I was first exposed to this idea of a gift economy in middle school while studying Native American communities in the Pacific Northwest, where wealth and status were apparently at least partially derived by how much one gave. I'm not sure how accurate this description was, but it's an intriguing idea.
I was reminded of it this week while I stood at the crossroad between all the people dropping off crates, boxes, and bags of produce from their farms and gardens and the folks coming through the doors for a good meal.
The produce is verging on gaudy in June - boxes of red, purple, orange, and yellow tomatoes, next to a couple of huge zucchini that look like they would be at home in the land of the dinosaurs, three varieties of cucumbers, a bag of deep green jalopenos and spring green banana peppers, lavender speckled and deep purple eggplant, wide pole beans and slender green beans, handfulls of parsley, the last of the oranges, fresh blueberries and blackberries. I know the folks who have produced this food and how hard they work at it. But they walk through the door relaxed and beaming as they add their portion of abundance.
At 9:30 in the morning, volunteers begin to gather to rinse, peel, chop and dice. Because it's June, a number of children are helping too. There is music in the background, as well as the sound of kids playing and adults laughing. Cutting boards and knives flow in and out of the kitchen as bowls of prepared produce begin to fill the countertop. The stovetop is steaming, the oven lights glow. We want to honor all this food and are determined to preserve its beauty while making it palatable for folks with few or aching teeth.
By noon, the prepared versions are on the kitchen table - corn on the cob, lightly buttered, tender green beans, rings of baked "gigondo" zucchini filled with broiled eggplant, roasted tomatoes, garlic and vidalia onions, a tomato-cucumber salad, and fresh bread spread with a choice of local honey butter or our friend's delicious goat cheese. It's beautiful and healthy, fresh and local, and as people sit down at the table to eat, they tell us repeatedly, all afternoon, how good it is.
By then a lot of the food prep volunteers are back home and the gardeners and farmers are doing what they do. I am the lucky one at the crossroads, witness of beaming faces, and deep generosity. Once in a while things do work. People use their skills to create something beautiful and needed and it is received with gratitude, grace and celebration. We all feel our part in the abundance. How good it is.