There are signs that the rights of consumers to know what is in their food may be coming to a revolutionary climax. With Vermont ushering in the first unencumbered GMO state labeling law, the skirmish has broadened its fronts from the halls of Washington DC to the fields of Iowa and homes in Oregon. Continue reading
Humans have practiced agriculture for thousands of years. The food that we produced over the millenniums allowed for the expansion of culture and societies, the flourishing of arts and science. For the past 10,000 years the food that sustained human development had been cultivated with organic methods. It was only recently that large chemical companies such as Monsanto and DuPont took an interest in repurposing their technology in our fields. This departure from organic agriculture transpired a mere seven decades ago and has transformed food production into big business. We are only just now beginning to realize the ramifications of this dramatic shift. Continue reading
In many areas of the world people are becoming increasingly aware of the opportunities organic agriculture can bring. Producing food and textiles with organic methods affords people a safer way to farm in harmony with nature. Toxic pesticides and herbicides do not riddle their water nor threaten their children’s health. Studies have proven that agricultural workers and their families bear the brunt of these toxic applications in medical costs and loss of productivity. The other benefit for organic producers is access to the organic marketplace, which continues to thrive and experience double digit growth.
Organic products are a pathway to prosperity and they can be the road to higher educational attainment, better nutrition and modern medical benefits. In fact, prosperity in the organic market can lift a developing producer into the modern technological 21st century in a few short years. Yet, the challenge remains in how these often small farmers and entrepreneurs can gain access to markets, especially international markets that crave their unique goods. I found out that the Fancy Food Show isn’t just a place to seek out new products but also one that presents an opportunity to transform people’s lives and livelihoods.
It was just this spring when International Executive Service Corps (IESC) reached out to see if I would do a follow up to my work with organic producers in Tunisia by helping promote the country and its goods at the Fancy Food Show. That first volunteer assignment was a weeklong excursion leading potential buyers into the taste, history and richness of Tunisia and her organic products. You can revisit some of my culinary and cultural adventures in my Tunisian Chronicles series.
Imagine the level of my delight and gastronomic titillation just anticipating the acres of food and libations that would be part of this volunteer mission. Visions of olives, prosciutto and cheese danced before my eyes. A global feast of Greek Sheep’s Feta interspersed with Moroccan Chickpea stew and delicate Asian rice noodles awaited my palate. Austrian pepper cheddar would go with an Italian grappa and blueberry gelato. Oh my, the tables of rare salts, plump dates and chocolate truffles would have to be fully detected, inspected and ingested!
After swooning several times in my chair I accepted the mission and went to work figuring out just how I could create opportunity for Four Tunisian Organic Producers at the Fancy food Show. IESC had picked the top four, cream of the crop, organic producers to visit the show in New York City. They came not only to meet potential buyers but also to experience the staggering marketing potential this show presents.
The group was a cross section of Tunisian producers who had awesome goods and wanted to expand into the US market. Mr. Malek Lakhoua from Domaine Sidi Mrayah carried samples of his award winning olive oil. Moncef Ellouze from Sté AGRUMIA proffered bags of fat succulent almonds which were, it turned out, a highly sought after item. Mr. Leith Tlamncani from Herb Bio Tech Aroma had just invested in top notch equipment for his dried herbs and exotic essential oils. Mr, Mustapha Sghaier Green Fruit carried samples of succulent deglet nour dates, date syrups and sugars. Every one of these categories figured in well with the fit and natural diets and products the show featured. Trends it seemed were in the producers favor and as we walked the floor and made business meetings I could feel the excitement grow. Buyers and exhibitors were hungry for these organic products! Business cards were exchanged and follow up notes written. My heart quickened with the knowledge that new producers, given the right introductions, could take a giant step into new international markets!
Suddenly the Fancy Food Show took on a new and deeper meaning. Yes, it is still row upon delicious row of fine cuisine and exotic victuals waiting to be discovered and stocked in our favorite retailers’ store. It is indeed a place where food trends are born and the entrepreneur creates that new item riding high on the next wave and never looks back. It is also a place where small producers from emerging sectors and communities have a place to learn about food marketing, make connections and begin playing in the International food symphony. Once they strike a few chords it is only a matter of time before they crescendo. The new business provides more jobs in their districts and villages. The fresh revenue leads to upgrades of systems, facilities and capabilities. Organic products helps people and businesses thrive.
My take away (aside from a few extra pounds) this year is to keep exploring and tasting fine organic foods while sharing and mentoring someone emerging into the market. As our organic industry continues to grow at double digits we must share our expertise and cultivate more organic producers. In doing so we change the way people eat and the way people farm one bite and one farmer at a time, all over the world.
My grandmother was a huge inspiration for me especially in the world of cooking. She dedicated herself to growing, canning, baking and preserving much of the delectable German fare that graced our table. She always allowed me to indulge in culinary sport, creating my own concoctions such as rose and grape cookies or honey-barley moon cakes. My creativity ran amok as I freely mixed ingredients from different gastronomic hemispheres under her shocked but tolerant gaze. I will always remember her advice to be mindful of the small but powerful components, such as hot pepper or horseradish that could make a large impact despite their small relative size. Continue reading
My grandmother’s name was Emma. She was born in 1896 in rural Iowa before there was electricity or indoor plumbing. Her nature was kind and content; her spirit was resourceful. I was lucky enough to have had this woman from another century as one of my primary caregivers and mentors. She offered me an abundance of knowledge on food, family and farming and showed me how the three interlink to create happiness and prosperity of the body and soul. These lessons resound in me today and I wish to share them with you to explore your own roadmap to happiness.
Plant something every spring- My grandparents lived in town and the back yard was solid garden, not a yard at all. It was a place for sweet corn, string beans, cabbage and ground cherries to flourish and feed us all year long. Some of the plants had been there so long they reseeded themselves each year. Beautiful morning glories hugged the trellises, intertwining with pole beans. As soon as the winter frosts had abated the soil was turned and the planting began!
Harvest your yields with care and gratitude– In late spring we used to gently wriggle the tops of the early radishes and carrots from the soil so they issued forth in one piece. Into a bath of cold water they went so as to assure sweet crunch later on. These first offerings gave us special reverence for the renewal of the seasons. Later on, as we tenderly packed the luscious red-ripe tomatoes into baskets, we knew the season of plenty was in its full blush. Husking sharp kernels of white popcorn off the rough cobs provided a pointed sense that fall was coming. Every harvest was mindful and poignant.
Put something away for the future – By mid-summer the green cabbage had grown to gargantuan size. Enough coleslaw and cabbage soup had been consumed to fill a German housewife’s dreams. It was time to harvest these monstrous heads and chop them into crisp green slivers and pack them tightly into earthen crocks. We interlaced the sliced cabbage with coarse salt, packed it firm and sealed it. We hoisted the urns into the basement for a good quiet slumber of fermentation.
Cook a meal from scratch at least once per day – Daily grandma would gather the bounty from the garden and ceremoniously wash, chop, marinate and cook it up in her warm kitchen. Great cauldrons of chicken vegetable soup simmered while the daily bread rose under canopies of kitchen towels. Homemade sweet pickles were nestled next to sliced and salted raw kohlrabi. Dessert was prepared earlier in the day, often combining strawberries and rhubarb into a sauce which was ceremoniously served hot over ice-cream. In the early days even the ice-cream was hand cranked!
Share food in the company of family and friends – My grandmother cooked three meals a day and when each meal was ready she rang a buzzer to signal we could all come in and sit down. We called the mid-day meal “supper,” as it was the most substantial. So it was with great ceremony that ladles poured, knives sliced, and the meal shared. We spoke of everyday matters while each bite drew us closer together as a family.
Make, bake and enjoy a sweet treat with great impunity – On Wednesdays my grandmother would assemble a round Coffee Kuchen in the morning, which is just a German version of coffee cake. It was slathered with homemade jams and fruit preserves, dripping with delight. We enjoyed it with great relish and never was there a hint of guilt or denial l associated with this delectable sweet course.
Don’t be troubled by things that don’t work out – I am sure Murphy’s Law was in effect in those days, but I never once saw my grandmother angry or flustered over anything. No matter what went wrong her spirit was calm and serene. If she couldn’t fix it then she would make the best of it and she was eternally happier as a being because of it.
Take a moment everyday just to sit and enjoy the crickets – We used to sit under the great canopy of the Concord grape arbor in the evenings. It was a restful time to reflect on the day’s activities and let the mind be lulled into repose by the rhythmical rub of cricket legs—nothing to think about but peace of mind, a day complete and filled with food, family and farming. By the way you don’t need a cricket chorus to do this. Try it now!
During the SAFSF conference in Denver we visited veritable food deserts in the inner city. Food deserts are urban areas where children and families have no easy access to fresh food. Places like The Grow Haus teach children and parents how to grow, prepare and eat fresh nutritious local food. Visiting this community garden made me perpetually grateful for the childhood experiences I had with my German grandmother. These lessons have made me a calmer, richer and probably more rotund person. Her teachings have afforded me a lifetime of culinary wonder, respect for agriculture and gratitude for my special place in the world.
Give these eight paths a whirl and experience your own joy!