I’ve been fielding a lot of strange calls lately. The first one was actually a voicemail, left by a lady named Julie Something-or-Other, who apparently runs a weekly free meal at a place called Place of Peace, of which I’d not yet heard. I’ll be honest; it caught me a bit off-guard. She told me who she was, and that she understood that I wanted to host a Place of Peace meal, but they were all booked up and so I would have to call her to get on the schedule. Hmm, I thought as she went on, I guess I didn’t know that about myself. I tried calling her back, to no avail.
The misunderstanding had come, I assume, from conversations that she had with a lady named Donna Something-or-Other, whom I met at the Highland Church kitchen, and who, I guess, is generally active in the free meal scene around Stevens Point. I was there assessing the space for our Supper Club meal, and she happened to be preparing for some meal or another. She talked about this Something-or-Other, and that Something-or-Other, who I should get to know. I explained to her as best as I could that we’re not affiliated with anybody or any organization; just farmers looking to put on a meal from leftovers. As I was leaving, she hit me with the question: “So, should we exchange contact information?” From behind my initial gut reaction (mehhhh….) the powers of graceful articulation had momentarily abandoned me, and I heard myself instead saying, “Sure,” and offered my digits. No biggie.
And it was Donna herself on the other end of my next strange call, which came, I believe, on a Saturday. “Hey, do you have any spaghetti squash?” she asked. “I’m working on a meal for 25 or so women….” My gut reaction was a similar mehhhh…; only this time, the saving truth was that we actually don’t have any spaghetti squash, so I replied graciously and truthfully, conveniently omitting any acknowledgment of the buttercup squash I’d planned to process and freeze that afternoon. Though vaguely troubled by my own reluctance to collaborate, the unfortunate fact is that we’re currently building up our own food supplies for Supper Clubs through the winter. Besides, slopes are slippery, and becoming the go-to contact in town for free produce isn’t exactly on the top of my list at the moment. So, I thanked her for calling, and got on with my day.
The third of my strange calls came a couple days later, from a fellow named Ed Something-or-Other, who had, it turns out, founded Place of Peace many years ago. “Hey Lee,” he started, “I understand that you are starting a soup kitchen in town, and I wanted to touch base. I’m Ed, and I started…” Hmm, I thought, I didn’t know that about myself, either… So I waited until the end of his introduction before explaining that we’re simply farmers looking to make a free meal from leftovers: nothing more; nothing less. “Yeah, I remember being there,” he responded wistfully. “Well hey,” he said after more conversation, “You should connect with Mary Something-or-Other; here is her number…” And he, like Donna and Julie, and most certainly Mary, seemed very kind and warmhearted.
Given the nature and concentration of these calls, I’ve been forced to reflect on the principle of unaffiliation and independence, versus connection and coordination. Given the existing free meal structure in the community, one could rightly jump to the conclusion that it would be best for all the free meal providers to connect and organize, working together to best mobilize the resources available for the good of the community. In many regards, it seems they already have. However, excessive collaboration can often bog down even the most straightforward of visions, and we just want to serve our leftovers to folks in our own way. Even so, I think Danny W. and I are going to hit up a few of the existing meals, to start forging relationships with not only the organizers, but the guests as well.
So, in the midst of thinking about all this, I got my fourth and final strange call- this one from a fellow named Oren Something-or-Other. Having had no contact since our hoophouse orientation, and no outstanding business to speak of, I was quite uncertain about the nature of the call, and answered tentatively.
“Yeah, so, I liked the part about you calling it ‘St. Lawrence;’ that was funny.”
“Oh… yeah dude; cool…”
“And also when you found out that they were all freshmen. That actually reminded me of a story about this guy who graduated a year after me, who…”
With that, we were off to the races, exploring the Sustainable Lawrence University Garden practices before jumping into general volunteer work days on farms, and eventually flushing out the entire vision for the future of Rising Sand Organics. It happened fast, and suddenly, from the midst of the briefest lapse in conversation, I heard.
“Yeah, so we’ll talk soon.” Click.
And with that, Oren J. exited my life as abruptly as he’d entered, leaving me amused and vaguely baffled in the wake of the strangest call of all.