Where have I been? I had no idea there were so many beneficial uses for buckwheat. That was before I joined a group of new students on a visit to the fields and orchards of the Dwight Miller family in Dummerston and Putney. La Vida Local is just one of a dozen “Bridges” experiences welcoming a lively batch of newbies to the Marlboro community. Made possible by support from longtime trustee Ted Wendell and his wife, Mary, the Bridges program offers a fairly stunning range of fully funded orientation experiences. I might have just as easily been careening down a stretch of bone-chilling whitewater or boggling my little mind in contemporary art galleries, but on this particularly glorious August morning I was happy to be learning about buckwheat.
For example, did you know that in addition to making an excellent cover crop, smothering out weeds and protecting the soil from erosion, buckwheat is a favorite of pollinators and other beneficial insects? The dark, rich honey made by bees fed on buckwheat nectar is especially full of minerals and antioxidants, making it the yummiest health food since chocolate-covered tofu. The Miller family is even planning on baling up some of their amazing buckwheat to feed it to their pigs, perhaps to make them rich and yummy too. All this from one plant seems too good to be true, but it reminds me of the vast potential lurking in the nimble young minds of garden-fresh Marlboro students.
La Vida Local is all about eating locally, learning about local food producers and delving into the economics and politics of food production. In Putney, this particular group of nimble young minds learned about the challenges and joys of running a small-scale, family-run organic farm and orchard. They also helped pick some kale (pictured above), weed some carrots and harvest a row of russet potatoes. But they couldn’t fool me. It was plain that the student leaders were mostly into eating, period, and eating well. They couldn’t wait to get back to their house and make vichyssoise and white lasagna (using potatoes they dug and mozzarella cheese they made themselves from raw milk), in a frenzy of kitchen activity that would have given Julia Childs delirium tremors. Tonight they were going to have a pig roast. Other new students that have been living on ramen and dried fruit all this week will have some catching up to do.