Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Home from Terra Madre

Finally, we have arrived home - after about 60 hours of no sleep, missing our last flight and renting a car from JFK to Burlington! However, all is fine - our luggage made it with no breaks of any important bottles, which is a huge relief! Our last day in Turin feels like such a blur - I'm sure it's hazy due to the lack of sleep factor, but I'll do my best to recount our amazing last day.
We spent the morning taking in the areas of the Salone del Gusto that we hadn't yet, as well as making those necessary last purchases at the Presidium section. We spent our dollars mostly supporting the Presidium foods, and really feel good about that. However, there are so many amazing foods all over that are purchase worthy, and we made sure to partake in things like pistachios from Sicily - made into a nut butter and also made deliciously into a buttery gelato. It was this that we tanked up on while attending a workshop called: Food Security, the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy. This was a panel discussion that had a meteorologist, Vandana Shiva, the Piedmont Minister of Agriculture, the Turin Minister of Commerce, and President of the Economics Commission on the Government of Cuba. Such a diverse crew of folks all saying the same thing - we need to become self sustainable in the agricultural department to survive the challenges of climate change as well as the economic and food crises that are upon us. It was a fascinating panel that I tried to record with my camera's audio feature - I'll try to find a way to post that somewhere here. After that amazing talk, we had a couple of hours before we had to be back at the Olympic stadium for the closing ceremonies. We spent the time visiting with some of our friends that we've made at past Terra Madre installments, farming conferences as well as other Vermonters that we happened to bump into. Then it was off to the crazy closing ceremony that was incredibly awe-inspiring. The air was positively electric with the collective experiences we 8000 delegates had shared - there were closing speeches that were praised and booed (the video of the Minister of Foreign Affairs was 17 minutes too long, and all the Italians booed him and eventually stood and turned their backs to his image - all in all, his message was positive, but the natives were restless and couldn't sit still for that long!). The Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that in 2010 when Italy hosts the G8 summit, Slow Food will be invited to make a case - a pretty big deal! Carlo Petrini had to come out and scold us gently and redirect the energy towards celebration of all we had experienced. We were then treated to Fiesta Madre - a beautiful celebration of the farmer-musicians that participated. It was ring-led by the Torino based music group called Mau Mau - fantastic Brazilian style with a world beat, a perfect complement to the other groups they had playing with them - an Ethiopian group, a Senegalese group, some various Italian traditional groups; I've never seen anything quite like it; the entire room was vibrating with the dancing throngs in pure joy and happiness. What a rush! It was essentially a manifestation of party scenes from Kim Stanley Robinson books - especially the Mars series, which catalogues humanity's challenge to colonize Mars (so convincing, you'd swear it was already accomplished). In his books there are always several inspiring gatherings of people that erupt into intense dance parties, playing to our primal urge to commune through music....THAT was what Fiesta Madre was like. (Incidentally, Time magazine just named Kim Stanley Robinson as a "hero of the environment" - check out his Capital Code series about abrupt climate change (Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below and Sixty Days and Counting). At any rate - it was a dizzying end to the conference, especially as we were shuttled to our buses at 11 pm to be whisked to our hotels, where we would be picked up to go to the airport at 3am (for an 11 am flight!), and our many hours of not sleeping were underway. It's no use anyway, we were so wired from the experience that it would have been hard to sleep! So, we stayed up and debriefed and wrote and talked while traveling home with high hopes to continue the momentum that we gained during this amazing experience. I would LOVE to have the Intervale have a much larger delegation in 2010, as urban farming will become more and more important as the cities maintain the bulk of our world's population. Look forward to us organizing some fun slide shows, talks and dinners coming up!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Terra Madre and Salone, day 3

I can hardly believe that tomorrow is the already our last day here! Didn't we just arrive? What an intensely packed few days it has been, though. We are having one amazing interaction after another. This morning, we decided to focus on the Slow Food Presidium foods. While interacting with the American delegates and the associated Presidia (US Raw Milk Cheeses booth staffed by Jamie Yturriondobeitia from Shelburne Farms!), we passed by the section of Basque foods and a very sweet old man from behind the booth reached out and started talking to me in several languages, until I understood the Spanish. Turns out he was asking me alternately in Castillian and Basque if I was related to anyone in the Castilla y Leòn region. In fact I am, my paternal grandmother's family is from that region of Spain - generations back, mind you, but I've got roots there. He said he recognized "my Basque face" and proceeded to share with pride his food story. He works with farmers that grow a specific type of corn that they grow in a certain way, all by hand, and mill with an old stone mill for 12 hours and produce very few pounds a year - about 5000 pounds or so. It produces the finest corn flour found anywhere, and they use it to make these small little tortillas that they fill with chorizo and eat with bean soups. It was a really neat connection, and the tortillas were the most fantastic texture I have ever tried - it was almost like a pastry! Neat. I bought some flour, of course - how could I not? Plus, I would love to reproduce that texture. We'll see how it works out! That is just one amazing interaction of dozens today, Thomas has an amazing ability to strike up conversations with farmers that want to adopt him and make him their personal ambassadors to the US on behalf of their special food. Thomas has gotten lots of free products this week - we hope to partake in his goods at some point! Spencer has an amazing ability to get us through the crowds and to the exact places that we long to be - no small feat in a place with oodles of vendors over 5 pavilions! He likes maps.
We tried to just take in the immensity of the entire operation today (still tallying all the vendors). We spent time in the beer garden area just hanging out debriefing the entire experience. We ate prosciutto sandwiches and prosciutto tortellini while people watching for at least two hours. During that time, we had a neat experience being approached by a farmer that we had spoken with at the past couple of PASA conferences. We told him at those conferences that he needed to go to Terra Madre (he was extremely enthusiastic about farming in his Amish community in PA, and we thought he would be a great delegate to Terra Madre). He represents the painfully absent Amish farming community, which is so incredibly important to our sustainable American farming culture. Well, he made it here, and has been completely blown away by this incredible experience - he had been looking for us to thank us for the idea to come, and couldn't believe he found us. He thanked us over and over again and I've gotta admit that it was a nice ego stroke! I feels so good to have opened a door to someone that is definitely going to take this experience back to his farming community and continue inspiring other farmers and potential farmers to keep doing what we are doing and not to give up! That was a super neat connection today because we had a major networking session - he gave us a crash course in quail raising (watch out everybody! Bring on the Half Pint Birds!!), and we talked with him about some pig connections in Vermont. This will be one connection that keeps on growing, I'm sure!
We also connected with our friend Lorenzo, who is from Milan, but we met in Burlington through some of our good friends. We had a wonderful dinner at a pizzeria in Torino tonight, and plan on meeting tomorrow at the Salone to show him around, and probably get him to translate a few things we've been wondering about! Then there's all the shopping and tasting, the networking and shopping, and the hoping that we can bring it all back and also hoping that we have enough room in our baggage for all of our Terra Madre and Salone schwag!
You are not going to believe some of the things we've seen, like gigantic stacks of gigantic wheels of cheese, and 1000 prosciutti legs hanging in a gallery. The thing I keep repeating over and over is, "The Italians don't mess around!" At least in the arena of food, they simply do whatever it takes to create the perfect ______. This applies to everything we've seen from creating a slicer to accommodate a pig leg to storing cheese in logs, hides and even cabbage leaves to stunning results! It's been extremely fascinating and our discussions have been leaning more and more towards the science of taste and how to experience food, which seems like such an elitist way to approach food - but when you see ancient bearded farmers not even thinking twice about inhaling their piece of cheese deeply before letting it sit on their tongue, then chewing it, then breathing over it to oxygenate the aroma, swallowing it, then smiling and sharing the experience with whomever is closest; I realize the science of taste is a peasant culture and one that I intend to embrace, for I am a peasant and proud of it! In that same vein, I actually bought a shirt today that says in Italian, "Prisoner of Taste". I can think of worse things to be accused of!
Well, off to pack and try to sleep - it is actually daylight savings time here tonight, so we get an extra hour of sleeping and digesting time, which is so needed! We will very likely not be able to post again until we return home, so I am looking forward to collating all of the pictures and doing these blogposts justice and adding more about our experience. Thanks for tolerating the non-visual representation of our experience! More once we arrive back in Burlington and upload pictures, and from where I will be armed with a full journal written on the long plane flight home. Arrividerci à tutti!!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Terra Madre, day 2

Today was a fantastic day! We started it off with a class on how to taste. It turns out that we need to throw out all the old zonal tastebud maps - you know the one that shows the tongue and maps out where you sense bitter, sour, sweet, etc. It turns out that all tastebuds sense all the flavor groups - even umami (the sense of flavor, essentially). We then went through a series of stations that challenged you to taste things and learn to describe what you were tasting. It was eyeopening and helped to give us a sense of how to tackle the Salone today. The class session ended with a tasting of apples and chocolate - 3 types of each and we were challenged to determine the differences between them. I must say, it was really a neat experience that made me realize why here in Italy there is actually a masters program in Taste and the science of gastronomy - it is so wide and varied and definitely worthy of science. I will have to check out Harold McGee's book again and brush up on the science of food - it is fascinating!
Then we were off and running to the Salone del Gusto to sample some amazing products - but we got waylaid by the impromptu marketplace that opened up. It was beautiful - all sorts of folks in all their costumes selling their wares from their home countries. We sampled honeys and dried fruits and nuts and even a vodka from Greenland made of 3000 year old glacier ice! Thomas has been the networking ambassador of our trio and usually starts all the halting conversations with fellow farmers from around the world. While cured meats and aged cheeses are certainly well represented here, veggies are definitely in the minority, but Thomas has been great at finding us some veggie farmers to talk with. Spencer's Italian classes have helped us to communicate more effectively and I have been documenting with my pen and camera in hand (pictures to come ASAP!). We divided forces in the Salone and experienced many different wines, cheeses, liquors and breads - even some really good Italian beer!
The end of the day was spent with the entire US delegation, which is 800 members strong! There were several strong speakers talking about the future of Slow Food USA, which is very exciting. I'll collect those notes to make a more coherent pitch tomorrow - but one quick thing that caught my attention was the news that the Slow Food Nation will be marching across the US soon, which I was deeply hoping for!
As we left the Lingotto, we met up with Emmett Dunbar of Anjali Farms here in Vermont, and reconnected with exclamations of how far advanced Vermont is in the agricultural arena. We feel so fortunate to be VT farmers, and we must have been glowing about this because we got snagged by the Terra Madre photo documentation crew that wanted to get a picture of our foursome for posterity. Can't think of a much nicer way to end the day. Ah, off to dinner! Ciao!

Terra Madre and the Salone del Gusto!

First things first! We have arrived! Every single part of our travel experience up to this point has been smooth and easy for the first time in years. Now, the next thing - I broke our laptop this morning! I had written a wonderful blogpost and set the computer aside to find that I had pushed the screen in such a way that broke it and has now made the monitor unreadable. MAN!!! Anyway, our hotel has a pretty nice community computer setup, so I will keep trying anyway. For now what this means really, is no pictures until we get back. Oh well!
We had a wonderful day yesterday at the Plenary session, which was the grand entry of the flags of all the countries represented - which is something like 153 countries, 6000 plus farmers, educators and academicians. It truly was an inspiring day filled with costumes and amazing speeches. My favorite was of course Vandana Shiva - always willing to say the hard things to the people that matter. Also of note was the wonderful youth representative, Sam Levin, all of 15 years old reassuring us that the youth "get it" and they are ready to heed the call to grow food for the forseeable future. Someone that young and motivated is truly inspiring! We spent some time grazing at the Salone and tasting around 50 cheeses and too many proscutti to recall! The number of stalls truly is staggering - I will try and get a count today. Well, off to our first sessions and cramped hands from all the notetaking - oh yeah, and then there is the grazing.....

Monday, October 20, 2008

Terra Madre bound!

Tomorrow afternoon we leave for Torino! We are excited and very much looking forward to our much needed break from the 2008 season. We did our books today, and collated our top 10 crops, located in the sidebar for your amusement. We finished the farm clean-up last week, and woke up to some hard frosts the past few days. We are grateful to have the opportunity to represent the Intervale and the United States at this conference of world food communities. I am bringing our laptop, indeed, and intend to blog along the way - so stay tuned and check in often! We are lacking our trusty electronics adapter, so hopefully we can borrow one when we arrive! Spencer, Thomas and I want to thank all of our customers and accounts who have supported us this season, and want to pay particular thanks to the folks that donated $$ to our cause! Stone Soup, City Market, Hen of the Wood, Great Harvest, Sweet Clover Market and Dish Catering. THANKS A MILLION!! We promise to absorb mightily and share willingly while in Italy and upon our return!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

End of Season Clean-Up begins!

I know it's hard to see in the picture, but there was a HUGE gaggle of geese flying south for the winter that flew over Adam's Berry Farm on Monday. This embodied the timeliness of our activity this past week - frantically cleaning up the farm before leaving for Terra Madre next Tuesday! We have spent the last 2 days harvesting out the final rounds of crops, removing Lumite the Landscape Fabric from his valiant works in weed suppression on the farm, and mowing everything down. Tomorrow we disk it all in, except for one small, but hopeful patch smack in the middle of the field containing lettuces, spinach, arugula and radishes for our personal fall dining. We still have the hoophouse to tackle and cleaning up of all the greenhouse space we used this year for the microgreens project, but we are very nearly there. It feels good to be winding down and know that all we have to do when we get back from Italy is install our HayGrove hoophouse! A seemingly daunting task, but we have great support from the HayGrove folks - not to mention the Intervale Center, that worked tirelessly to ensure that we could in fact put it up this season. This was crucial to be able to install it before the ground freezes so that the skeleton is in and all we need to do in the first spring thaw (around early February) is to put on the plastic sheet to warm up the soil so that we can begin planting - we anticipate getting our first seeds in the ground in late February or early March! This will revolutionize how we farm and we are beside ourselves with excitement and looking into the future of Half Pint Farm. But, first things first, and on to the clean-up we go!

So, first unclip all those tomato plants, then pull up the tomato twine, which is buried in the soil with the plant.
Next, coil up the tension wire and string together. Then, remove the stakes.
Pull all the plants off of the Lumite and remove the drip tape. I like the colors of the dropped tomatoes in this picture.
Brush off a bit of the foliage, and then remove all of the landscape tacks. Make map of holes so that we know how many plants to plan for next year.
If you're a dog, munch on the detritus.
Pull the Lumite off of the field.
Drag onto the grassy alley nearby.
Fold up.
Roll to side and get ready to disk the field!

On to the swale field! There we had cardoons to harvest, so we chopped them down and dragged them to the side of the field to process.

Processing cardoons. This is only the 3rd picture this year of us together! I guess things have slowed down enough for us to set the timer on the camera!
Remove all plants from Lumite and remove landscape tacks. Smeems looks on pensively as he wonders what's happening to his farm. Not to worry, though, there's plenty of mice and voles that have been rousted from their Lumite hideouts to chase!
Remove plants from Lumite
. Make map of holes so that we know how many plants to plan for next year. Pull into grassy alley nearby. Fold.A striking sight greeted us as we peeled up the Lumite - worm castings galore! The little guys definietly like the plastic mulch and have been working hard all season!

We really enjoyed the Lumite and though the clean up took us one day per 24'x300' piece, we figure that we only weeded once on those surfaces all year - so it was a fair trade! Thank you Lumite!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hooray for cardoons!

It's finally that time of year! We are revelling in the deliciousness of cardoons (Cynara cardunculus)! We have a penchant for growing Italian crops (especially after Terra Madre), and the cardoon is no exception. In fact, we first ate it in Italy. The glorious cardoon - ancestor to the artichoke and autunmal food of northern Italian eaters. The Italians will eat this bitter vegetable raw in the bagna cauda, as well as bake it in milk and cheese or even fry it! We love the cardoon for its beauty, flavor and ability to hold for months in our farm cooler - giving us a fix throughout the lean local veggie season. YUM! We particularly enjoy cooking it to top a nice cheesy risotto with lots of garlic. This amazing vegetable is part of that bitter veggie department of food that is too strong for most American palates, though I think if you know how to cook it and learn to enjoy its unique artichokey flavors, you too will start to become addicted to the cardoon! A quick check to Wikipedia and you will learn that the cardoon is a source of vegetarian rennet used to make vegetarian cheeses, and its seeds are also being looked into as a potential source of biodiesel. Arcane, but mighty, give the cardoon a try while you can! Some recipes and prep info for your reading and eating pleasure!
Behold the cardoon leaf!
The green matter must be removed from the leaf - it is the midrib that is eaten.
Behold the cardoon midrib!
Now you must peel the outer side of the midrib - it is sort of like celery in that it has stringy fibers.
Fibers removed, chop into 2 inch pieces and boil in a salty water bath for 30 minutes until it is fork-tender. Drain and then commence with recipe!
Cardoon Gratin
Serves 4-6
  • cardoon (about eight 2" pieces)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup Chicken Stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup grated gruyere
  1. Place cream, stock, and bay leaf in a large saucepan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Wash cardoons, then remove and discard tough outer stalks. Peel off stringy fibers. Cut cardoons into 1 ½"–2" pieces, placing them immediately into cream mixture as you go, to prevent them from discoloring.
  2. Bring cream mixture to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until cardoons are tender, about 1 hour. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cardoon pieces to individual gratin dishes (or a 1-quart baking dish).
  3. Preheat oven to 350°. Reduce cream mixture to about ¾ cup over medium heat, about 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf and divide reduced sauce equally between gratin dishes, sprinkle gruyère on top, and bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Cardoon Risotto
Serves 4

  • prepared cardoon (about six 3” pieces)
  • 2-1/3 c. risotto rice (arborio or carnaroli)
  • 1 quart hot chicken or veggie broth
  • 2/3 c. dry white wine
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 T. olive oil
  1. Prepare cardoons (blanch in salt water, see other recipe). Once prepared, drain and blot dry on paper towels. Chop into bite-sized pieces. Heat olive oil in pan on low-medium heat. Add chopped garlic and cardoon to pan. Cook slowly on back burner - do not cook on high enough heat to brown garlic!
  2. Meanwhile, make risotto. Place hot broth in saucepan on a back burner and keep at a low simmer.
  3. Melt half the butter in a large heavy saucepan and add the onion. Cook gently for 10 minutes until onion is translucent, but not browned. Add the rice and stir until well-coated with the buttery onions and heated through. Pour in the wine and boil hard until it has reduced and almost disappeared.
  4. Turn down to low and begin adding the broth, one ladle at a time, stirring gently until each ladle has almost been absorbed by the rice. Cook this way until rice is tender and creamy, about 20 minutes. Taste and season well with salt and pepper. Stir in remaining butter and parmesan. Cover and let rest for a couple of minutes. Before serving, loosen risotto with a little more broth, then ladle onto plates.
  5. Top with garlicky cardoons and a little more grated parmesan. Enjoy!