11/17/06 Vol. 3 #29

Well we’ve been back from Italy about ten days now and finally are thinking about eating full meals again.  We ate so much great food during our stay that it was almost too much, almost.  Just like the first Terra Madre the second time around was a whirlwind experience but very different.  Our first trip to Torino for the inaugural Terra Madre was a leap of faith.  Slow Food and its mission were unknown to us. The details of the event were non-existent but the potential seemed large.  After six days of travel, jet lag, and short nights we came away aware that not only were the Italians great people but they had started something huge.  For two years we have been trying to become more familiar with Slow Food and its’ drive to preserve artisanal food production, small farms, bio diversity and more.  Food that is good, clean and fair.

The opportunity to participate in the second Terra Madre was a goal that we worked for.  Now we knew the lay of the land and wanted to take full advantage of it in a way we could not understand in 2004.  Then Slow Food increased the level of difficulty and potential by adding 1000 chefs from around the world to the nearly 5000 producers from 148 countries.  Slow Food’s goal was to increase and improve the networks between producers and chefs, the ingredient providers with the people who turn those ingredients into even more marvelous creations for the “eaters”.  What better way to introduce a wider audience to the ideals of Slow Food.  We knew immediately what we wanted to do.  Our long time customers and friends Ben and Karen Barker from Magnolia Grill in Durham had to go.  If we could attend with them, not only could they experience what we had two years prior but we could also hopefully see it through their eyes too.  We hoped to walk through the Salone del Gusto and local farmers markets with them.  We wanted to introduce them to our host family from 2004 and now good friends.  The most incredible part of the first Terra Madre, for us, was the farm and family where we were housed.  Not only were we amazed by their production of Piemontese beef and the artisanal meat products they turned it into but fell in love with their family and how they all worked together.

Karen and Ben did attend Terra Madre and our dreams came true but always in the Italian way.  We flew in a day early to make sure we were over the jet lag so we could be ready for what was surely to be a busy time.  Our 2004 host family offered for us to stay with them and we accepted.  The opening ceremonies were once again inspiring even though long, a mix of the United Nations meets the Olympics, lots of fanfare and speeches.

We dove right into the Salone del Gusto intent on exploring it much more thoroughly than we did the last time.  Held every two years since 1996 it is inspiring in its size, the quality of its products and its diversity.  Part trade show, part educational event.  It is Slow Food’s showcase for the work they are doing to save small producers of rare and indigenous foods.  If you can get people to eat these foods then the rest of the work is all down hill.  Most interesting are the Presidia.  Groups of producers of a kind of food (cheese from Castelmagno from mountain pastures to papaccella from Naples) or an endangered variety or breed (white Monreale plums to the white cow of Modena) are working together with Slow Food to have uniform production standards and a marketing strategy.  The heritage turkeys we raise are recognized as a Presidia here in the US.  We ate an incredible amount of interesting foodstuffs and came away with some new ideas.  One of the ideas that we have had from 2004 is to work with Slow Food USA, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and Growers’ Choice poultry cooperative to establish a heritage chicken presidia and have our local growers raise, sell and preserve these breeds.

In the Terra Madre spirit of building relationships and networks we spent Friday introducing the Barkers to our Italian friends, Michele and Kati Piovano who have a macellaria and farm, where they sell beef and pork they raise, from the grain through the final cuts.  What was to be a quick tour of their farm and shop turned into a six hour full immersion experience.  Ben and Karen had aprons on and hands in, making sausages and other products.

Ben making sausages Michele instructing, Karen studying

It continued on to a full scale Italian lunch with many courses which Ben and Karen helped Michele’s mother cook!  This family experience continued on Sunday when we all participated in an extended family meal.  Aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and friends all convened.  One uncle made the tonnato sauce for the veal that Michele and Kati raised, a cousin made a mushroom dish from mushrooms she collected the day before, Ben made a salad from ingredients he had bought the day before in a local market, Betsy and I did the best we could to eat and visit.  Another uncle was a retired market farmer and pepper grower; despite language difficulties he and I were able to share pictures and experiences.

The rest of the conference went the same crazy way, we attended some workshops but spent most of our time connecting with other producers and exposing our Italian friends to the Salone del Gusto.  Here just minutes away from Torino are these incredible artisanal food producers and they had never been to the best artisanal food show in the world!  We were able to get them into the Salone and experience, through their eyes and taste buds, new and interesting foods.  We ended our trip by traveling around the Piedmonte region going to farmers’ markets and sampling the incredible foods of the region and seeing how they were produced.  We accomplished most of our objectives and feel very fortunate to have been able to participate in the second edition of Terra Madre!

Ben, Betsy and Karen at farmers’ market

6/26/08 Vol. 5 #15

Newsletter a day late, this week has been like a fire drill since Monday.  One of those weeks where its nothing unusual or a major type event, just too many small “extra-curricular” items that tip the cart.  Monday had an extra trip to Burlington for supplies, I had to help our 84 year old neighbor fix his mower, we did deliveries and took the big truck to the mechanic and then topped it all off with a lovely evening at Watts Grocery in Durham for their wine dinner which featured our products.  Tuesday (after arriving home late the previous night) we hit the road at 7:00 a.m. for an all day meeting in Goldsboro, we are on the Board of Advisors for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.  Back to the house about 5:30 in time to turn around to head into Carrboro for another board meeting for the Growers’ Choice poultry cooperative.  Wednesday up at the crack of dawn for the unusual chores and to prepare the brooder for the second round of turkeys that normally arrive at the Post Office early in the morning.  No call by 8:30 so I begin calling around to see where they are.  “Yes they were shipped on Monday”, she says at the hatchery.  Now we’re worried that they are sitting on some hot tarmac somewhere cooking (we hear these horror stories from other growers).  Second call to the Post Office, “no not here yet but there is one more plane that comes in at 10:30”.  Finally the call comes in at 11:30 they are here.  Betsy rushes up to Graham to collect them while I continue to work with the staff on the days projects.  By 1:00 the birds are here and installed in the brooder, all healthy and running around.  A quick bite of lunch and then we have to load and head off to market in the 95 degree heat.  By the time I get home and in the house at 8:00 last evening we are both fried.  Dinner and to bed by 9:00.

As my sister in law says, who is a nurse who works a crazy schedule of something like six twelve hour days straight, “I am headed into the tunnel”.  This is how she refers to going back to work after her days off.  We are headed into the tunnel now too, all of the growers at market are in the same place.  The early season excitement is past, the rush to get cool season crops in and out, the beautiful spring days, the planting and tending of the summer crops.  Now the heat is here and it is a careful balancing act to keep it all going while not burning the body out.  You can begin to see it in their faces now, that look of too many nights without enough sleep.  Now don’t misunderstand me, we still love this work and life, but all jobs have parts that take more effort or patience to get through to the next step.  How many days is it until the first frost?

Great news, we recently heard that we have been accepted as delegates, once again, to the Slow Food Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy this October.  As you may remember, we have been extremely fortunate to have been able to attend the previous two Terra Madre’s in 2004 and 2006.  We have another strong group going from the Triangle area including eight of us from the Carrboro Farmers’ Market.  This world meeting of farmers, chefs and others in the food system has been an inspiration to us and we hope to be able to expose others to some of what we have been able to experience there.  Slow Food pays for all of the delegates expenses once they get to Italy but they have to get themselves there.  Look for various fund raisers this summer and fall, sponsored by Slow Food Triangle, to help send our local people.  The first of these is this coming Tuesday, July 1st, at the Lantern Restaurant.  A Greek wine dinner, featuring a Slow Food Presidia wine (Presidia are projects aimed at helping to preserve a food or food making tradition).  Andrea at Lantern says there are still seats available.  It will also feature some of our products on the menu.

Picture of the Week
Happy three day old Broad Breasted Bronzes

9/25/08 Vol. 5 #26

A day late for a number of reasons.  Anticipating this current impending storm we worked a full day yesterday getting things picked and soil turned over.  Friday was to be the last pepper harvest of the season but we moved it up to yesterday to get it all done while it was dry.  Just as we thought, there were still so many fruits left on the plants that is took all day to clean them off.  So many peppers in fact that we will be coming to Saturday market one more week than usual.  For nearly ten years now we have finished up our selling season the last Saturday of September as the peppers have waned along with everything else (including us!).  So this year we have a bonus week.

As I have mentioned before, one of the reasons we close down earlier than many other area farms it because we feel it is vitally important to help us properly get the farm put to bed for the winter.  Because our soil maintenance and fertility is based on growing lush cover crops we need to have the time and the fields empty so we can get the soil ready to plant them.  The optimum time to seed these winter soil improving crops is September and October.  If we had crops in the ground until November, or later, we would be able to maybe get some winter rye to come up but that would be about it.

So for weeks now we have been clearing the fields of trellises, irrigation and mowing down crops as they have finished up.  All that remains is the pepper field and a few rows of flowers, at least until next week.  Finally, yesterday, I spent the day on the tractor making the first pass over two acres of now empty fields cutting in the residues of the summers growth.  This first disking, followed by the rain over the next few days will allow the residues to begin to breakdown.  In a week or so I will follow with more soil preparation until in the entire farm is in raised beds and seeded to various combinations of winter grains and legumes.  We only have three weeks until we leave for the Slow Food event in Italy and there is still much to do.

Speaking of Terra Madre in Italy, not only are we going but two of our favorite fellow farms are also going.  Joann and Brian Gallagher of Castlemaine Farm (336-376-1025) and Ristin Cooks and Patrick Walsh of Castle Rock Gardens (919-636-0832)  are also going with us.  The deal with Slow Food is if you get yourself there they pay for everything else, housing, food etc.  That leaves a large plane ticket bill for these still new and small farms to cover.  To that end they are having a fundraising Chicken dinner at Castle Rock Gardens in Chatham county on Oct. 12th.  Chicken from their farms along with vegetables too for only $25.  Check with them at market for further details and tickets or call them at the above phone numbers.  Let’s help get them to Italy!

Picture of the Week
Just disked fields, a few rows of flowers and the green of the pepper field all the way down at the trees.

10/3/08 Vol. 5 #27

Last Saturday market of the season (for us). For six months each year our daily life is ruled by the anticipation of Saturday market. We may have lots of things going on here at the farm during the week but in the back of our heads it is always there, the inevitable weight that the Saturday market carries. Betsy says it always feels like Friday-Saturday, Friday-Saturday. Somewhere over sixty percent of our business is done in those five hours on twenty seven Saturdays. 135 hours a year to make most of our living. Most retail businesses are open something on the order of 3000 plus hours a year. At times I realize what a miracle it is that we can make a living, outdoors, in such an intensified way. Of course with out all of your support it would not be possible at all, thank you.

The winterizing of the farm goes apace. Yesterday the last of the pepper trellis was pulled out. We build quite an elaborate trellis system using metal t-posts, wooden cross arms, wire and baling twine to hold up the 1800 feet of row. Sometimes when you design these support systems you find out it takes longer to take it down than it took to put up. So over the years we have come up with a system that is not only fast to put up but also to take down. It is designed so, if done well, all the wires and strings are easily wound up on spools as they are pulled out of the plants. The spools are stored for the winter and next year will be reused and just rolled back out over next years pepper plants. Finally all the metal posts are pulled up and stacked next to the mountain of wooden cross arms, ready for another season.

The last of the tomatoes are gone too, trellises out and the last of the Big Top covers pulled down and wrapped up for the winter. The guys even got a fresh layer of mulch on the blueberries last week. All last winter the power company had crews trimming the trees along the power lines all around the area. We told them they could dump all the brush chips they wanted here. Now after half a year of composting it is beautiful mulch for the berry bushes. The turkeys have been moved to their last stop in the tour of the farm, a field with lush green grass to eat and rest on. In less than two weeks they will go away.

Two weeks from today we will have just landed in Italy, fighting jet lag and driving our way up into the Alps to see a part of the country we have never been in. Next week I will give you a run down of what our two weeks in Italy will be like. Don’t forget the fundraising Chicken dinner at Castle Rock Gardens in Chatham county on Sunday Oct. 12th. Chicken from their farms along with vegetables too for only $25. Check with them at market for further details and tickets or call them at 336-376-1025 for Joann and Brian Gallagher of Castlemaine Farm or 919-636-0832 for Ristin Cooks and Patrick Walsh of Castle Rock Gardens. Picture of the Week With the trellis gone, the guys are picking (and throwing some) the last peppers before mowing

11/25/08 Vo. 5 #28

Hmmm… what happened to that pre and post Italy report?  Well the race down hill towards leaving for Italy, including getting the farm shut down and taking the turkeys to processing, sucked all the air out of the room.  Since we’ve been back, between catching up on all we missed and fighting the head cold that seems to be going around we now find ourselves on the morning of the special Tuesday before Thanksgiving market from 3:00-6:00 this afternoon, more on that later.

Like all big trips and conferences, Italy was exciting and exhausting, too short a stay and too long, too much to see and not enough.  We arrived in Milan a week before the Terra Madre conference was to begin.  This would give us time to recover and acclimate before we encountered both our Italian family and the nearly 8000 delegates at the conference, it is hard to say sometimes which takes more stamina.  Off we went in our rental car (Betsy driving and me navigating, which is quite humorous to our Italian friends) east up into the Alps and the Dolomites.  Past lake Como and then up a the long Valtellina valley whose specialties are pastas with buckwheat, a cheese called bitto, what seemed like a lot of apples and lovely red wines.  Just over the northern mountain is Switzerland.  The second day we drove over the Stelvio Pass the second highest in Europe at 9000′.

Once we cleared the pass we were in the Alto Adige or Sud Tirol as this area is really a part of Austria under the Italian flag.  All places have two names the Italian and the German and German is the dominant language.  For two nights we stayed at an apple farm up on the slopes of the Dolomites, over looking Bolzano, and were definitely the only non American tourists in the area.  The food here is Germanic with lots of sausages, kraut and dumplings, more beer than wine and a lot of apples.  We drove for parts of three days, maybe 150 kilometers, through non-stop apple orchards covering the entire valley floors.  The disappointing thing was they were all the standard commercial varieties we have here in the stores; Red and Golden Delicious, Fuji and Gala, no old European varieties!

On the fifth day after leaving home we finally arrived in Torino and at our dear Italian friends who housed us and went too far out of their ways to take care of us.  We had a few days to visit with them before the Slow Food events started and it was just right.  The combination of the Terra Madre conference with nearly 8000 delegates from 150 countries and Slow Foods’ specialty food show, The Salone del Gusto, next door with 180,000 attendees over five days is in many ways too much.  Your senses are overwhelmed by the sights of everyone in their native dress and the taste and smell of the foods that it sustains you for a while, then you realize the crush and madness of it all and you have to walk outside for a while to reorient your self.  We do always come away with the reaffirmation that the local food and small farm movement is doing some amazing things around the world and in the US, and maybe that is enough of a reason to throw yourself into such a maelstrom.

The highlight, for us, was on the last day of the conference when our Italian friends hosted most of our Triangle delegation at their farm for a cookout and farm tour.  Amazing food and for most of them the only time they were on a farm since they left North Carolina.  I think that it allowed them to tie together some of what they had seen and heard for the previous four days about community and food that is “good, clean and fair”.

The last three days we retreated to the Ligurian coast and the beautiful area of Cinque Terra.  Five fishing villages clinging to and strung along a steep coastline.  We walked the trails between the towns, ate way too much, and slept.  Finally the long road home with many train, bus, and plane changes.