How Far The Vances

Meet the Vances – Stella and Jefferson.  This rootin’ tootin’ farming couple are my great-grandparents. They wound their way from Virginia, through Tennessee and landed on this farm in Kentucky.

Now meet my grandparents. Katie and Jim Tom. (No relation to Stella and Jeff.)

They were farmers, too.  I come from a double-sided group of land people, growers of things like food and hunters of things like food.  Here's a week's supply of quail, or pheasant, or rack of pigeon..hard to tell.

How far removed am I?  This is the question on my mind lately.  I’ve never grown anything, never lived on a farm; in fact, I’ve lived in three of the largest cities in the world for most of my life now.  When I ran across these photos I felt these hearty, hard working people peering intently at me and asking, ‘Where’s your land, girl?  Where do you get your food?’

Well Stella, for a couple of years my husband and I lived in the converted Hartley’s Jam Factory near Bermondsey. 

    The Jam Factory 1902

The Jam Factory 2009

Mr. Hartley grew his own fruit trees on the expansive property. The fruit was prepared and packaged in our building. Someone gave me an original glass Hartley’s jam jar when we moved in.  Once, a cab driver tried to drop us off at the Bacon Factory by mistake. Slightly further afield was The Hop Exchange where they sold hops like stocks. And down the road The Leather, Hide and Wool Exchange was doing something with animals that didn’t involve eating them. You could tell which street you were on in this part of the world by the use of your nose. But that’s all over now and none of this makes me a land girl.

During the time I lived at the Jam Factory, Borough Market was my grocery store. London’s oldest and largest farmer’s market is the Disneyland of the British food world. 

I watched Jamie Oliver feed one of his children here. Mario Batali scoured the market with his entourage and Ainsley Harriott gave me a friendly smile as we stood over a huge cauliflower. The polish wore off after a while. Imagine digging your money out of your pocket a hundred times, watching helplessly as the coins roll under a display of a large dead hare. Imagine carrying ten different bags, or a single large one that’s so heavy it’s like lugging an alligator around. Imagine your local grocery store is a world famous tourist attraction. Every Saturday was a suicide in an effort to fill even the smallest of British fridges. Jeff and Stella don’t look like they’d have the patience for it either.  (Don’t you think they look like Granny Clampett and Uncle Sam?)  

Although, I'm sure any of my relatives would kill for one sip of Monmouth coffee, which is by far the best coffee in all of London town. Monmouth is right on the edge of the market on a cobbled street. It has three walls, the fourth is open to the street and the scenery of the market - even during pelting rain and on the most frigid winter days.  I tend to proselytize and evangelize when dragging friends from the States to the place. People who don't usually drink coffee are stunned to find themselves acting like a kid who's tasted his first milkshake when they try Monmouth coffee, as witnessed by my friend D. who NEVER drinks coffee. I still buy my coffee there and travel across the city just to sip one of their cappuccinos.

Now I buy most of my food at Waitrose.  Just the other day I found the zucchini/courgette section empty. Kaput.  Nothing.  Frustrating to no end.
“Excuse me,” I said to a Waitrose worker. “The courgette bin is empty. Do you have any more?”
No, she shook her head.
“You mean you’re out of courgettes?” How could this be possible?
“We didn’t get our shipment from Spain.”

So there you have it. Britain is perfectly capable of growing a courgette or two, but we eat Spanish courgettes.  The UK imports so much food that the supermarkets display large signs whenever they get their hands on British produce.  ENGLISH STRAWBERRIES! BRITISH POTATOES!  Jefferson and Stella, and Katie and Jim Tom, all long returned to the earth, would find it hard to fathom.

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