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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #6, 4/16/14

What’s been going on!

For some time I have been thinking about writing a piece on why the Carrboro Farmers’ Market is different and unique from all the other markets in the area.  With the recent N&O article about how difficult it is for farmers markets to take food stamps, in which they interviewed and mentioned many people and markets from across the state but the only nod to the Carrboro Market was about our novel idea to use the fees from our ATM (first farmers’ market in the state to have one) to support our SNAP program, I said maybe now is a good time.

I mean we only wrote the book on how farmers’ markets in North Carolina can independently accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) better known as food stamps.  Starting almost a decade ago, the market tested out several different systems before going directly to the USDA and working through the bureaucracy so we could run our own more efficient program.  This was after meeting with state legislators and others to try and improve the currently available programs, researching the few markets across the country that were taking SNAP and running a multi-year, grant funded, test to determine exactly what the costs of the program to the market would be.  Then we did as we always do, we freely shared our knowledge with many other markets across the state and the country.

A bit of a digression but it is a perfect example of how the Carrboro Market operates and one of the ways that makes it different from all the other area markets.  But with so many markets in the Triangle area (at least 25 at last count and too many really) it is hard for people to decide which market they want to support.  Now I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t shop at a market that is close to you, especially if it has the selection and quality of products that you are looking for but sometimes you don’t have that option.

Yes because we are the oldest market in the area (35 years) and have the most vendors (over 80) of any of the non-state run markets, we have had many first chances to do things well.  First we are a producer’s only market that is run by the vendors not the town or the chamber of commerce or another outside group.  There are now a few other markets with that kind of governance in the state and mostly because we have promoted it to new markets as the best way to go by sharing our rules, by-laws and procedures with them, so that doesn’t make us different.

We were among the first to do many things now common to markets across the country.  Special events of all kinds (Tomato Day, Strawberry Day, Canning classes, etc.), the first with a pre-Thanksgiving market, the first to accept WIC checks, food stamps, etc., the first with an ATM, had the first certified organic farmers in NC, the first to allow farmers to take a year off without losing their space at market, the first to limit the number of crafts and prepared food sellers so that it would remain a farmers market, the list is long.  But most markets do all that now, so that doesn’t make us different.

There are two very important things that set the Carrboro Farmers’ Market apart from all others in the Triangle and I think the state.  First because we are a large and successful market, we have a very engaged and active membership which participates in market governance and elects and supports a very active Board of Directors.  The market has always pushed the envelope on what a market should be, not only to its customers but to its members as well.  It is being able to work on issues like food access to the community as a whole and taking care of our members needs that makes us different but most customers don’t see that side of the market.

The single thing that makes our market unique, amongst all the markets in the area, is that we require the people selling at market be the owners of the business or their immediate family.  No other market has this rule.  All the other markets allow any employee to sell at market, you might be helped by someone who has a real stake in the food you are buying but many times not.  This is how many farms can sell at 5 and 6 markets a week, sometimes all on the same day!  Big families I guess.  At Carrboro, the person selling you the food is the one that produced it, the one whose feet are to the fire financially and whose reputation is on the line.  It is a farmer who has been recognized, regionally or nationally for their work or the person who developed the recipe and was written up in Food and Wine.

This makes it difficult for some of our vendors who don’t have employees and want to be able to sell at other markets or to take weeks off during the season but I think that it is what makes our members so active and engaged in running the Carrboro markets.  They are actually there representing their businesses and seeing how things are going at market every week so they share their ideas and concerns directly with the manager and Board, serve on committees and help to make the market the best it can be.

So the next time you are wondering what market to go to think about location and product diversity and maybe your favorite farmer but certainly if you want to actually talk to the people who grew your food, ask them how it was grown, what variety it is, how the season is affecting the crops or where the ingredients in the jam came from then there is only one market in the Triangle where you can be sure that will happen, Carrboro.

Picture of the Week

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32 degrees this morning, the green green of  spring

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #5, 4/4/14

What’s been going on!

Spring here is always herky jerky as my mother would say. Cold, warm, cold, warm and then all of a sudden it happens, not all at once but in a number of big steps. This week was the first big step. Finally a stretch of days (not just two or three) with nights above freezing, the soil temperatures warm up just enough that things begin to move. The red buds and the blueberries started to bloom, the worms are moving all over the place, the wild garlic starts to grow fast. The next step will be the dogwoods blooming, certain trees leafing out, ants on the move.

The farm moves in jumps too. Last week we were waiting for it to dry out and warm up, this week we are wearing shorts and setting up irrigation. It has been a careful dance this spring to try and keep the plantings on schedule but for the most part we have managed to do so. Now the rush is on to keep it all weeded and watered. It always happens this way.

Good week though as we have made the first pass with the cultivation tools across all the crops, great weed killing weather. The blueberries have all been pruned and a layer of mulch spread. The sliding tunnels have slid(?) and are full of tomatoes and cucumbers. Even the first Zinnias have been seeded out in the field along with the first Sunflowers, no turning the clock back now. Soon we will be covering the Big Tops and getting ready to plant the big array of tomatoes.

Winter schedules overlap with spring realities. Meetings, classes and other obligations that were made back in the slow days of winter now seem hard to manage. All day board meetings, evening classes, morning classes, conference calls are now distractions to what needs to be done outdoors and increasingly can’t wait. In another month even those will mostly be gone, the last big step into the full swing of another season.

Picture of the Week

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Happy Anemones and Poppies just raising their heads

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #4, 3/14/14

What’s been going on!

An interesting milestone this week as we realized that the last of our “Advisory committee”, Max Perry, passed away on Monday.  We live on Perry Rd. and the Perry clan owns large swaths of land up and down the road including the 400 or so acres on our south side.  Max was the patriarch of the family and the last of his generation, he was 77.

When we first moved here in 1982 we were like most of today’s new farmers in that we were not from a farming background and had to learn almost everything from scratch.  Today’s new farmers have vast and incredible resources from which to draw knowledge and information that we could only have dreamed about back then.  Sure we had degrees in agriculture and lifetimes of family gardening but never farmed for a living.  So we did what the Ethnologists would describe as gathering “indigenous knowledge”, we consulted the good old boys in the neighborhood or more accurately they freely volunteered their opinions.

Of course when we moved into a tent, next to our tractor shed with the 1949 tractor, they first thought we were crazy and doomed to failure (so did our parents).  Over time they would stop by and introduce themselves and to see just exactly what we were up to.  Most wrote us off but a group of them kept an eye on our progress and we were great fodder for discussion as we were some of the few folks in the neighborhood who were not from the “families”.  Max was one of them; he was an avid hunter and observer of the local flora and fauna.  He loved it when we started raising turkeys because he was very protective of the recovering turkey population that mostly lived on his land.  He was also the unofficial community watch as he worked third shift and would drive up and down the road late at night when he couldn’t sleep.

All of our advisory committee had similar backgrounds, they had grown up here farming but in the end had gotten “public work” in either construction or at the university.  Their family farms stopped with their parent’s generation and they were now just the stewards of the land which either stayed in pasture or trees, some they rented out to other farmers.  Their experience was that you couldn’t make a living farming but were interested in keeping farming alive in the neighborhood and to see what this new farming was all about.

Lenny Perry, Max’s uncle, would stop by regularly in the early years especially when we were clearing new land and commiserate with Betsy who was working alone with a chainsaw as I was in town trying to make some money to keep our dream alive.  “How’s that new ground coming” he would ask and give some advice on what to do next.  He had even farmed our land back in the 30’s and 40’s, raising wheat and other grains.  After a few years he was overheard at the corner store, where the old boys would gather, telling them that “she can drive a tractor as good as a man”.

Our other immediate neighbors, Herbert and Peggy Lou Thomas, owned all the land between us and the Haw River on our east and north sides. They actually lived down the road a few miles but raised a big garden in the bottom field across the creek from ours.  As we would be down in our field working they would be over there just talking away to each other while harvesting corn or tending tomatoes.  Let’s just say that Peggy Lou had a voice that could carry.  We would always find a basket of corn on the steps or Herbert would always check in to see if he had beaten me in having the first ripe tomato (he always did).  When we started using cover crops to improve our soil, he would advise me on when they were ready to turn under.

George Graves (who was married to a Perry) was particularly influential in our development.  He was one of the early members of the Carrboro Farmers’ Market and grew huge amounts of maters, taters and beans among other crops.  He told us what varieties of spinach and other crops to grow that were best for our area, when to plant them, where to get seed.  He and Betsy would drive together to the local farm supply to get onion sets and parts for things.  When he would stop by and see us doing something crazy he would just shake his head and say “sheeeeit” and steer us in the right direction.  Without George it would have been many more years before we started selling at the market, he frequently encouraged us to “get down there and sell those berries” until we finally did.

Faye and Ervin Perry rounded out the committee.  Ervin was George’s brother-in-law and he and Faye farmed across the road from George and sold at market too.  They came to market farming late in life but with ingenuity and of course the local knowledge.  We would watch them in their 60’s and 70’s slowly and patiently tend and harvest their two acres of crops and never break a sweat.  Ervin could somehow do it all off of a riding lawn mower.  Their “grocery house” was the picture of an efficient small packing shed and cool room that many small growers even today would want to have.  We would occasionally go out to dinner with them after market and just soak up their stories.

They are all gone now, we are on our own to screw up, make all the mistakes and figure out the answers.  I guess we are now the indigenous knowledge, not sure we can ever be the characters they were, damn few like them.

Picture of the Week

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Thousands of onions on a sunny day

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #3, 3/7/14

What’s been going on!

Closely watching the creek and river levels, so far so good.  Who knows how much rain we have had over the last 24 hours but fortunately almost no ice.  Like everyone else we have really been looking forward to the warm and sunny weather starting tomorrow, particularly so we could get caught up on planting but now are not sure when we will be able to get back into the fields.  As it is we have delayed planting many of the direct seeded crops like spinach and beets because the soil temperatures have been so cold that we would potentially have really poor germination especially in wet soil and now we will have to hope the winds pick up some early in the week to help dry the soil out.

We did manage to get the first beds of lettuce in the ground as well as 7000 out of the roughly 13,000 onion and leek transplants.  Otherwise we have been pretty successful in whiling away the time on indoor pursuits and various travels while we wait for the weather.  January was really busy starting with our annual Southern Foodways Alliance Fellows event in Tennessee.  Betsy had to fly out of Knoxville to be able to attend the Gathering of Agrarian Elders in California, a really unique opportunity to meet with a number of the leaders of the local/organic food movement.  You may have seen the article in the NY Times.

I barely got home and had to turn around and go to Mobile, Alabama to give several talks at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Groups conference.  A few weeks home and then February started off in West Texas with a long walking trip in Big Bend National Park (it was cold there too).  Back just in time for the big snow storm and off again to the Georgia Organics conference to teach some more.  In between all of this have been lots of meetings, teaching the community college class and other workshops around the area.  So you don’t think we just have Jennie out here taking care of things, she also slipped off to visit a friend in Hawaii for ten days.  But we are all here now, pacing the floor waiting to get rolling.

Picture of the Week

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The creek behind our house, roaring by

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #2, 2/14/14

What’s been going on!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Just and update to let you know we survived PAX the storm, which by the way I hate that they have decided to name major winter storms, come on it’s just a snow storm people and thankfully we don’t have the Weather Channel so we can hear them drone on about such things.  Hope you all passed the storm pleasantly and without extreme measures.

I did fly back from Texas on Tuesday a bit early to avoid any complications, which lead to less hectic preparations for the impending accumulation of all forms of frozen precipitation.  Our main concern is always the unheated high tunnels.  They can take maybe 6 inches of snow without any worries about collapsing but snow followed by sleet and maybe a half an inch of ice that is a whole ‘nuther thing. 

Like most of our fellow market farmers who have tunnels we did all we could do to prevent such a collapse.  We start with putting 2 X 4 supports under every other hoop to support the extra load.  Then we began at 2:00 to sweep/drag the accumulated snow off the tops of the houses with big push broom heads on long handles.  With two people it takes about half an hour to clean the six houses off.  2 o’clock, 4, 6, another at 9:00 and then for good measure while I was sleeping Betsy went out for a final sweeping at midnight.

In the end we had at least six inches of snow and maybe another 2 inches of sleet but thankfully no ice to speak of.  The result is we once again made it through another big snow event with no losses.  Unfortunately we have heard of at least 5 or 6 tunnels that went down under the weight of ice and snow, there are certainly more in the area.  It is one of the rolls of the dice we all make to try and coax a bit of greenery from the winter ground.  As you buy that winter lettuce at market know that it came at some cost greater than the head of lettuce from California.

We have had a busy January and early February with one more conference to go in a few weeks.  We will not be at market tomorrow but hopefully will begin a return next week.  There are plants backing up in the greenhouse that need to get in the ground and onions come next week, yikes.  All in due time. 

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On a beautiful morning, the sliding tunnels thankfully still stand tall

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #1, 1/3/14

What’s been going on!

BRRRR!!!  Cold day and week to come.  Hope everyone had fun during the holidays and are ready to face the new year.  The end of the year analysis goes on but we have had plenty of down time too, looks like we will have more during the coming week.  Good thing there is plenty of firewood in the shed as they are forecasting single digits on Monday morning.  We used to have a few nights in the single digits every winter which put us in zone 7 on the hardiness zone map but it has been a number of years since we have gone below 10 degrees.  We are now officially in the warmer zone 8, doesn’t mean we won’t visit zone 7 from time to time.

Crazy as we are we will be at market in the morning.  Temperatures will be in the 20’s to start but not the wind of today and it will be sunny.  Come out and get some healthy food for your New Years resolutions or just to visit.  It may look a bit like we are selling contraband as we may keep some things in the truck so they don’t freeze on the table.  Just whisper “give me the good stuff”.  See you all tomorrow!

Picture of the Week

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It might be cold but the Anemones are happy, come get some tomorrow

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #38, 12/18/13 Winter Solstice edition.

What’s been going on!

Last newsletter of the year and as I have been working on the end of the year bookkeeping we are reminded of just how challenging a season it has been.  No disasters this year just too much wet weather for optimal growing conditions.  The old saying “A dry year will scare you to death; a wet year will starve you to death” rings true and we have always preferred the drier seasons even though we do sometimes worry about if we have enough water for irrigation.  The good thing for farmers is that there is always next year.

Preparations for 2014 are already underway with seedlings in the greenhouse, bulbs in the field and the seed catalogs rolling in.  The first tweaking’s of the planting schedule and crop mix has begun, most of it will be finalized in the coming weeks.  The most important piece of a successful year to come is already in place, great staff.  Jennie of course is here year round and doing a good job of keeping us straight, Liz will also be back for one more season albeit for fewer hours as her farm and life begin to require more of her attention.  It gives us great confidence and joy to know that they will be here.

We may be a bit irregular over the coming weeks both in newsletter and market attendance as we are headed into the meeting season and will be gone a fair amount.  Our plan is to be at market every Saturday in January and most of them in February but you will see different faces each week at our space as the three of us rotate through.  As the year ends and winter officially begins on Saturday (sure feels like it started weeks ago) it gives us great comfort in knowing that we have such wonderful support from all of you, it gives us a reason to go out every day and make things grow.  If we don’t get to say it on Saturday, thank you and have an enjoyable holiday season, we will see you in January.

Picture of the Week

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A brilliant day with winter crops protected under their blankets

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #37, 11/22/13 Thanksgiving!

What’s been going on!

The family travels went well, lots of driving but mission accomplished.  While we have seen each other at family gatherings over the years it had been 42 years since I had stepped foot onto my aunt and uncles (and now my cousin’s) farm in northern Mississippi.  Amazingly it looked pretty much like I remembered it except the buildings and distances were much bigger back then.

We raced back home and the week has been a busy one since.  Turkey harvest day went smoothly and the birds ended up being much larger than normal this year.  Last year we had almost no birds above 15 pounds which had never happened before.  This season we have very few below 15 pounds, lots of leftovers!  We are now focused on our favorite eating week of the year.

The weather forecast for both the Saturday and Tuesday markets looks less than desirable, cool and rainy.  In between we will have a hard freeze on Sunday/Monday.  To that end we are harvesting as many of the outdoor crops as we can today while it is warm and will wait until Monday to pick the indoor crops that will go to the Tuesday Thanksgiving market.

The special Tuesday pre-Thanksgiving market (3:00-6:00) is always a bustling and produce beautiful afternoon.  We will probably not be in our usual space as all the vendors are parked in the order that they arrive.  Look for our big white truck and there will be signs to point folks to which shelter we are in.  Dress warmly and with rain gear.

Pictures of the Week

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Our Norman Rockwell turkeys

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Celery and Baby Chard

 What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #36, 11/8/13

What’s been going on!

This is absolutely one of my favorite times of the year.  The light is so clear and strong, the angles low.  The colors of the remaining leaves on the trees are mostly radiant yellows with some bronzes and the greens of the recalcitrant beeches.  Mornings in the 30’s that give one the permission to stay inside for but longer and savor the light and the coffee.  Afternoons in the 60’s, in the bright light you can still work in a T shirt.

A slow and leisurely breakdown of the pepper trellis this week, the last big job for the fall.  Last year as I was busy building Jennie’s apartment I set her out alone to take down the trellis, she was frustrated by the task.  This year we have taken our time in the favorable weather to get the job done.  Many moving parts and layers that were put in place in multiple stages, over many months, now have to be taken out in the reverse order.  Three or four layers of support wires and strings have to be pulled out and rolled up.  100 metal T-posts and the corresponding 200 plus wooden cross arms have to be pulled up and carried to the truck at the end of the field.  The irrigation lines that run down each bed coiled up and finally the tops of the plants mowed off so we can pull up the landscape fabric that covers the hot pepper beds.  Nearly done, no need to rush.

The Italian travelogue is now finished; you can read it here if you want.  No newsletter next week, I will be off to a family reunion in Mississippi.  Betsy and Jennie will be at market on the 16th as usual.  The morning after I return is turkey processing day, one we look forward to (no more daily bird management) and don’t look forward to as it is their only bad day, ever.  After that we are definitely into winter mode, firewood cutting, winter projects (a few things to finish up on the new building), maybe some blueberry pruning, plenty of time around the woodstove.

Picture of the Week

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The first rays of morning sun from my office window

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Food explorations with the Barkers III, Umbria

Following in the tradition of our two previous trips with Ben and Karen Barker (Terra Madre and Piedmonte, Italy 2006 and Northern Spain 2010) we again plunged into another food filled study, this time of Umbria.  Why Umbria?  Well it is very similar to Tuscany in scenery, food and wine but with fewer tourists.  The food traditions are maybe more simple and a direct result of what is in season, we would find out.

A slightly different approach this time as we would stay in one central location and travel out by day.  We wanted to have a place in a small hill town that we could return to in the evenings after the days adventures and big lunch.  If we wanted we could fix some simple evening food from ingredients we might find in the markets or walk the town and find something but not have to drive in the dark.  We found a nice apartment in the beautiful hill town of Spello on the slopes of Mt. Subasio which are covered with olive groves, it turned out to be exactly what we wanted.

The hills are carpeted with olive trees

The hills are carpeted with olive trees

We flew into Rome and in just over two hours we were in the heart of Umbria at our first lunch in the small town of Bevagna.

happy to out of an airplane

happy to be out of an airplane

a singular dish with farro

a singular dish with farro

It was a perfect start, sitting outside on a sunny afternoon, with several great dishes including a farro dish with pistachios, several traditional pasta dishes and a desert so good that Karen was determined to figure out how to reproduce it at home.

 

 

 

here come the humgry Americans

here come the hungry Americans

We rolled the last few miles over to Spello and checked into our apartment and then made our first foray around town.  First to the macellaria to procure some salumi for the house and then to the enoteca to make sure there was wine in the house.  The Enoteca Properzio, run by the Angelini family, turned out to be almost a nightly visit as we tasted our way through the Umbrian wines that Ben wanted to try from research he had done at home.

Irene and Roberto Angelini with Ben

Irene and Roberto Angelini with Ben

The next day, well recovered from jet lag we mostly spent the day wandering around town

steep hill town alley

steep hill town alley

but did drive a few miles out to the valley town of Canarra for lunch at a small husband and wife run osteria, Perbacco.  Canarra is known for its production of red onions and the menu featured them in many dishes.

pasta with red onions and anchovies, a Betsy special

pasta with red onions and anchovies, a Betsy special

Monday was the first of our markets to check out in the town of Marsciano, supposedly one of the biggest markets in Umbria it was mostly clothes and household items and not much food.  We did start the practice of having a porchetta sandwich at each market we went to, think of it as the morning sausage biscuit but much better.  Porchetta is an Umbrian specialty of a whole, herbed, roasted pig which is sliced onto thick rolls and there are porchetta trucks everywhere.

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We did buy a few seeds to try and I was glad to see that our broccoli raab looked every bit as good as the stuff on display there did.

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A word about markets in Italy.  There is usually a weekly market in every small town, bigger towns may have a twice a week market.  Most of the vendors have these special market vehicles with sides that open up and they move from town to town loading and unloading each day (unfortunately the produce also reflects this).  Most of the produce is from Italy and labeled where it is from but there are very few local farmers.  Over the years we have been seeing fewer and fewer local growers at these markets.  Increasingly we are seeing special once or twice a month markets for local producers only, usually on Saturdays.  We think that they are feeling the pressures of these bigger mobile market vendors and food more easily available from all over the European Union.

We moved on up the valley to Deruta, one of great pottery producing towns, especially for the brightly colored and intricate Majolica ware.  This was a ceramic guitar made for Carlos Santana and the tiles were fantastic.

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We ended up at the oldest producer, the Grazia family has been making pottery since the 1500’s and we got a personal tour by Ubaldo Grazia, the current head of the family.

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Here in his office and museum.

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We saw all areas of their production including their new kiln with the first firing of custom beer bottles for a local craft brewery.  Ubaldo was very excited about this new product.

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A fair lunch in Torgiano but the food and wine highlight of the day was a long relaxed evening down in the cellar of Enoteca Properzio.  A slow rainy Monday evening allowed much personal attention from Irene, Lucca and Roberto the patriarch.  Betsy was in her best Italian speaking form and once they found out we were chefs and farmers the plates of bruschetta, pecorino cheeses and prosciutto started coming along with “special” wines to be tasted.  It was a memorable night.

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Tuesday dawned clear as a bell, ideal for our drive up into the Mount Sibillini National Park.  On the way through the mountains there were lots of freshly dug potatoes being sold on the roadside  and we also passed several big trout farms.  The lunch goal was the tiny hilltop town of Castelluccio perched on a small rise in the middle of the Piano Grande

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a huge valley where they raise incredibly tiny lentils.  This is a panarama of just half of the valley you can see the lentil fields below, you can click on it to make it really large.

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Lentils, trout and sausages were mandatory.

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After lunch we dropped back out of the mountains to the town of Norcia, the real goal for the day.  Norcia is maybe the most famous town in Italy for it’s cured pork products and we loaded up with things to eat back in Spello and to bring back home.

does this man look like someone nicknamed Pig Padre?

does this man look like someone nicknamed Pig Padre?

A bewildering selection to choose from

A bewildering selection to choose from

Norcia is also the home of twin saints Benedict and his sister Scholastica.

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Back home in Spello, we spent the end of a beautiful day out on the private patio overlooking the valley with large plates of all the charcuterie, cheese and fruits we had purchased.

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Wednesday we started with the small market in Spello (and a porchetta sandwich), the highlight being the fresh fish truck and some of the very first olives of the season.

Ben drawn to the porchetta truck

Ben drawn to the porchetta truck

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Ben spotted the October beans along with the new olives and artichokes

Ben spotted the October beans along with the new olives and artichokes

Our friend Jim Stock of the Haw River Wine Man had made connections for us to do a winery tour at Tabarrini vineyards.

???????????????????????????????Good wine and discussion and then onto lunch in Montefalco at L’Alchemista.  The featured item here was the black celery grown in the area.  Not really black but a really dark green because they hill the base up high which forces the plants to make extra chlorophyll in the leaves.  We also had the some of the first olive oil pressed this season, incredibly green and flavorful.

Black celery stuffed with sausage

Black celery stuffed with sausage

Thursday was another rainy day but we were off to Orvieto, built up on top of a volcanic ash hill it is known both for it’s huge and beautiful duomo and it’s underground caves carved out of the volcanic material.  Originally made by the Etruscans there is a fascinating tour you can take down into them showing how they lived and worked underground especially when under siege, most intriguing were the pigeon nest holes which was a main food source for them, they outlasted the Romans for two years this way.

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The duomo is striking for both its black and white horizontal stripes but also it’s very ornate front façade.

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It was also market day and this is where we saw more local growers than anywhere else the most interesting items being the wild greens and herb mixes.

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the olive and dried bean guy

the olive, nut and dried bean guy

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Friday was our last day together and we had several things we wanted to get done.  We had been told by several Italians that the best of all the olive oils were the first pressed from Spello and that they should begin pressing any day now.  We (Betsy) asked all around town about were the mill was, finally we were walked out to a patio that overlooked the valley and the mill was pointed out to us at the bottom of the hill and sure enough we could see they were working.  First thing this morning we drove down to the mill where we sampled the first oil of the season and then proceeded to buy more than a gallon each to take home.

olives being loaded into the press

olives being loaded into the press

beautiful green olive oil

beautiful green olive oil

look how green it is, delicious

look how green it is, delicious

That task done we headed north to Assisi to see the town and the bascilica of San Francisco (St. Francis).

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Even in the shoulder season the town was full of tourists and pilgrims here to see the home of the saint and the namesake of the new Pope.  A beautiful town and day we spent the morning wandering through it.

did I say hill town?

did I say hill town?

All week we had talked about how good the first meal in Bevagna was and we decided we needed to go back and eat at Trattoria di Oscar again.  It turned out to be the best meal we had the whole trip.  This tiny restaurant (five tables inside) is run by the chef husband and his wife.  This day Filippo was actually the host and waited the tables as well as overseeing the kitchen.  The first day they gave us a hand written daily menu in a notebook that had the past menus in it was well, it was fun to look at what was recently offered, today he just recited it to us.

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We were fortunate to get one of the five tables as they turned people away.  Once again when they learned that we were chefs and farmers the world opened in a different way.  We came to realize that we are not the standard American tourists and that our personal stories are interesting to them as well.  A great long meal with some new wines.  Good pastas, pigeon, quail and lardo wrapped pork and more.

Grilled quail

Grilled quail

pork wrapped pork

pork wrapped pork

walking through Bevagna

walking through Bevagna

We headed back to Spello for one last sunset and a final visit to the Enoteca before packing up.  It has been a great week.

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We now joke that we will start an Italian food tour business.  Karen will research the restaurants and other sites to see, Ben will choose the wines and drive, Alex will co-research markets, other places to visit and navigate and most importantly Betsy will speak the language for us to open the secret doors.  I think we need to test drive the model a few more times before we take paying customers (wink).

Saturday we parted ways with the Barkers headed to Tuscany for a few days and we drove on up to Piedmonte to visit with our friends up there.  Three days and nights full of family meals and visits in the different homes with the usual great food and conversations.  The Piovannos have mostly cleaned up from the lightning strike fire that took out one of their barns this summer but still have to replace the tractors that were burned up.

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this is what it looked like before

this is what it looked like before

Eventually we had to start the long trip home, after 22 hours we finally walked into our house, I think now the transit home is harder than the jet lag going over.