Simple. Fresh. Local

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." JRR Tolken

Month: January, 2010

A Call to Action

There are endless depressing environmental topics. The oceans are dying, the ice is melting, animals are going extinct, toxic run-off from chemical companies is poisoning our water, the air is dirty. The basic resounding message is that we are killing killing killing the earth. What I love and what drives my passion for food issues is the tangibility of LIFE. The tangibility of growth, renewal, change, sustenance, connections, interconnectedness, shared experience. The ability for good food to bring all kinds of people together, the way we can vote for change with the food we buy, the appreciation of hard work, the experience of watching a seed grow and mature and the respect that comes from knowing where your food came from and the effort that was put into growing it.

Gary Romano is calling us all into action. Put  forth the effort, forget about all the leftist and hippie bullshit you associate with buying local and organic food. Clean, healthy and delicious food should be our RIGHT as humans and we should not neglect or undermine ourselves on this issue. I get money issues I hear it all the time, but we are all privileged and creative enough to make at least a small contribution to the betterment of our world, ourselves and our neighbors. Be part of making sustainable attainable.


2010: It’s Time to Walk the Walk and Not Just Talk the Talk

Chronicles of a Dirt Farmer

Published: January 13, 2010

January Print Edition

by Gary Romano

Happy New Year! It’s that time of year when you set New Year’s resolutions, so here is one for you: to start “walking the walk and not just talking the talk” when it comes to supporting sustainable local food systems and supporting small farmers. With that in mind, I thought I would start out the new year and decade with an article on my (being a farmer) perspective by asking these questions: “Do you know where your food is coming from?” and “Do you really care?”

Throughout 2008–2009 the buzz words floating around were “sustainable,” “buy local,” “support your local small farmer,” “community supported agriculture (CSA),” and “go to the farmers market.” Some of you might be offended for what I’m about to say but it’s only this farmer’s perspective of where we need to go in the next 10 years.

A recent national study showed that from 2001 to 2008 the average age of a farmer rose from 47 years old to 58 years old, and while farmers over 70 increased by 30 percent, the number of 25-year-old farmers dropped over 40 percent. The farmers are getting older, the young ones can’t afford or don’t want to do it, which begs the question: Who’s going to grow our food?

There is a positive side, however; organic farmers rose by 20 percent, and more and more people are becoming aware of buying healthy fruits and vegetables. Despite this good news, us farmers are very disappointed with the action of the Tahoe/Truckee community on “walking the walk” in regards to supporting local farmers and building a community food system.

It’s time to put up or shut up. Over the last year or so there has been plenty of talk. We hear things like “Locals Thursday night,” “Let’s join Slow Food Lake Tahoe,” “Let’s have coffee at the farmers market and socialize,” “We use local fresh fruits and vegetables from our local farmers”… but where’s the beef?

Last year the buzz amongst farmers at the farmers market was: ”What happened to Truckee? No one comes to this market anymore.” Most of our sales were down at least 30 percent at the Tuesday market. Kings Beach and the Truckee Thursday night markets were a bust, and Tahoe City lost most of its locals — thank God for the tourists who kept it afloat. I realize the economy plays a large part, but it’s how you spend your money. There are definitely those who are dedicated to supporting organic and locally grown food, but they are a minority. To help spread awareness and make CSAs more affordable, we offered a flexible drop-in program and a work day to learn about farming, where you could come at your leisure. We offered it for eight weeks in Truckee, Quincy, and Reno and had only one family show up. If the answer to “Do you care where your food comes from?” is yes, farmers are ready to say, “Show me the money!”

As for restaurants, there are a few that commit loyally to small farms, but most who say they buy from small farmers only do so when it’s convenient for them. It’s a good catch phrase. Of all the chefs I’ve invited to the farm to see where the crops are growing in the Tahoe/Truckee area, only a few showed up last year.

Here are the questions to ask yourself to see if you’re serious about supporting your local food systems and small farmers. “Do I actively participate in or attend:”

• Farmers arkets
• CSA box
• Farmer Internship Program
• Project MANA’s Community Garden
• Restaurants that are buying consistently from farmers
• Stores consistently buying locally grown/made products
• Local government allowing “right to farm ordinances”

If you have said “yes” to most of these, congratulations, you are serious about your food and supporting your local farmers. If you answered “no” to most of these questions but answered “yes” to the question “knowing where my food is coming from is important to me,” now is the time to start being progressive and generate a sustainable food system.

In the November issue of Moonshine Ink, there was an article about Dan Warren, a Truckee resident fighting to keep his chickens and change local ordinances. I had to laugh — the rooster must have woken up a CEO from Gray’s Crossing who flew in late on his Learjet, or crapped on his Lexus. This is one issue that I am stressing, and it’s “where’s the priority.” Another aspect of caring where your food comes from starts with “right to farm” ordinances that allow people to grow and sell their own products. That’s how you get programs like Future Farmers of America and 4-H. Does your area have either of these programs? Schools should be actively participating in the community garden. Have you ever had a field trip to a farm? Not to mine you haven’t.

This area has a long way to go. Don’t get me wrong, “talking the talk” and joining groups like Slow Food Lake Tahoe are great, but it’s only a baby step. Organizations not only need to raise awareness, but need to organize people to get their hands dirty, a step beyond fancy dinners at Moody’s or Dragonfly.

So, once again, take the time to ask yourself: Do you know where your food comes from? And do you really care?

Phonehead

All aspects of design have been intriguing me lately. Interior design, tree houses, art, sheep made from old telephones, I have an affinity for alpaca, goats and sheep and think this art from Inhabitat is great.

I’m just imagining all of these phones ringing and the sheep coming to life.

Back to School and My Kitchen

Wheat berry salad

Sweet potato goat cheese bread

Sweet potato goat cheese scoop bread

As always I am a slacker while I am out of school. I totally forget about all of my various responsibilities and then suddenly its the first day of school and before my classes have even started and I feel like I’m behind on everything. So I wake up at 7 a.m. after spending 14 hours in the van driving home from Montana yesterday and clean like crazy, go grocery shopping, spill a container of olives at whole foods, and come home and start cooking projects that I can’t possibly finish because I have to go to school around 12 or so.

This cook book is worth your time and money

Yikes, but I am too excited and in love with my new cook book, so I had to start making a dent in the hundreds of new recipes I want to try. Its called Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson and I have maybe seen 3 things I didn’t want to  make, but everything else is not too complicated and delicious looking. I’m currently bustling away at sweet potato spoon bread and wheat berry salad. I am so thankful Hannah told me to buy this book. She also has a website called 101 cookbooks that I’m just starting to check out.

On another note, one of the teachers I respect and look up to the  most at UNR wrote an anthology on John Muir that I really want to read.  This article is well written and Slovic’s eloquence shines through.

Slovic traces Muir’s journey in ‘New Literary History’

January 13, 2009

By John Trent

The parallels are there, whether it is writing of John Muir’s 1879 journey to Alaska in “A New Literary History of America,” a voluminous, Harvard University Press anthology edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors, or in the living of his own life.

Scott Slovic certainly, like the adventurous Muir, knows what it is like to exuberantly interact with and intellectualize the natural world in rich, meaningful ways.

Not surprisingly, the story behind how Slovic was given the assignment to write an essay on Muir in one of 2009’s most well-received anthologies speaks volumes about Slovic, his talent as one of the country’s foremost voices in environmental criticism, and how he approaches the craft of writing.

“I had long been interested in Muir and had published various things on him, but this project came out of the blue,” said Slovic, a professor of English at the University of Nevada since 1995. “I was in the middle of a trip to Malaysia, where I was spending a few weeks as an outside evaluator for the English Department at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, and I had a free weekend to travel to Borneo to do some hiking and to interview people about the logging industry in Sarawak.

“I was at the hotel computer in Kuching, checking my email, and Kirsten Silva Gruesz, a contributing editor from UC-Santa Cruz, contacted me and said, ‘Terry Tempest Williams recommended you for this project.  The prompt is: March 1879, John Muir’s first trip to Alaska. Can you write something starting with that idea?’”

Slovic, an avid outdoorsman who was a top runner and a frequent hiker in the nearby Cascade mountain range while growing up as a teenager in Eugene, Ore., jumped at the opportunity.

“My basic idea is that John Muir was a lover of all things wild, and when California ceased to be wild enough for him, he set out for Alaska,” Slovic said of the Muir, an immigrant from Scotland who became one of America’s best-known naturalists, beginning with his arrival in the Yosemite valley in 1868. “And he went back to Alaska repeatedly, always trying to push the outer edge of things, testing his limits. In so many of his books and essays, he’s doing things that seem reckless … climbing out on small ledges underneath waterfalls or climbing trees during wind storms in the Sierra, or free-climbing dangerous cliffs and getting himself stuck.”

As he developed his essay, Slovic attempted to answer the question, “Why did Muir need to go to Alaska?”

In an interview in Slovic’s office in Frandsen Humanities during the fall semester, Slovic’s words, when describing Muir, constantly remained in the present. In words and recollection, Muir’s life, like his spirit, seems to stubbornly resist relegation to the past tense.

“He seems to delight in knowing his limits, in pushing the extremity of experience, and that’s one of the many reasons why many American writers seem to value wilderness,” Slovic explained. “It’s a place where we can test ourselves. We learn our boundaries, we learn what we are, when we step outside of our comfortable surroundings and test ourselves against the primal forces and unenhanced landscapes of the natural world.”

Muir, Slovic said, was the embodiment of a person who loved something so much his total immersion in it often threatened to devour him.

“He was,” Slovic added, “seeking new opportunities to experiment with his sense of who he was and what his ultimate relationship was with the universe. So what I’ve tried to develop is a sense of Muir’s experiments pushing the outer limits of his life, tracing that trajectory from him in the late 19th century to the various writers of the 20th century, people from Robinson Jeffers to Edward Abbey, to Terry Tempest Williams, to various other recent writers.”

Easier said than done, Slovic said.

“I had a strict 2,000-word limit, but I wrote 3,000 words,” he said, smiling. “And the editor kept saying, ‘Trim, trim, trim.’”

Slovic’s essay ends with what he calls the “major trajectory,” which links Muir’s experience to that of Christopher McCandless, the young man profiled in Jon Krakauer’s book “Into The Wild,” and, later, the Oscar-nominated film by Sean Penn of the same name. McCandless, who was influenced by the writings of Thoreau and Jack London, set off on a two-year odyssey following his graduation from Emory University in Georgia in 1990. Eventually, he traveled to the wilds of Alaska near Denali National Park. He died there in an abandoned bus.

“When I wrote the Muir essay, I had recently re-read ‘Into The Wild,’ and I’d seen the new film and had even taught them together, which was a great experience,” Slovic said. “These are controversial works for students, because of the radicalism of Chris McCandless’ behavior — the apparent coldness with which he cut himself off from his family. Many of my students weren’t happy with that: ‘Why was he so cruel to his parents, to his sister? How could he do that?’ What personal mission could’ve inspired him to act in a way that they could not imagine treating their own families?

“To me, there’s a very interesting lineage from Muir to people like Chris McCandless and the journalist/author Jon Krakauer, this idea of needing to know one’s relationship with the universe. It’s about identity: knowing one’s self, and understanding the meaning of one’s life.”

Slovic writes in “The Spirit of These Rocks and Water,” in the Marcus-Sollors anthology that, “Though apparently alone at the time of his death, Christopher McCandless was actually accompanied, in spirit, by Muir, Krakauer, and many other Americans, writers and nonwriters, who have sought to reach ever further into the possibilities of the world.”

As Slovic’s career as an academic and writer has evolved, he’s found, that he too, like Muir, enjoys the pulsing excitement of big goals and the next big challenge, of experiencing natural beauty and traveling to lands and landscapes where the familiar and the comfortable are nowhere to be seen.

“I feel in sync with Muir,” he said. “My background and style of writing are different than his. But I appreciate the exuberance of the work. Some people have said that I tend to be very celebratory in my scholarship … and I think that’s my personality. John Muir was called ‘Johnny One-Note’ because he was always in this ecstatic state of euphoria. I actually like that … what’s wrong with a little euphoria now and then?”

More and more, Slovic finds himself working less with the careful deliberation of an academic, and writing with far more impulse, sometimes like a journalist, synthesizing ideas quickly, composing with an electric intensity, and even venturing into entirely unrelated fields of thought.

“For better or for worse, I often find myself plunging into new fields and working out of my background of knowledge,” he said. “If I’m working with new authors or new texts, I quickly dive in. Often it means taking risks and putting myself in situations where a more careful person would know better.”

This past fall semester was a perfect example. Slovic traveled to give lectures in South Africa, Turkey and China. One of his projects was to give a plenary talk on Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, in the writer’s native Turkey. Slovic admitted that his knowledge of Turkish literature was scant, yet it was the intellectually perilous challenge ahead of him that he found stimulating and affirming.

“It often feels that I’m way out of my comfort zone,” he said. “So just as John Muir went to Alaska, I often go to these conferences, having prepared in a hurry, and try to offer perspectives that I think would be helpful to my listeners.

“If you can take familiar topics and issues in new directions, you certainly do feel the energizing, refreshing effects of that process.”

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