left Hamilton, and Mercer County behind, Route 206 opened up into what likely existed along many New Jersey roads 40, 30, even 10 years ago. Lots of corn, old motels, open land, fewer cars cutting you off on the highway and not having the courtesy to at least use a turn signal. It’s a lovely drive; I highly recommend it.

The Columbus Farmers Market is another throwback. Established in 1929, the strip mall it currently occupies has to be at least 40 years old, if not older. Its parking lot — filled with cars — is cracked, parking space lines are faded. There is wood paneling in parts, water stains in others. And across the street rests a cornfield. One can only hope it stays that way a while longer.

Farmers market patrons are a quirky hybrid of redneck and cityrat. Folks coming in on board Lexus SUV’s from nearby McMansion developments and those who have lived here their whole lives, everyone looking for a deal.

Turn right from the entrance and you find the Amish market, a collection of little “stores” separated by their wares and mountains of people. It’s just as you expect: the Amish men wear their beards sans moustache, speak with Dutch accents and avoid being too proud. The same can be said for the ladies (save the beard), who don’t look into your eyes for very long, tie their hair in bonnets and act like housewives fixing supper for “paw,” even though some can’t be older than 16. The “Amish Experience” is just as much the people as it is the food. We’re interested in them because they are different, because we could not possibly live the way they do, so simple, honest and hardworking.

While Rose kept Samantha, her Cocker Spaniel company outside, Dad and I split up, he to the prepared meats counter and I to the sub shop, because I decided not to eat meat this month. At the sub counter, a plain but pleasant teenager in braces spoke with a grandmotherly figure as the two prepared sandwiches, their conversation as effortless as a pair of seasoned women sharing war stories over tea. They served black and white, Indian, Hispanic, and me. We waited for our food, slack-jawed gawkers, all.

A man and his wife ordered Italian subs, and the teenager set to work on them, pulling rolls from a bag. The meats were sliced thin, the lettuce was iceberg, the mustard the husband requested was Guilden’s. Adjacent, a middle-aged employee in a beard and simple blue shirt put a flimsy plastic container — the kind that bends if you put the lid on too rough — into the microwave and went back to serving potato salad.

Meanwhile, Dad was ordering a roasted chicken for him and Rose, grabbing a bottle of fresh-squeezed lemonade. A younger employee repleshed the sweet drinks cooling on ice, pulling pints and half-gallons from a box clearly marked “Sunkist.”

I stepped up to order my cheese sub on rye, no American, no mayonaise, hot peppers, please. The pleasant teen with the wizened smile encased in a set of shiny braces whipped it up in a flash and handed me my 16 ounce cup of homemade root beer and went on to the next customer.

The sandwich was good, nothing remarkable, nothing terrible. It was a cheese sub. The root beer, served in a big Styrofoam cup, was cold and flat. It said it was homemade, but it could have been Hires, A&W or Acme-brand for all I knew, or asked. The sloppy, homespun handwriting on the counter was good enough for me.

I note these fine points not to criticise, but to examine. I do not blame the Amish at all for seeking convenience in their hectic business: when a customer wants something now, something hot and something cheap, even those not allowed to drive cars by their culture will find a way to keep their business profitable.

But, who should we point to, really, for the wall of out of season produce the fruit and vegetable monger sells yearround at the Columbus Farmers Market? Is it me, because I want strawberries for $3 and not $6, which they would probably cost me if the market tried to source them locally, instead of from some giant farm in California? Is it them, because they have opted to go with the modern flow instead of retaining their ways and culture beyond the Disney-esque spectacle of it all?

Or are they? Being “carbon neutral” (and I cringe at the use of that obnoxious phrase coveted by environmentalistas) is hard work and a very new concept. People 100 years ago, be they Amish or us plain old boring regular folks, didn’t milk cows and hem old clothes and farm the land by hand and hoe because they wanted to. If my Dad’s parents, who raised their own chickens in the backyard in what is now the very urban/suburban city of Long Branch, could have just as easily bought a Perdue oven stuffer roaster at the ShopRite just down Highway 36, what would stop them? Could anyone blame them?



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