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The modern concept of agroforestry emerged early in the 20th century but planting trees and shrubs amongst fields and furrows is very ancient indeed.
The Romans were the first to write about it. But integrating trees with crops and animals is an ancient practice, likely dating back over 10,000 years ago when our ancestors first became agriculturists.
There is aculinaryline that dissects themidriffoftheEuropecontinent. This line proceeds in gradients of latitudesthat mayblur as you move from north to south.
The people of the northraiseherds of cows and goats. Their milk issometimeswhipped into butteror agedinto cheese.Almosteverythingedible isbathed ineithercreamor butter.
Here the pigsfeaston chestnutsandinturnmakegood sausage.The pickles are fermented,and thekrautsoured to nourishsturdy soulsthroughlongwinter months.
Below thisimaginaryline,treespervade. Hot ancient orchards dot the hillsides drippingwithgreat bundles of green-black olives.They’repressedinto a nutty oilforthe baseofsaucesand ragouts or a simpledip for crusty bread.
Tomatoes and vegetables of every size and elongation are bathed in this southernsun.
Every scaled andnauticalbeastisnettedandfishedfrom the sea.
Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Greece,andCyprusallsurround the Mediterranean Sea,thesearethepeople who inspire thesouthernMediterranean diet.
I first met Jim Thomas, Co-Director of the ETC Group, at a Sustainable Ag and Food Systems Funders conference. Jim had been tracking emerging technologies and their intersection with food and agriculture for some time. When I first heard him speak, in his lilting almost playful cadence, about something called “synthetic biology,” my ears perked up.
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!