A Thousand Gardens in Africa

Now that Spring is coming, and gardens are germinating in minds and sunny windowsills, I thought it would be an appropriate time to write this post. For some, A Thousand Gardens in Africa is a half a world away, for most it's on another continent, but if you listen to what the folks are saying, the words could be spoken by you,or any other gardener.

When I was Salone del Gusto Terra Madre 2012, the exhibit for A Thousand Gardens in Africa fascinated me, The program truly reflects Slow Food International's commitment to good, clean and fair food. There was music, dance, and gardens. A real sense of local community as you can see from the photos below.

The video above says more about this program than anything I could write. I've only seen an exhibit, and read the literature about it, but these folks in the video live it everyday.

I do want to highlight this;

The thousand gardens are concrete models of sustainable agriculture, sensitive to different contexts (environmental, socioeconomic and cultural) and easily replicable.

The project involves the creation of school, community and gardens.

A good garden guarantees fresh and genuine products, promotes local products , safeguards traditional recipes, produces quality food products.

A clean garden respects the environment, uses soil and water sustainably, protects biodiversity.

A fair garden is a community experience, bringing together different generations and social groups; promotes the knowledge and skills of farmers, improving their autonomy and self- esteem; and encourages food sovereignty, giving the community the possibility to choose what to grow and eat.

The link above is from the Terra Madre 2012 page. There is a comprehensive look on Slow Food International's A Thousand Gardens in Africa page. As you step out into your garden, and work the soil, think about A Thousand Gardens in Africa, and how connected we are despite distance, language and culture.


gardens A Thousand Gardens in Africa







gardens at Terra Madre








dancing at A Thousand Gardens Exhibot







Gardens at Terra Madre

¡TIERRA!, Lavazza's Responsible Choice, Part 2

photo coffee canIn my previous post, I contrasted the sustainable and socially responsible choice that Luiggi Lavazza made in 1935 to change his business vision, with the choice of greed that some American corporations indicated they will make in 2014 when a new health care law goes into effect.

From Lavazza's Code of Ethics page (yes, a stated code of ethics) on their website:

The Lavazza Group has always been committed to observing all legislation applicable to the various business units, in the firm belief that the way in which business is conducted is just as important as the profits achieved and that nobody should operate under the false assumption that business targets are more important than legal and ethical standards.

¡TIERRA! is a project that demonstrates the Lavazza Foundation's commitment to a sustainable and socially responsible business model. The project started in 2002 and involves six coffee growing communities in Honduras, Peru, Colombia, India, Brazil and Tanzania. The project is focused on three key initiatives, the quality of the product sold to consumers. the living conditions in countries where the coffee is produced, and environmental protection. Logic tells me these intitavies are smart, long-term benefits to all, and not short-term benefits for a few. The success of this project is demonstrated by the fact that in 2009, three communities in Peru, Honduras and Colombia are now autonomous.

Lavazza ¡Tierra!, is the product that is the result of this project. It is a coffee that is 100% Arabica that is produced fully from sustainable farming. It's  certified by the Rainforest Alliance, an non-governmental organization that I will write more about next week. They are an excellent organization, with rigid standards required for their certification. The certification has been received for the coffee produced by the Peru, Honduras and Colombia communities, and is being pursued for the India, Brazil and Tanzania communities.

The coffee has a beautiful color, an enticing aroma, and bold, deep flavor without any burnt or acidic notes in the either the flavor or finish. I like it. A lot. When I first saw the Good Coffee, Good Karma tagline, the skeptic in me came out. After this roundtable though, I'm a firm believer that this tag line is apt. Let's a take a look at the Tanzania project as one example that kicked the skeptic to the curb.

In Tanzania, the project involves 750 local producers and their families. A school has been built, MaseRing Nursery School in the village of Maande in the Kirua region. The village sits at an altitude of slightly more than 3,900 feet on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. The school will function as a the hub of the community  will use Montessori method to the teach children, enabling them to work towards their future human potential. The school will also be used for adults to meet and organize, and attend adult training sessions. The goal here is for the Tanzania community to achieve independence like the ¡Tierra! communities in Peru, Honduras and Colombia. From a Lavazza Press kit about the Tanzania ¡Tierra! community:

The main phases to achieve independence will have to be carried out in Tanzania as well: improving the living conditions, social development and economic growth of farming communities, improving the liveability of the territory, developing high-quality productions that are increasingly ecological and profitable, thanks to new agricultural techniques and production tools, aimed at greater competitiveness and independence.

In detail, the new ¡Tierra! phase in Tanzania saw the involvement of 750 coffee-growers and their families, for a total of about 3,750 people. The work carried out benefited from the ongoing collaboration of international and local partners, including Kirua West Cooperative Union (KWCU), Kirua Children Association (KChA), Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union (KNCU), Tanzania Coffee Research Institute (TaCRI), Tanzania Coffee Board (TCB), and City Coffee Ltd.

The ¡Tierra! project in Tanzania is aimed at providing constant training to coffee-growers, guaranteeing the quality of their product and improving economic and social sustainability, thus enabling them to access the international market and, in the near future, also to sell their coffee independently and in a competitive way.

There's nothing more that I can add to that except thank you to Lavazza for doing this, and to encourage you to look for all Lavazza products where you shop. You can go here to find ¡TIERRA!, scroll down to the fifth row. Amazon.com also carries it through the same seller as the previous link.

Steve Mc Curry is an excellent photographer, and storyteller whose work is world-renowned. He's taken the journey with ¡TIERRA! since the start, and here are some of his photographs that Lavazza provided at the roundtable. Click on a thumbnail, and the gallery will open on separate page where you can click through all the images.

Next week, I will write about the participants in the roundtale, Daniel R. Katz, founder and board chair of Rainforest Alliance, Ana Paula Tavares, executive vice president of Rainforest Alliance, Carlo Petrini, founder and chairman of SlowFood, and Giuseppe Lavazza, vice president of Lavazza, and what was discussed.




¡TIERRA!, Lavazza's Responsible Choice, Part 1

screen shot photograph lavazza good karm good coffee

“I don’t want to be part of a world that destroys Nature’s treasures.” – Luigi Lavazza




 It was during a trip to South America in 1935 when Luigi Lavazza expressed his dismay at the destruction of whole batches of unsold coffee — an experience that left its mark on him, and changed his business vision.

Talk about a life changing experience. The above is from a Lavazza media kit I received at roundtable called Partners for Sustainability, Together for a Sustainable Future at Salone del Gusto Terra Madre 2012. The roundtable was a discussion between Daniel R. Katz, founder and board chair of Rainforest Alliance, Ana Paula Tavares, executive vice president of Rainforest Alliance, Carlo Petrini, founder and chairman of SlowFood, and Giuseppe Lavazza, vice president of Lavazza. From a Slow Food International's Press Release, the focus of the roundtable:

An examination of shared pathways and projects to guarantee sustainable development. A debate on the concrete ways of doing business, reconciling attention to products with protecting our resources, starting with the experience of the Rainforest Alliance, the international NGO that has been collaborating with Lavazza on the ¡Tierra! project for ten years.

It was a lively and informative discussion, and I learned a lot in 90 minutes. I was impressed by the choice of Lavazza to be socially responsible. It shows that there is a choice about a business is run, and sets a good example. Lavazza's choice provides a good contrast to the choice that some businesses are making here in America.

In America, the 2012 presidential election is over. Americans chose to reelect Barack Obama, and with that choice, they endorsed his health care law. Health care in America is a mess complicated by greed and politics. There are some business owners who have made it clear that because of this law requiring them to provide health care to workers who work 30 hours a week or more, will have their hours cut so the business won't have to provide them health care. This law applies to businesses with 50 or more employees, and goes in effect in 2014.

Considering the potential public health problem this creates, food handlers without health insurance, not to mention the lack of responsibility to the well being of the employees who help the business make money, and to consumers who drive these companies business, it a clear choice of greed over social responsibility. A business in and of itself can't make its own decisions or choices.  The business owner, or owners, make the choices that define a business its business practices. Lavazza's choice, sustainable development, along with collaborating  with an international NGO that protects the rainforest, and all its inhabitants while maintaining a successful business, is socially responsible. The restaurant chains choice of cutting hours to deny health care is greed.

Now, you might be wondering, how does this play into a blog about heirloom varieties of plants, the threat they face with extinction and storytelling. A major motivation for me is encouraging people who heirloom garden to look at their gardening, and the knowledge that goes with it as a family heirloom that passes  to future generations. Luigi Lavazza's family heirloom, his coffee business and his business vision, is good fit for the motivation mentioned above. His quote resonates deeply within me, and I'm quite impressed with the ¡TIERRA! project. It amplifies the core message in that quote, and it will demonstrate the clear difference in the choices, social responsibility verses greed.

Next week, in part two of this series, I will tell you about the ¡TIERRA! project, and share some wonderful photographs by Steve McCurry, provided by Lavazza Part three the following week will focus on the roundtable.


Gesture and Respect – Fulvio Pierangelini

As it turned out, the Theater of Taste workshop with Fulvio Pierangelini beacme an opportunity to hear him speak from the heart. He did prepare the food on site. The kitchen was off to the side of the theater. It couldn't have been better. Hearing the words, and seeing the emotions of the man behind the plate brought the expereince to a level that exceeded any expectations I had. Everything I've read about Pierangelini and his philosphy about food, endeared me to the man. He cooks from deep within his soul. As he said at the event, there's a transfer of energy when you cook, so it's important to respect where the food came from, and to demonstrate this respect in gesture when cooking. For example, for his Chickpea Puree with Shrimp, he won't allow anyone else to shelf the shrimp. He will do do so he sure the shrimp have been caressed before being placed on the plate. It's obvious from the dish I sampled, that he embodies his own philosphy. As a side note, I'm a big observer of gesture, so to hear this as core principle of philosophy captures my fascination.

It was more of a conversation than a talk. At first, he chose to sit on the edge of the stage instead of standing on it. He said he felt more comfortable sitting down and talking to people. I liked that. It's was more informal, and it felt like my family tradition to sit down at the kitchen table while sharing food and conversation.

There were many Pierangelini quotes that I loved, but this one in particular, "The more simple the dish, the greater margin of error," stuck out in the context of the gesture and respect he kept referring to. This dish we sampled was shrimp, chickpea puree and olive oil. When you have three basic components to a dish, they must all compliment each other, and each must the highest quality. "It's better to make an excellent Veal Cutlet Milanese, than it is to make a mediocre Chocolate Sole," was another Pierangelini quote. He was saying that technique was more important than trying to invent something that doesn't work. "Sole does not need to be cooked with chocolate," and he's right. There is no respect for the nature of either of those ingredients, and the gesture of combining the two demonstrates a need to invent more than to work with the inherent qualities in sole and chocolate.

Below is the dish I sampled. Very simple, and respectful. Pierangelini said he's not much for decoration. He feels it's an unecessary gesture. He wants the ingredients to speak for themselves, and they did in the form of poetry.

This dish was sublime. If the finest silk was liquid, it would have the viscosity of this puree. The taste was fresh and pure, enhanced by a nutty undertone. When Pierangelini was asked about how he gets his puree so smooth, he replied that he uses the best chickpeas, and the water they cook in. I'd like to find these chickpeas.

The shrimp came from San Remo, and the fisherman who caught them was there. He spoke in a quiet, humble tone about how sweet tasting these shrimp are compared to other shrimp. They swim 600-900 meters below the water surface depending on how hot the air temperature is. I can see why Pierangelini chose him for a supplier. His respect for the shrimp was matched with his quiet and humble gesture when he spoke about them. †he shrimp were a deep red and white, and when sliced, a nice pure white. They were tender, sweet and slight hint of salt, which completed the nutty undertone of the puree.

Pierangelini grows his own olives, that should tell you about the quality of this oil. Quite frankly, it was the best olive oil I've ever tasted. There are many artisian olive oil producers at Salone gel Gusto Terra Madre, and I tasted some really fine samples, some will be written about in future posts, none came close to what completed that plate.

As someone who studied the fine arts in college, I never had the opportunity to hear any of the masters who influenced me speak. I would rank Peirangelini up with them as major influences on me. I've read a lot about him, and I admire his philosphy about food. To hear him have a conversation with us a group, and to cook his signature dish as well, was a tremendous honor. I thank him, and Slow Food International for allowing me to experience what he means about respect and gesture. Going foreward it will be a large influence on my work.


My Plan for Turin and Salone del Gusto

slow food international's turin logoI leave on Tuesday, and I'm excited and grateful. I'm scheduled to arrive in Turin, Italy,  Wednesday, at 10;30 a.m Turin time. Unfortunately, I won't get to the preopening press conference and subsequent events on Wednesday. My hotel reservation were wrong, I had to cancel it. The person making the reservation was confused. That person was me. I was fortunate to find a studio apartment about 3 miles away from the center of Turin. Check in there is at 2:00 p.m., and I'm sure I'll want to get acclimated after a long day of travel. Here's a taste of what's on offer for this week.  La Veneria Reale

My home for this four-day trip will be La Venaria Reale, a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), world heritage site. A brief description;

The Reggia di Venaria Reale is an extravagant baroque Royal Palace used as a Savoy residence in the 17th to 18th centuries. Built in the mid-17th century, it's one of the most significant examples of baroque art and architecture in existence and is one of the most beautiful royal residences in Europe. Inside are many beautiful frescoes and original paintings.

My studio apartment is located on the perimeter of this complex. The gardens are vast, and I can't wait to stroll through them. The video below will give you sense of their scale.

Hopefully, I'll take a gondola ride on one of the ponds in the gardens here, and there's installation of Brian Eno's music that would be a unique experience. I've been a fan of his since his time with Roxy Music.

Salone del Gusto Terra Madre (SGTM)

It all starts with a taste.

By understanding where our food comes from, how it was produced and by whom, adults and children can learn how to combine pleasure and responsibility in daily choices and appreciate the cultural and social importance of food.

As you can see from that quote, Slow Food International is devoted to preservation of biodiversity, and to the education about why it's so important. To that end, take a look the work of their Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, their education programs and their University of Gastronomic Sciences. That's an impressive commitment, and too much to try cover in one blog post. Once I get to SGTM, and participate in the demonstration of Slow Food International's commitment, I can provide real-time examples of what they do.

There will a large international Marketplace, where Terra Madre producers from around the world will have their products on display. There will be four plazas, three will feature Italian producers, one will feature international producers. There will be a tour for the press, but as I mentioned earlier, I won't be able to attend the pre-ceremony events. I have a tentative personal shopping experience set up, and I hope that does come through.

If not, there is so much being offered, that I'm not worried about filling my schedule.

Chocolate and Historical Caffes

Turin, chocolate and historical caffes in Italy are blended together in the official drink of the Piedmont region, the Bicern, which is a layered hot drink made with espresso, hot chocolate and whole milk;

The Caffè Al Bicerin has been serving the drink in Torino's Piazza della Consolata since the 18th century, and some authorities believe that the drink was invented there. Others believe that it originated around 1704 in the Caffè Fiorio which still stands on what is now Via Po.

The relationship between Turin and chocolate is honored with a yearly chocolate festival, chocolate tours, and a choco pass that is a tasting tour of some of the chocolate shops in the city.

There will be so much to see and do, and I welcome you along for the ride. I will updating the blog as much as I can. I anticipate they will be short bursts of information, with more comprehensive posts when I get back.

Theater of Taste – Fulvio Pierangelini

slow food international's turin logoThis will be my first time attending Salone del Gusto Terra Madre. The event offers an array of options for the attendees. It was a real challenge to figure out how I would cover this as a blogger. With all the bookable events, I didn't want to book myself into a corner by scheduling every second of my time. Being press, I needed to leave time for the opportunities that will offer. There will a lot going on, and I want to savor as much of it as I can. For me, that's not scheduling every minute of the day.

The Theater of Taste at Salone del Gusto, is an opportunity to watch a famous chef in action. In an amphitheater setting, while video cameras capture their every move and project them to big screens around the venue, the chef will prepare their signature dish. Afterwards, the audience gets to sample the dish, which in my event, will be paired with wine. Here's the Theater of Taste line up this year;

This year the Terra Madre network will be playing a big role, with six Theater of Taste events organized in collaboration with food communities and chefs from Latin America and North Africa: from Brazil, Beto Pimentel, cook and agronomist, and Roberta Sudbrack, exponent of modern brasileira cuisine; from Venezuela, Carlos Garcia, using local ingredients in haute cuisine; Virgilio Martinez, explaining the biodiversity of Peru; Enrique Olvera from Mexico presenting his evolving cuisine; and Meryem Cherkaoui, interpreting Moroccan tradition with cutting-edge techniques she learned in France’s best kitchens.

Closer to home, the story of Italian cuisine will be represented by four Theater of Taste events inspired by a book about Italian chefs, Cronache golose by Marco Bolasco and Marco Trabucco, published by Slow Food Editore. Come sample the historic dishes created by Fulvio Pierangelini, Davide Scabin, Valentino Marcattilii and the Iaccarino family.

Tough choice there. It would be worth the trip, just to attend the Theater of Taste events alone. My choice, Dishes That Made History; Fulvio Pierangelini's Chickpea Puree with Shrimp. How could I pass up the opportunity to watch Pierangelini's create, and than sample his signature dish? Since his legendary restaurant, Gambero Rosso, is now closed, and Peirangelini is now consulting, I had to make my reservation. For so many reasons, I'm glad I did. The biggest reason though, is I agree with his approach to food. Here's a quote about his approach from a 2007 Gourmet magazine review of Gambero Rosso;

“The first step in my cuisine,” Pierangelini tells me, “is to find the best materials, even those that others can’t find. Then it’s a matter of how I work with them. One must know them, feel them; one must decide all that one can do with them and still remain natural. To cook like this is to walk a tightrope, way up high, with no net. If I fall, I fall.”

I like this process of using the best ingredients, making them you own and working with them intuitively. For me, that honors the inherent goodness in nature. I take the same approach when I garden. I find the best, authentic seed sources, create high quality compost to nurture my plants, and then create garden beds  in the best location for my plants to grow. When I harvest the fruit or vegetables, they are the highest quality possible because I honored nature's process. I extend this process to how I prepare food.

I would've loved to have travelled down the coast of Tuscany to Gambero Rosso while it was open. Alas, that's no more. I am grateful though to have this opportunity to watch one of the top chefs in the world create, and to sample his signature dish. This event is one of many reasons why I'm so excited to attend Salon del Gusto Terra Madre.

I will be updating this blog as much as I can while I'm there. I anticipate there will many short posts, with some longer ones mixed in. I will have my iPad, so I'll be able to shoot photos/videos, write and upload all from a single device. I also have an external, solar/light powered keyboard which makes typing more efficient. Please feel free to stop by from 10.25-10.28 to share in this experience with me.


Lear's Macaw – Their Feast is Vanishing Too

When I started writing this blog, I focused on the varieties of vegetables that have vanished from seed collections. Being an avid gardener,I know the value of biodiversity to the long-term health of the garden, and the environment. I admit, I had a slight disconnect to the larger picture of endangered plants, all the species that rely on them, and what I am doing with this blog and my work. Sometimes the simple and obvious gets lost.

Recently though, that has changed. Let me explain how.

With my experience of preparing for the heirloom expo, the sunflower emerged as my new logo. After growing sunflowers this year, and being an astute observer of what I grow, the dots got connected about the sunflower's role in the biodiversity food chain. Pollinators, birds, animals, and humans are fed by the sunflower. It's a good symbol of the feast provided by nature. They are beautiful, and now they are the brand image for what I do.

Range of Lear's Macae

While reading a Slow Food International press release about Salone del Gusto Terra Madre, and the work of  the Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium, I came across the plight of Lear's Macaw. Lear's Macaw is a wild parrot whose natural habitat is a very small area in Brazil, noted on the map on the left.

Lear's Macaw derives 90% of its diet from the Licuri Palm. The other 10% comes from  fruits in the area. They've been known to eat corn also, which puts them at odds with farmers.

When 90% of your diet comes from one source, and that source is diminished, naturally you're going to seek out other food source. I know I would. Habitat loss is one of the major factors putting pressure on Lear's Macaw. The other is illegal poaching. Some sources cite habitat loss over poaching, some sources cite the opposite. Both are reasons why Lear's Macaws are endangered, and both are not acceptable.

The habitat loss is from clear cutting and fires, techniques used to create cattle grazing pastures. This action is a controversial one, it impacts more than Lear's Macaw. I think how heavily these parrots rely on a single food that is being diminished puts this slash and burn practice in proper perspective for the damage that it does.

Some steps have been taken to preserve their habitat. Seedlings of the Licuri Palm that try to reclaim the pastures ate either stomped out by grazing, or are eaten as part of the grazing done in these pastures. As with any invasive species or action, tipping the natural balance in an environment has detrimental consequences.

There's still a lot of work to be done, and the populations of Lear's Macaw have stabilized to the point that in 2009  they have been moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered. This statement though, shows how precarious the situation is for the wild population;

A major fire could now wipe the whole palm population out (5), leaving this parrot fatally vulnerable.

While that statement is from the year 2000, it's still relevant today. The fact remains that a species of bird relies on one source of food for 90% of its diet. If anything illustrates the title of my blog, Vanishing Feast – An Heirloom Solution, the plight of Lear's Macaw does. The Licuri Palm is an heirloom variety of palm tree, and it provides the solution of the feast needed by Lear's Macaw.

There's a couple of valuable lessons here. First, for me, the expansion of my concept beyond seeds and seed collection is warranted. Second, coal miners used to use canaries in coal mines as warnings about dangers of lethal gases. Perhaps, this parrot in a palm tree is a symbol for the danger of habitat destruction and how lethal it can be.

For more information about the Licuri Palm take a look at the work of the Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium, a Slow Food International's presidum dedicated to the Licuri Palm, the source of 90% of Lear Macaw's diet.

For more information about conservation efforts, here's a good article at The Parrot Society UK.

For mor information about Salone del Gusto Terra Madre, here's their website.

Licuri Palm Nuts – Woman Gathers and 90% of the Lear's Macaw Diet

slow food international's turin logoSo many stories, so little time. While reading through the information provided to me by Slow Food International's press office, I came across the the story of licuri palms. The palms produce a local, traditional food that's harvested by women gathers grouped together by a local cooperative, and the fruit is essential to the diet of two very beautiful birds, Lear’s macaw, which 90% of it's diet is from this tree, and the hyacinth macaw. Both birds are threatened by extinction due the habitat destruction of the licuri palm. I didn't know about the licuri palm until I read this article by Josenaide de Souza Alves, coordinator of the Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium. (A Slow Food Presidium is a local project that focuses on preserving traditional foods and creating a viable program for local producers to stabilize production, establish stringent production procedures and promote local consumption.) From the linked article;

The imposing licuri palm is also called the solitary palm of the Brazilian caatinga, the characteristic biome of the northeast of the country, running from northern Minas Gerais to southern Pernambuco, through the states of Bahia, Sergipe and Alagoas. The palm was once an integral part of the landscape and its fruits a common food. Even O Tratado Descritivo do Brasil, published in 1587 by the Portuguese explorer Gabriel Soares de Sousa, contains a description of the flavor and quality of the licuri palm fruits.

That date, 1587, is significant. It establishes a baseline of knowledge about this tree in modern history. A lot of exploration of the new world was happening than, and while all of this was new to the Europeans, to the indigenous species of the region, these discoveries were centuries old.

As with any local food source, the licuri nut plays an integral role in the local economy. Here in the United States, a big push is on for people to get back to buying local. For many people in the world, as matter of necessity, it's always been the local economy  Traditionally, woman would gather the licuri nuts, and process them. Again from the article on the Salone del Gusto Terra Madre website;

In the Piemonte da Diamantina region, in the heart of the Bahian caatinga, the main harvest takes place between January and May. The bunches are cut using a knife or a scythe, collected in a typical basket made from woven lianas called a balaio and transported on the backs of mules or on women’s heads. The women both pick and process the fruit. Sitting at home or in the shade of a tree, they use a stone to break the shells of the small nuts.

The nuts are also part of the traditional Easter meal in the region. Since 2005, a cooperative, Coopes, groups 120 different woman gathers from 30 communities to harvest the nuts, and process them into products for sale.

As with most local food sources, the licuri nut is a food source for all inhabitants of the region, including the hyacinth macaw and Lear’s macaw. From the link;

An amazing 90% of the Lear’s macaw’s diet comes from the Licuri palm. There can therefore be no confusing the fact that the macaws are totally dependant on this palm and their conservation has to ensure the continuation of the Licuri into the future. Unfortunately however, as the human population in this region has expanded the number of small subsistence farms have increased, further reducing the available natural habitat. Perhaps an even greater concern is the grazing of cattle over large ranches. In many case land is cleared by fire and consequently many Licuri palms are lost. Efforts may be made to protect adult palms by the people clearing the land but this is only because their fruit bunches can be fed to cattle.

Think about that, what if your 90% of your diet was from one source and it was disappearing? Scary prospect I would say. As mentioned, the pressure on the licuri plam comes from land being cleared by fire. The fact that one species of life relies on the fruit of this tree for 90% of its diet, should raise the value of this tree above anymore land needed for cattle grazing.

This tree was described in 1587 by an explorer of the new world. The nut of this tree provides 9o% of the diet of the Lear's Macaw, and is traditional food of the people who live in this region of Brazil. It's part of their Easter meal, which to the people who are devout, and celebrate Easter, this holiday is most revered. It's demonstrates of the value of biodiversity, that being the dependence on one tree for one species of a bird.

Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium is a great example of the role of a Slow Food Presidium. To the local populations, the licuri plam is staple in their lives and traditions, and essential to the survival of Lear's Macaw. To lose the palm and Lear's Macaw would be tragic. With a local Slow Food Presidium working to ensure the survival of the licuri palm, the chances are much better for survival, and to ensure that part of the inherent biodiversity of our planet doesn't disappear.

This is one example of the information that will be shared at Salone Del Gusso Terra Madre. Josenaide de Souza Alves, coordinator of the Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium will be there. If I find him, and  some licuri nuts at the Marketplace, I'll be sure to let you know.

Countdown to Terra Madre – A Primer

slow food international's turin logoA month from now, October 23, 2012, I will be leaving for Salone del Gusto Terra Madre in Turin, Italy. I didn't plan to have my first post up exactly a month out. It just worked out that way. (wink) I'm excited and honored to be attending as press since my paternal grandparents are from Calabria, and my maternal grandparents are from Basilicata. All of them were from farming families. I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to attend this event, whose organizer works to preserve food heritage and traditional farming practices. That honors my heritage. The high fructose corn syrup free icing on the cake would be, if my dual citizenship with Italy is confirmed before I leave. It will be close. In April, I was told it would be at least six months before I would received my certificate of Italian citizenship. October is the sixth month. Considering this is my first trip to Italy, taking the first step onto Italian soil as citizen, would  a moment on my lifetime. If not THE moment.

If the above is not enough inspiration, there's more. Slow Food International (SFI) has put together a comprehensive educational event that fosters a strong community. Let's start with SFI's description of the event from a recent press release;

For the first time, Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre merge to create a single event that will be held on October 25-29, 2012 in Turin, Italy. The biennial event organized by Slow Food, the City of Turin and the Region of Piedmont in collaboration with the Italian Ministry for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, will display the extraordinary diversity of food from all continents and unite small-scale farmers and artisans from around the world who follow the principles of good, clean and fair.

To support this mission, the following will be presented. From the from the Salone del Gusto website;

Taste Workshops – In the year that the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre merge to create a single event that can better communicate Slow Food’s message, the Taste Workshops will also reflect this change. They’ll be giving more space to the network’s key issues and campaigns: the importance of biodiversity and sustainability, the protection of the landscape and the rediscovery of traditional knowledge. As usual, they will feature tastings led by producers, chefs, winemakers, brewers and experts.

Master of Food: A Taste for Learning  – The Master of Food courses at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre offer a series of practical activities, stimulating and reinforcing learning through direct experience. That’s the spirit behind the courses, “Horticulture” and “Cooking Without Waste,” dedicated to sustainable production and consumption and designed to cater to visitors from both Italy and abroad. The production and cooking techniques outlined in these courses are simple yet powerful ideas that have the potential to change the world. Translation into English will be provided.

Theater of Taste – Chefs take to the stage, surrounded by an amphitheater of audience members. Their every move is followed by video cameras that capture their dexterity and culinary tricks and broadcast them on a big screen. The chefs will be preparing their signature dishes for the audience to sample and reveal the secrets behind their preparation.

Meetings With the Makers – Eagerly awaited by connoisseurs and professionals, or anyone who likes the idea of trying out new beers or following the last 30 years of Italian wine history, glass in hand: Meetings with the Makers events are held in a salon in the heart of the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, where you will be welcomed with delicious tastings and delightful stories, anecdotes and confessions from great figures from the international food and wine world.

Dinner Dates – Take a tour of the world’s cuisines: 39 chefs will be coming to Piedmont for 23 Dinner Dates, hosted by prestigious restaurants in and around Turin and famous wineries in the Langhe.

Slow Food Education – To help explain how food changes the world Slow Food will be organizing many fun and educational activities that invite visitors of all ages to rediscover the pleasures of conviviality, shop and eat responsibly, respect the seasons, benefit from biodiversity, train the senses and get to know the people who farm, catch and produce the foods that end up on our plates every day.

Conferences – Food changes the world through the choices of responsible consumers, chefs and producers who care about the stories of the products that they eat, cook and make. The Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre Conferences are an opportunity to talk about these experiences, to open up the debate on how responsible eating habits can improve our health and that of the planet’s and call into question the distortions and paradoxes of large-scale production and distribution systems.

The offer is on for a great experience. I can't wait. I seemed to have worked out some minor technical issues with posting from iPad, so I plan on updating as much as possible. I'll have more specific posts in the next 30 days.

Expo Recap

heirloom squashThe 2nd Annual National Heirloom Expo was  a wonderful event, and a successful one too. The expo folks estimate the crowd at 14,000 attendees. I'd say for a midweek event in it's second year, that's impressive. I'd like to thank The Petaluma Seed Bank, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds for all their hard work. Mounting an event like this is not easy. As a vendor, I'm happy to say, I had no problems. Speaking of vendors, there was quite a variety. There were seed  companies, pure food companies, people working in social justice, gardeners, farmers, activists, artists, and innovative people of all kinds, all working to make a difference locally, and for the planet. I was truly in awe. Than there were prepared food vendors serving up crepes, grass fed beef burgers, vegan and vegetarian fare, pad thai, and organic grilled cheese sandwiches on sourdough that were sublime. I had the Wild West version, which featured this delicious sauerkraut. Yum.

Location, location, location they say in real estate, and for event planning, it's just as important. The Sonoma County Fairgrounds handled this event with ease. It's an expansive property, clean and comfortable, with plenty of horse stalls, corrals, a race track, complete with a full service building with bleacher seating, and nice exhibition halls. A large parking lot is right there, and easy access to the freeway, and downtown Santa Rosa.

Speaking of Santa Rosa, it's a great place. Nice people, a thriving, walkable downtown with independent shops and delicious food and coffee. There's a mall downtown in case you need something Apple. Much like the rest of Sonoma County, it's a great place to spend a week, or a lifetime. There's wine country, a beautiful, rugged coast, and a forest that surrounds the Russian River. Combine all of that with this event, and you have a nice option for a vacation.

As far as heirloom varieties go, The Hall of Flowers was the place to see them.  Quite abundant as you can see from my photos below. Since I was by myself, I didn't have a chance to attend any of the speaker events. Overall, I did hear great feedback from a lot of people. If there was one complaint, it was that there was sensory overload. Considering we live in digital, wired world, sensory overload experienced in real time is new or forgotten experience I suppose.

A couple of personal highlights;

  • I had the opportunity to inform two people about the dangers of GMOs. They had never heard of them. (I had one of my t-shirts on with 100% GMO Free on the front, which raised the question in their mind.) The first was was a senior citizen who was not happy when she found out what they are. She is a resident of CA, and I was happy to inform her that she could vote Yes on Prop 37, the ballot initiative to require GMO labeling on food products. The second was a young girl who was about 8 or 9. I was talking to a couple of people, and she hung around until I was finished.  She was intent on asking her question. I love the juxtaposition of ages here, along with the reaction and response that I got. The elder reacted with righteous indignation, and her response was to take action by placing a vote. The wisdom and experience of life on a micro level. The young girl was curious, and was intent on satisfying it. To me, that's the wonder of youth that gets worn away as we become adults. In the end, the response from both about GMOs was why is this happening? Indeed.
  • A teacher stopped by to admire my photographs of sunflowers. We had a nice discussion of sunflowers, and photography. As the conversation flowed,  she told me she was teaching her class about sunflowers. I brought some Hopi Dye Sunflower seeds to give away as promo. For a number of reasons, that didn't happen. What did happen though is I gave her a large packet of the seeds I had. She was thrilled. She also liked the Sunflowers 2013 calendar I had for sale, so I gave her a copy of that to share with her class. She was so grateful, and so was I knowing that my work was going to be used in some way to inspire young minds. Education is paramount to the evolution of society. The way education and teachers are viewed today to me is awful. I saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate an appreciation education, and the people who chose to make it their life's work.
  • I meet Cindy Scott and Stephen Scott of Terrior Seeds. They will be Slow Food USA delegates to the Salone del Gusto Terra Madre, which I will be covering as press. We compared flights to Italy. Slow Food International made their arrangements. I made my own. As it turns out, We're leaving the same day, on the same airline and leaving for the flight to Italy from the same airport. They are from Arizona, I'm from New Jersey. I know the flight they are on, I almost booked the same flight. I look forward to meeting up with them in Turin, Italy. Oh, and those green pear tomatoes from their catalogue are a must have for me in 2013.

These are just a few of many interactions I had. Quite honestly, the three days are a big, fascinating blur. So many interesting people, with great stories and information to share. I could've spent a week listening and learning.

Now, onto some projects that I became aware of, and will featuring in future posts.

The Agtivists – This a indiegogo.com project with a funding deadline of September 30, 2013. Zofia Hausman is the film maker behind the project.

From the indiegogo.com page; The Agtivists is a feature length documentary that shadows the work of four American pioneers who are leading the way in the fight for our food freedom.

I will have featured post this weekend about this film.

For now, please check out the indiegogo,com projcet page, and if so inclined, please contribute.

Ceres Project – This is a fascinating story of food and community building. This story is so organic on many levels. More to come about this wonderful organization.

Valley Girl Foodstuffs – They are a social purpose business, (YES!) and they work with Sonoma Valley Teen Services. The teens they work with learn about the food system from the farm, to the kitchen, to the market. During this process, the teens develop skills that they can use as a platform for growth. And, can I just say, the flavor profiles and the ingredients here are top notch. Just saying, sweet and spicy papaya mustard.

Seed Matters– I'm excited by this new initiative funded by the Clif Bar Family Foundation. The major components are conserving crop diversity, protect farmer's roles and rights as seed innovators and seed stewards, and reinvigorate public seed research and education. Hear that Monsanto.

The Community Seed Toolkit will provide a nice resource to local people to learn about seed stewardship. Matthew Dillion is the curator for Seed Matters, and was the founding director of the Organic Seed Alliance, which I am a big fan. I've been on their distribution list for a number of years. I have confidence that Seed Matters will grow into top resource for organic farming. The site goes live in October, and I will be following this program closely.

That's a smal snippet of my experience over the three days of the event. Since I was flying solo for this event, I didn't get out and about as much as I would've liked. Perhaps that was for the best. Too much of anything will always be too much.

I had samples of my t-shirts on display. I got a lot of positive feedback, which is exciting. My favorite moment with the t-shirts occurred when a woman was admiring the Candy Roaster Winter Squash shirt. She was smiling, laughing to herself, and shaking her head. Of course I had to ask her if she knew about that squash. She did. It turns out her aunt raves about how "oh so good it is, and laments that she can't find them around anymore like she used to." This woman couldn't wait to tell her aunt that she saw her beloved heirloom variety on a t-shirt, at this national heirloom variety expo. And, that the t-shirt was part of a program to raise awareness about heirloom varieties of plants. A moment to savor, among so many.

Here are some random photos form the Hall of Flowers. I had about 7 minutes left on a half hour dinner break to try to capture this immense display of abundant varieties. Alas, no captions.

heirloom vegetables

heirloom varities

Hello, and Welcome to the Folks from the Expo!

Thanks for stopping by! Make yourself at home, and look around. Be sure to follow me over the next few weeks as I post updates about Salone del Gusto Terra Made, and I will provide live updates from the event. In my previous post, I mentioned that I was going to talk about the choice of the sunflower as my brand image.

It all started organically, and for the new folks, I listen to nature, my intuition and I look for the elements that appear in my life that can be considered content of a larger story. I feel we write the story of our life everyday, and when you look at life that way, some really cool things happen.

Back to the sunflower. This year, I had a whole bunch of sunflowers volunteer in my garden. They sprouted early, and were growing like they were on a mission. I let them grow, and as it turns out, they became the inspiration for my art and my brand.

You see, the old guard sunflowers are at risk of becoming tomatoized. Since sunflowers have become such a popular cut flower, the plant breeders are responding with varieties that are commercially in demand, while the old guard gets forgotten. Much like what happened with the tomato and the tomato industry.

As it was, some of the sunflower volunteers in my garden were the Hopi Dye variety. I had grown them the year before, and some reseeded. The Hopi Dye are an ancient variety grown by the Hopi Indians as a food source and a dye source. The seeds are a deep, polished black, and they produce a dark purplish blue dye. The stalks and leaves produce a green dye. The Hopi would use this dye for yarn and baskets, and would also use the seeds for food and oil. A big difference from using a plant for only a cut flower. I believe there is room in the garden for both.

My aim is to raise awareness of threatened heirloom varieties of plants, and to encourage people to view them as family heirlooms. The Hopi Indians cherished these plants for all the gifts that Mother Nature gave these plants, a true heirloom to share with future generations. All of that would be enough to warrant a brand image for a project such as this. There is more though. The sunflower provides a feast for pollinators, birds, animals and humans. It's a feast for all to share. That's powerful, and for me, it's a honor to use this as the symbol of my work.

Had they not volunteered in my garden this year, and had I not recognized them for the content they were providing to my story, this post wouldn't have the interest that is has. And, that sums up a lot of what Vanishing Feast, An Heirloom solution is about.

Expo Preview

expo photoAs you might know, I will be a vendor at the 2nd National Annual Heirloom Expo. I'm probably very excited, but I'm too tired to notice. I've been pushing it to get ready, and with three weeks to go, I'm happy to say, I won't be rushing around like the people I deal with in my corporate day job. About the expo;

The National Heirloom Exposition is a not-for-profit event centered around the pure food movement, heirloom vegetables, and anti-GMO activism. Our inaugural event held mid-September 2011 in Santa Rosa, California drew more than 10,000 people from around the country and beyond. With more than 70 speakers and 250 natural food vendors, the event was the largest gathering in pure food history! The Heirloom Expo has gained incredible interest among home growers, farmers, school groups and the general public–so much so that it is being called the “World’s Fair of the pure food movement”!

The three day schedule of speakers alone is worth the price of admission. There will demonstrations  exhibits, and of course vendors. I'm listed as vendor under Magic Hat Media, my soon to be corporate name. I'm proud to be a part of this.

My goal is to introduce myself to the everyone I can. I am my best asset. It's what sets me apart from everyone else, and it's the same for you. Your talent in what you chose to do is an extension of who you are. No need to hide behind it, and no need to be obnoxiously pretentious about it either.

I want to grow my audience. As luck would have it, I will be at the Salone del Gusto Terra Madre by Slow Food International as press five weeks later. This presents an organic opportunity for me to entice the crowd to join at this event in Turin, Italy. Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food Movement is a speaker at the Expo, so there should be a buzz going on about this event.

I will have some books for sale, three different calendars of my photographs and some photographs. I was hoping to make some hats to sell, however they fell off the radar screen. They may still happen, but if they don't, they don't.

The big news is this, I will be launching an awareness program there. In the course of the creative process this summer, an inspiring idea presented itself. It was too good to let pass by. Not everyone wants to garden, and not everyone can. So how do they participate in raising awareness or preserving the heirloom varieties? Participating in farm markets is a great. Educating their children about the wonderful world of heirloom plants is another way. But how they help get the word out to the general public? Well, this program will be one way. That's all I'm going to say about it. I'm keeping it under my hat until the expo. It's the classic storytelling element of a cliff hanger.

Photo courtesy of the 2nd National Annual Heirloom Expo.

Faux Green Olives, A Good Use of Green Tomatoes

green tomatoes and olivesI'm a little busy right now, and unfortunately, the garden has fallen down the list of priorities. I will be a vendor at The 2nd National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, CA, September 11-13, 2012. Shortly after that, I will be part of the international press covering, Salone del Gusto Terra Madre, in Turin, Italy October 25, 2012 - October, 28, 2012. Not to mention the day job, 2 hours commuting everyday, and all the activities associated with life, e.g. laundry. My garden is not located on my property. I have a community garden plot about 10 minutes from my house that I have to haul everything to and fro, including water. Even though I store water there, the water still has to get to the storage container. I need approximately 60 gallons at a time. It's a challenge. Especially with the water and with the heat and flirting with drought here in my corner of southern New Jersey.

Recently, I stopped by just to see what was up. It had rained, or stormed is more like it since rain just doesn't exist with the new weather, so I was off the hook for a bit with watering. When I got there, a branch of a lush Ramapo plant, a New Jersey heirloom, had split from the force of the weight of the green tomatoes. My lack of time contributed since I didn't keep up with securing the new growth to the stake, and than there was the power of the storm.

The tomatoes were too small to fry, and not really enough to pickle. Not one to waste the gift of food, I knew I could do something with them. So, while driving home with the green tomatoes, I thought, when in doubt, roast. From my harvest that day of ripe tomatoes and eggplants, I was going to make a fresh tomato sauce with eggplant, and to that, I would also add the roasted green tomatoes.

I remembered earlier in the day, I had bought some sigi olives, otherwise known as oil cured sicialin olives. They are dry cured black olives that are soaked in oil. The flavor is robust and dense, and they can be very salty. The dry curing intensifies all the flavor as the moisture is removed. They have pits, and for some, the flavor, can be overwhelming. Good, cured olives in tomato sauce is always a favorite of mine with pasta, so now, they were going into the sauce too.

I was all set in my mind until I started to cook. Always one to experiment, I decided to roast the olives with the green tomatoes. I would add  some Italian sunflower oil, which is superb, salt, fresh garlic, some fresh lemon juice, and hope for the best. As you can see by reading this, it worked because I'm sharing it with you.

When I cook, I never measure, that's why I don't bake. So, I can't give you precise amounts here. But here's what I did;

  1. Cut up the tomatoes into quarters, and placed them in a bowl
  2. Removed the pits from the olives, and added the pitted olives to the tomatoes int he bowl
  3. Coat with oil
  4. Sprinkled in some course sea salt, sliced 3 cloves of fresh garlic, and squeezed a fresh lemon into the tomatoes and olives.  I tossed it all together, and let it sit for about 10 minutes while the oven heated up. I used a counter top convection oven at 450
  5. Roasted them for about 12 minutes, removed them, and placed them in a bowl where I tossed them again.

When eaten together, the moisture from the roasted tomatoes, along with the oil, mellows the intense flavor of the dry cured olives while adding a slight tang, that a green olive would have. The textures blend into what one would expect from olives. Hence, faux green olives.

pasta and sauceRight before the pasta was done, I added the mixture with the eggplant, which I french fried, to the tomato sauce, which I tossed with a wonderful organic, Italian glutten freen pasta by BioNataure. I have to say, I was very pleased.

Let them marinate in the refrigerator for a couple days, and the green tomatoes really pick up the olive flavor. It makes a nice tapenade also. I'm so glad  I discovered this. I found another branch spilt from a second Ramapo plant. Can't wait to see a ripe Ramapo will taste like. All in good time. Time right now for me is lacking. Time though is a great equalizer. We all get 24 hours in a day. How we shape it into our own story defines who we are.