As the days grow shorter, green leaves turn fiery red, and the air develops that characteristic sharpness, we know that autumn has arrived. That is, we would if we took the time to look around.
For many of us, October passes by each year in a haze of midterms, papers and daily stresses. Rushing to get to class, cramming a meal in between section and three meetings, we do little more than cast a passing glance at our surroundings.
We don’t have time, we claim, to think about something so trivial as the changing seasons when we have deadlines to meet, schedules to make and, simply put, far too many things to do. But instead of writing off the natural world as a luxury for those with enough spare time to enjoy it, we would do well to think about its value.
Nature connects us to our past and brings us back to a time when autumn was marked by more than a colorful change in leaves. Even up until the mid-19th century, most Connecticut families lived on their own small farms. After months of hard labor, whole communities gathered together to celebrate the last big harvest of the season. Bidding farewell to summer, they enjoyed the fruits of their hard work by dancing, singing and sharing in a grand feast of good, home-grown food.
Sadly, with the decline of agrarian culture and the growth of urban centers, the passage of the seasons has lost much of its significance. Today, few tables are filled with autumn’s traditional harvest dishes, and instead the same foods are served day in and day out, regardless of the season. The era of frozen meals and processed foods has distanced us from the natural, wholesome origins of foods and from the celebrations of seasonal bounty.
This is especially true of most college dining halls, where the concept of local, seasonal foods has no place. When asked about their undergraduate years, most people will remember tasteless, strangely-colored lumps labeled as vegetables, mystery meat casseroles and pale iceberg lettuce with more crunch than flavor.
Happily, we Yalies have escaped this aspect of modern-day college life. It is up to us, even in the midst of our busy schedules, to remember how unique our experience is. Thanks to the Sustainable Food Project, our college years have allowed us to discover new, exciting, natural foods. We enjoy local varieties of apples, tomatoes at their ripest, and main dishes with recognizable, wholesome ingredients. Our dining halls are built upon the core values of quality, freshness and great taste. Those of us who have enjoyed this food in Berkeley in past years are thrilled to see its expansion into our other dining halls, giving more students the opportunity to experience the flavors of local, organic produce than ever before.
We must not grow complacent with what we have. The Sustainable Food Project brings us closer to our state’s agricultural roots, supports local farmers and allows us to enjoy good, wholesome food each and every day. Whenever we find that we have become too busy to notice the subtle changes in the land, the sky and the seasons, the project is here to remind us of what the natural world has to offer.
Just a short distance up Prospect Street, there lies a serene world of green plants, fertile soil and seasonal crops. The Yale Farm is an educational haven, a place where any student is welcome to come and uncover a winter turnip, behold an eggplant on the vine or see a salad when it consists of no more than a few young shoots emerging from the soil. When the grueling pace of school and work seem overwhelming, a short visit up to the farm may be the best reprieve. Breathing the fresh air and wandering amongst the plants is sure to rejuvenate and inspire. All are welcome to attend work days and Friday brick oven pizza parties at the farm, which exists to connect more students to nature and the roots of their food.
So while tales of the great old-fashioned harvest festival seem hard to imagine in an American society of processed, packaged, frozen foods, we find that the spirit of the harvest tradition lives on, within Yale’s campus and in the experiences of its students.
When the papers pile up and the to-do lists seem to never end, take a moment to look around. As you walk to class, notice how quickly the trees change color by the day and feel the crisp autumn wind in your face. Pause for a moment to appreciate how amazing it is to be able to taste the produce of the season and the goodness of the earth in every college dining hall. Bite into that sweet, juicy apple, think of the farmer whose energy produced it, and be reminded of how grounding and calming nature can be.
Stephanie Smith is a junior in Berkeley College. She is a member of Food from the Earth, a student group advocating sustainable food options.