What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Wed, October 20, 2010 by Intern
Ben Meyer makes a habit of embarking on culinary pilgrimages. His trip to Terra Madre in Turin is no different.
After 10 years working in Portland’s kitchens, Ben Meyer embarked on a kind of culinary pilgrimage. In 2001, he worked his way across the country, from Portland to the Mississippi River, stopping to work on 31 different farms along the way. Six years later the same thing happened in Spain—only this time the transportation was by foot and the farms were vineyards and olive plantations.
Meyer’s journeys revealed a seamless combination of food, culture, farming and history that lead him to create a powerful philosophy—one that inspires his current Portland restaurant, Ned Ludd, which he co-owns with chef Jason French. “With great ingredients, you do the least possible and let them shine.”
Meyer took a break from chopping cords of wood and growing fresh produce to talk with Slow Food USA about the joys of an early morning farmers’ market trip, introducing offal to patrons and the inspiration that started it all.
SF: Have you ever taken a risk on a dish that ended up being a success?
BM: All the time. We work with whatever beautiful ingredients our farmers have. Sometimes we have to get creative to make use of those ingredients. This summer, when we had raspberries coming out of our ears, I made a marinade for chicken, which turned out to be one of my favorites! We called it “chicken in a red coat.”
SF: Have you ever created a dish that you thought would be a hit but didn’t meet your expectations?
BM: Dishes often don’t turn out to be exactly what we planned, but throughout the process we have a lot of chances to redirect them and make them work. Wild plum braised lamb was not what I hoped it to be, but with some crispy kale, and creamy polenta, it worked out quite well.
SF: How much of what you do is influenced by the time you spent traveling the country and abroad on your bike and by foot?
BM: My time traveling by bicycle gave me the opportunity to see hundreds of farms across America and Canada, which ultimately gave me a more intimate connection with the foods I cook. It also made me even more steadfast about buying direct from the growers and producers in my area. My time walking in Spain gave me a passion for ingredients and nuances, and simple ways to draw out the essence of an ingredient in its peak time and place.
SF: What ingredient (or ingredients) do you like introducing people to?
BM: Offal, because I think most people’s dislike come from social stigmas or badly prepared versions as a child. Kale, because it is my favorite vegetable, and I don’t think it gets enough attention.
SF: What is the first thing you buy at your farmers market? Do you go to your farmer’s market since you have a CSA in your back yard?
BM: I go to the market early, and I do a lap to see what looks inspiring, and what farmer’s looks best. Then I buy as much as I can carry, mostly vegetables and fruit. The CSA is different: we watch things mature slowly, so ideas come together over time. The market is about inspiration.
SF: What was your favorite dish growing up? Has that inspired you in the kitchen?
BM: My mother loved to make my grandmother’s chicken soup with handmade noodles (almost more like dumplings). I loved that quite a lot. We also spent most of the summer eating tomatoes from the garden, sliced, with nothing but salt and black pepper. Oh, and fresh sweet corn, boiled, with butter and salt.
All of these have inspired the food I cook. I try to make very simple food that showcases the ingredients at their peak. That is always my favorite food.
SF: What is the most inspirational book or author you have read about what you do?
BM: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage series of books. What he has done is truly amazing. I love to thumb through and find little gems of peasant cookery. I also love Cooking by Hand, by Paul Bertolli.
SF: What is the best thing that you’ve ever eaten?
BM: This summer I was back in the Midwestern US, where I grew up, and I had an ear of sweet corn that stopped me dead in my tracks. Every single bite made me coo. And the first time I ate a calcot with Romesco in Spain.
SF: What types of challenges have you faced opening a new farm to fork restaurant in locavore saturated Portland, Oregon?
BM: Getting noticed. We are lucky, in that it is a small place, so we didn’t have to put ourselves out there too much. We did what we believed in, quietly, and people found us. If you do something with honesty and integrity, people respond to that. If you try to always be what people want, they sense that. We are lucky that so many people here care about the same things we do, and want to help us support growers, ranchers and producers working with tradition.
Posted on Wed, October 20, 2010 by Intern
18-year-old Casey Hirth takes a break from working on the farm for a journey of a lifetime.
Like many 18-year-olds, Casey Hirth divides his time between earning a degree in Environmental Biology and some seriously demanding extra-curricular activities. Unlike many 18-year-olds, Hirth’s extracurricular activities include running Old Pine Farm with his mother and brother—the only meat Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in Michigan.
While other students are filling their social calendar, Hirth is responsible for everything pertaining to poultry, from choosing breeds of meat birds and participating in their slaughter, to gathering, washing and organizing the eggs of carefully selected laying hens. As if that’s not enough, Hirth also raises dairy cows—an aspect of his work he enjoys enough to keep him motivated in sub-zero Ann Arbor temperatures.
As a third-generation farmer, an active member of Slow Food Huron Valley and the youngest Terra Madre delegate from the US, Hirth plans on using his experience in Italy to connect with other rural communities, and to learn how to make Old Pine Farm more economically efficient and sustainable.
Posted on Wed, October 13, 2010 by Intern
The Portland Meat Collective, lead by Camas Davis, bridges the gap between farmer and food, animal and story.
Photo by John Valls
I felt compelled to become a vegetarian, because I simply did not feel comfortable eating animals. I did not feel connected to the animal that was being placed on my plate.
I’ll be honest—I love the smell of my mother’s Friday night roasted chicken. I long for the taste of her flank steak. But for the past six years, I have not had the pleasure of that taste. What did I know about this animal? How was it raised? What was it fed? How was it slaughtered? Was it respected? I felt completely disconnected from the process the meat went through on its way to my mouth.
Camas Davis of the Portland Meat Collective (PMC), and a delegate of Terra Madre 2010, is among the few who believe that the public, if they choose to eat meat, ought to have a full understanding of the process from farm to plate—a process that factory farms largely hide from the public.
The PMC aims to “create an artisanal economy around humanely raised and slaughtered meat, and to create transparency so consumers know more about where their food comes from and how it’s raised,” according to Davis. It is modeled after traditional meat Community Supported Agricultures (CSA) but with a twist: a traveling butchery school.
The PMC encourages consumers to buy live, whole animals from small, sustainable farms, and then learn to slaughter and butcher these animals themselves. They offer variety of classes, from how to slaughter your own rooster or hen, to butchering your own lamb. The collective even offers a curing class, where students learn how to turn pork belly into their very own bacon. In the process, regular folks re-establish meaningful links to the animals they eat, and simultaneously renew the age-old practices of curing, butchery and preservation.
Initiatives like the Portland Meat Collective help us bridge the gap between the farmer and our food, the meat and the animal’s story. For me, the Portland Meat Collective offers the hope that one day, I’ll be able to enjoy my mother’s roasted chicken once again.
The PMC will launch its Meat CSA in fall 2010. Check out their website for more information. pdxmeat.com
Posted on Wed, October 13, 2010 by Intern
Slow Food USA sneaks a few minutes with Terra Madre delegate Amy Cox to talk about her favorite food, her favorite books, and what she plans to bring back from Italy.
By: Piera Tocci
Throw the phrase “food trends” around in a crowded restaurant, and you’ll likely get responses like “molecular gastronomy” or “small plates.” Slow Food Chicago leader Amy Cox thinks the most important trend goes far beyond the obvious. “Gratitude,” Cox says. “More and more people slowing down to appreciate what is on their plates, who grew it, and who prepared it.”
Cox adopted this mantra after a 15-year long career in the cardiology medical device field. She consequently founded subURBAN homestead, an organization that spreads the word about sustainability through classes, events and access to locally grown food. subURBAN’s sister company, Cutting Edge Culinary & Garden Consulting creates sustainable programs and concepts for culinary professionals and food-related nonprofits. The unifying message? People of all ages, backgrounds and cultures should savor the simple pleasures in life.
Slow Food USA snuck a few minutes with Cox to talk about her favorite food, her favorite books, and what she plans to bring back from Terra Madre.
SF: What is the hardest question you were ever asked about the food system and how did you answer it?
AC: People will often ask me what they can do to make a difference. The answer can seem difficult at first, but then I remember it’s really quite simple - - DO something! Plant an herb garden, join a CSA, patronize businesses that treat their customers, producers and planet with respect. Every step in the right direction IS a step in the right direction.
SF: What is the best thing you have ever eaten?
AC: I have been very fortunate to sit around many different tables in many different countries enjoying amazing food and wonderful company. Any and all occasions where I get that opportunity stay engraved in my mind. But, just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I truly believe there is no place like home. I cherish family dinners!
SF: What region/place would you like to visit to see their food culture?
AC: In the short term, I am very excited to visit Turin because I have been told that most families there keep a small food garden of their own, and I find that beautiful on many levels. And to visit a retail outlet like Eataly will be inspiring, since most Americans rely on retail establishments to provide them with food. Figuring out how to balance old world traditions with new age consumerism is a critical part of creating a sustainable food culture.
SF: Are you aware of any cool projects happening in other countries that are similar to your work?
AC: Yes, WAY too many to elaborate about here! The number of small scale farmers and producers on an international level that are doing their work out of a place of love and respect for themselves, their community and their planet is inspiring.
SF: What is the most inspiring thing anyone has ever told you?
AC: Smile at the world and the world will smile back.
SF: How and when did you first get into sustainability?
AC: I have always been passionate about gardening, farmers markets, and fresh eating. My 15-year career in the cardiology medical device field made me realize that I am more about wellness than sickness. This literally made me want to get back to my roots!
SF: What do you hope to bring back with you from Terra Madre?
AC: I plan to head off to Terra Madre with listening ears, an open mind and a pure heart. The things that are most relevant for me to bring back will become crystal clear.
SF: What is the most inspiration book or author you have read about what you do?
AC: So many inspiring authors and books out there! I just finished reading the Wisdom Of Tuscany: Simplicity, Security & the Good Life by Ferenc Máté.
Posted on Wed, October 13, 2010 by Intern
If you think Apple Pond Farm and Renewable Energy Education Center sounds like a really busy place—you’re right. Just ask Terra Madre delegate Sonja Hedlund, who has been at the helm for 37 years.
If you think Apple Pond Farm and Renewable Energy Education Center sounds like a really busy place—you’re right. On any given day, you can find 70-year-old Sonja Hedlund and partner Dick Riseling breeding and raising sheep, goats and chickens, selling meat and eggs, breeding, raising and training horses and operating multiple solar and renewable energy systems—and have been for 37 years.
Did we mention they’ve started making tinctures and syrups out of their own crop of elderberries? “I have a passion for farming, for country living, for growing my own food and eating what I grow,” Hedlund explains. It’s a desire she inherited from her Swedish-born parents who grew up farming land in their home country and Michigan.
Hedlund is constantly collaborating with the “hardworking, dedicated and resourceful” farmers in her Catskill community for a simple reason. “I see myself as a grassroots organizer here, working with people whose voice needs to be heard, whose values and livelihood need to be supported.” Hedlund plans on calling upon her networking skills at Terra Madre to connect with like-minded farmers from across the country.
Hedlund’s deep-seated belief in the power of community lead her to participate in the formation of the Sullivan County Farm Network—a network of farmers whose aim is to preserve and expand dairy farm land in the area, and whose interests in finding healthy foods at reasonable prices close to home align with hers. Why spend so much time organizing and helping other farmers? Hedlund explains it better than we ever could: “No farmers, no food.”
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Posted on Wed, October 13, 2010 by Intern
Melanie and Colehour Bondera are a lot of things. They are founders, networkers, travelers, and activists. But they are, first and foremost, farmers.
Melanie and Colehour Bondera are a lot of things. They are founders: Melanie co-founded Hawaii Genetic Engineering Action Network and SEED, the islands and states organization dedicated to educating people about the dangers of GMOs and promoting sustainable agriculture in Hawaii. They are board members: Colehour served on the Kona Coffee Farmers Association and the Kona Coffee Council for more than five years, and was recently selected to serve on the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board.
They are also networkers, travelers and activists, but they are—first and foremost—farmers. Homebase is Kanalani Ohana Farm in Honaunau, Hawaii, where the Bonderas produce avocados, cacao, jam, mead, and an award-winning Kona coffee that is a finalist for The Slow Food Foundation’s prestigious International Parmigiano-Reggiano Award.
Luckily for Slow Food USA, we grabbed a quick interview with the two sustainable food mavens to see how they do what they do.
SF: When was the moment you knew that farming was what you wanted to do with your life?
MB: As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone, I felt the pull to go work in the fields in my belly and would skip my volunteer work, to go dig, weed and harvest in my village, Senekedugu.
CB: After about ten months, (working in San Francisco) during several weeks of seeing a series of documentary oriented-films focusing on diet and agriculture, I found myself looking deeper into myself. I looked harder and realized that it was a grass field that was part of the broader whole landscape that included farms with and without legal boundaries. I realized that for myself that is the foundation of my thriving. I realized I need a strong foundation, and in one way or another farming would be the center of that. At the time I had just become, 20 years old.
SF: What are people’s reactions when you tell them you are a farmer?
MB: Often they are people who idealize organic farmers and are awed. Others are surprised and ask how much money I make. Some want to see my hands to see if I’ve really been working with them, if I don’t fit their image of a farmer.
SF: What have been the best and worst moments on your farm this year?
CB: Best moments in the past 12 months were realizing that the worst drought in this area had not dramatically caused damage to any of our crops. Worst moment in the same time frame was the stress caused by the long drought in terms of concern for farm health and how that took away from addressing other farm needs!
MB: Discovering Coffee Berry Borer Beetle is entrenched was almost as bad as the 4 month drought (worst in 50 years). Best was finding out we were going to Terra Madre and finally having a good crop of Cacao!
SF: What is the biggest issue facing our food system?
CB: Overall, the biggest thing that our food system faces is people worldwide being connected with where [their] food comes from. Food is not only from farms, but from the broader environment also, and recognizing that farming can be more free form than working a politically defined piece of land, but instead is an attitude, is important.
MB: Corporate agribusiness. They come up with onslaught after onslaught of ways to eliminate the small family farm, growing of healthy food, and healthy consumers.
SF: What do you see as the most promising trend in the food movement?
CB: Currently people are more cognisant of eating fresh and local than in recent decades. Quality, including organic certification, is sought more generally, and people are not wanting questionable or bad things to be part of their food (such as GMO crops).
SF: Who are you most looking forward to meeting at TM or what are you most
looking forward to doing and experiencing?
MB: I am most looking forward to meeting other farmers from around the world and discussing farming as well as agriculture issues. I’m thrilled to go to one place where farmers of so many different languages and cultures will be together with the shared theme of food. I’m so glad that indigenous languages and their earth wisdom will be highlighted this year. This alone makes me feel hopeful again.
CB: I really look forward to talking with folks about how they deal with tropical management of both levels of production, but more-so keeping the small farms going without breaks. I am looking forward to connecting with people in similar circumstances from around the world and speaking with them as equals, not as an outsider. I see it as an opportunity of equality and sharing!
Posted on Fri, October 01, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
Late Wednesday night the House extended the current Child Nutrition Act to avoid passing the Senate’s inferior version, leaving school lunch advocates flummoxed.
For the past few weeks we had been pushing the House to pass their version (instead of the Senate’s) of the child nutrition bill, and to do it as quickly as possible.
Taking money from SNAP (food stamps) to pay for school lunch—as the current Senate version does—is clearly not a good idea. Also not a good idea? Keeping the current bill for two more months when school food directors could really use the improvements (and extra 6 cents per child per meal) that would come with both versions of the new bill.
Which is what the House did late Wednesday night : extended the current Child Nutrition Act to avoid passing the Senate’s inferior version, leaving school lunch advocates flummoxed wondering whether to cheer the fact that cuts won’t be made to SNAP, or jeer the fact that our children have been left in the lurch.
First Lady Michelle Obama is frustrated with Pelosi and others who stalled the bill. School nutrition directors are frustrated that they will continue to go without the reimbursement increase; parents and advocates are concerned that junk food will continue to be unregulated.
Talk about a lose-lose situation.
The current extension brings us forward 2 months—at which point we’ll push the House to remain true to its convictions and pass a better child nutrition bill and do it with funding that doesn’t rob Peter to pay Paul.