Wow! If watching the above fast-paced video does not get you excited about a coalescence of international foods, producers, co-producers, and gastronomes, then the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre are probably not for you. This is not another food and farming conference, nor another gourmet food show. Every two years, Slow Food International hosts Terra Madre in conjunction with the Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy with the simple idea of bringing together the active participants of the Slow Food movement who would otherwise never be able to meet each other as food communities. It takes place in October, and this year, I applied and was accepted to attend as a Slow Food USA delegate.

Being a delegate

I’m honored to represent Slow Food USA and Northern California at Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto in October. While the opportunity to learn and taste at this huge event is exciting, I’m looking forward to meeting producers, chefs, and other food and farming advocates and doers from around the world and the US. The chance to visit Italy and eat cheese and agnolotti pasta is thrilling alone, yet I also hope to return home with stories and flavors to inspire what Adam and I do. There is so much to learn about farming practices, food system infrastructure, challenges and innovations, food preparation techniques, and traditions. We and Golden Vineyards are currently hosting a student intern from ESA in France, and we have learned so much from each other about the differences and similarities between our experiences as farmers. Inter-cultural exchange is so vital for food and farming, just as it is for all the arts and sciences!

I have yet to figure out which conference events I’ll attend, but I’ve already signed up for two Taste Workshops, as some of them have already sold out. I’m on a budget, so for now, I’m only opting for two – Storie di maiali felici (Happy Pigs) and I nuovi Presidi dei salumi (New Cured Meats Presidia). If you’ve been talking with me or Adam recently, my interest in these topics is no surprise…Other Taste Workshops focus on wine and regionality, beers, specific street food, and many more highly specific food and beverage topics, and everything in between. There are cooking classes, special dinners throughout Turin, bread and pizza workshops, and mixology workshops that you can pay to attend as well. The conference events are like seminars covering agricultural practices, social and environmental issues, region highlights, and biodiversity.

Slow Food

I never would have known that the snail would creep back into my life as an adult. In high school at The Madeira School, the snail is our mascot and a reference to our motto Festina Lente, or make haste slowly. This is in reference to each woman achieving her personal best at her own pace. So, at 14 years-old, the value of slow and steady was already instilled in me. (Another Lucy Madeira saying: “Function in disaster, finish in style and keep calm at the center of your being,” which has ALSO been an invaluable mantra for me as a farmer!) Incidentally, the snail is the logo for the Slow Food organization.

The Madeira School mascot

The Madeira School mascot

Slow Food snail

Slow Food snail

I read Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean, and Fair by Carlo Petrini in the fall of 2007, just after my first summer farming with Adam. At the time, I was living in San Francisco, applying to graduate schools, and exploring within myself as to why I was so drawn to local, sustainable farming and high quality food. By that point, Petrini’s points about the ills of industrial agriculture and the importance of revamping the food system were not new, but I liked his perspective on gastronomy and making connections for positive change. I thought I needed to continue my formal education and learn about sustainable food and farming through more schooling, but I ultimately discovered the importance of developing my relationship with the Earth and soil, and that I just needed to farm. I eventually found a paid internship at Quetzal Farm in Santa Rosa, and after, moved to Mendocino County to run Mendocino Organics with Adam.

Connections

Admittedly, I only recently officially joined Slow Food as a member. As a paying member of the Biodynamic Association, the Biodynamic Association of Northern California, the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, the Farm Bureau, etc. on a farmer’s salary, it’s really hard to financially support them all! But as with any association one chooses to join, one has a desire to connect with others sharing the same values and interests. Adam and I have always valued good, clean, fair food for all, and it has always been a goal for us to grow and raise it, and make it available to our community. I encourage people to see what their local Slow Food Chapter is up to and start strengthening our food communities.

Toward the end of Petrini’s book, he discusses the importance of a network of gastronomes and the impulse behind Terra Madre. In Petrini’s words about connecting the global food network, “The objective is to reactivate the connections, starting with those meeting the gastronome’s criteria of quality and then extending the network as far as possible.” That is why, after Terra Madre, I can be a node to activate the global connection with my local community, and the impulses and inspirations from Turin can ripple here at home. What excites me most about attending Terra Madre is the potential for possibility in my own creative journey as a food producer. I can read about the black pigs of Italy or rare varieties of rice in the Philippines, but to taste the European cured meats or talk to the rice farmer in person will be priceless. What will other people think about how we raise pigs, sheep and cows in our unique landscape, or how we practice biodynamics with Golden Vineyards?

If you want to learn more about the ills of fast food, the idea of good, clean, and fair food, new gastronomy, and food communities, definitely check out Petrini’s book! In future blog posts, I’ll pick up the Terra Madre themes of Family Farming and the Ark of Taste, and what they mean in my life at Mendocino Organics.

But food, as we have seen, is far more than a simple product to be consumed: it is happiness, identity, culture, pleasure, conviviality, nutrition, local economy, survival.

(from Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini, Rizzoli Ex Libris, 2007)

our experiments with cheese, ham, and salumi, amongst wine and olive oil at Heart Arrow Ranch

our experiments with cheese, ham, and salumi are just beginning, amongst wine and olive oil at Heart Arrow Ranch

 

 

When work or life gets overwhelming, we have to take a step back and remember to take care of ourselves. We’re simple people – we don’t often go out to eat, to movies, to concerts, etc. The farm life doesn’t let us do that. For rest and relaxation, we find ourselves in the kitchen. Recently, we had a big hankering for fresh buttermilk biscuits. Admittedly, there is sweet nostalgia in buttermilk biscuits for us – we celebrated our first wedding anniversary last fall at the Philo Apple Farm where they bake divine breakfast biscuits. So, with all the fresh milk coming from Honey, our Jersey cow, we decided to make butter and buttermilk. We love Honey so much, so dairy from her makes the food even better.

butter & buttermilk

making buttermilk biscuits

buttermilk biscuits

It’s easy to get caught up in the grind, but it can burn you out and spit you out, lifeless. So we remember to momentarily step away and focus on the simple things, like a cup of tea, a phone call to mom, a good book, or homemade buttermilk biscuits! Next time, we’ll make gravy to go with them.

 

 

There are few words to describe the drought we have been experiencing. It’s been like a twilight zone. This last rain system, we fortunately received over 8 inches of rain at Heart Arrow Ranch, but we need much more to have irrigated pasture this summer. It’s hard preparing ourselves to possibly sell off half of our animals, as we’ve been working hard to grow our business. So, we continue to pray for more rain! Despite all the uphill challenges, we are taking one day at a time with our work. Today we herded the sheep into the vineyard, and it was a joy to see them enjoy running around, let out of the lambing barn and heading for some green grass.sheep herding 1 sheep herding 2 sheep herding 3 sheep herding 4 sheep herding 5 sheep herding 6 sheep herding 7

Jugs of New Life and Mothering

Lambing season started off a bit later than usual, and now that it is here, we are in full swing. We are setting up jugs (lambing pens) in the barn, which discourages mismothering. With all the newborn cries and probably hormones flying, ewes can nurse and bond in peace and order. This is an exciting time of the year.

Watch these twins take their first steps.

lamb resting 2 lamb resting 1 view of lamb nursery big lamb nursing colored ewe and lamb in jug ewe and lamb in jug smiling black lamb twin lambs dec 13

Modern Shepherding

Our flock of sheep have been back at Heart Arrow Ranch for about a week now. Last night, we finished inventory of the flock and counted a total of 148 sheep, not including all the newborns.

Last week, we started hauling the sheep from Potter Valley, primarily because the livestock guardian dogs were being bad and wandering along public roads. We had just moved a couple ewes with newborn lambs, too. Out in the open pastures, newborns are more likely to be literally pecked off by ravens. We only have a 16′ livestock trailer right now, so it took us 6 trips to move everyone. We are not like the traditional shepherds who herd sheep miles and miles for the annual migration. If you are looking for a beautiful documentary film to watch while cozied up on your couch this winter, we recommend Sweetgrass. It follows the herding of sheep through Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth mountains. Check out the trailer:

When we move our sheep, sometimes they get a comfy ride :)

lamb in truck

It’s wonderful to have the sheep back at Heart Arrow. Now we pray that it rains so the hills will green up. Friday’s snow gave us some moisture, but we’re going to need more to make sure the grass keeps growing, especially during these very short days.

Free Farm Consulting

Are you a small farm owner in Mendocino County? Did you know that Adam can give you farm technical assistance for free? That’s right! Usually, consultants charge at least $50.00/hour, but through West Company’s ‘Strengthening CSAs by Building Capacity and Expanding Markets Program,’ farmers can pick Adam’s brain and get technical advice for free.

If you know a farmer who is looking for assistance but cannot afford the typical consulting fees, please let them know about this FREE FARM CONSULTING.

Consulting Flier

Time and time again, the logistics of getting our meats to market is a challenge. We’ve blogged before about the challenges in navigating the lack of local meat processing to meet (meat!) the needs of our various customers. As the farm shifts toward more meat production as a main enterprise for revenue, we find ourselves relying a lot more on these outsourced services – the slaughterhouses, cut-and-wrap facilities, and smokehouses. This can get a little scary, as those other businesses are in one sense another factor that is out of our control. We used to outsource meat deliveries, and earlier this year, the company unexpectedly dropped doing deliveries for numerous ranches, which at one point we thought would end our business. It was not because of anything we had done (the company was just overwhelmed by demand for their services), and fortunately, we were able to build the capacity to fulfill that service ourselves (borrowed money and bought a refrigerated delivery van).

So when it comes to customer service and delivering your product as and when desired, it can get a little hairy being so dependent on others. We will probably never own and operate our own slaughterhouse and cut-and-wrap facility or smokehouse, so how do we maintain a good reputation with our customers when these intermediary businesses don’t come through to fulfill their promise? There are very few of these facilities, so we have no choice but to continue using them.

Anything can go wrong. Everything from not delivering our meats back when promised and a retailer is hoping to get our product on their shelves that week, to cutting the bacon thick instead of thin, or to not cutting all the bacon we asked for thus not fulfilling an order. Every time that happens, we risk losing that customer to another producer, usually a larger non-local producer who has centralized all these processes. The logistics to get our meats into food safe and pretty packages are so complicated; one place has a wait of 2 months before we can get anything cut and wrapped by them. It feels even more complicated and difficult when a promise is not delivered on, and our end buyer sees it as an unfulfilled promise by us. It is also a reason why we prefer to work with customers who are able to take whole carcasses, taking away that extra processing step.

The buyers/partners that we have a long relationship with have been understanding with us in the past, but it requires a lot more energy in getting those communication flows in place with the trust. We feel very fortunate to work with places like Bar Agricole, Ukiah Natural Foods Co-op, and Westside Renaissance Market who have an openness to understand the challenges we face and have the leeway for the unexpected. It seems that they see that as a small sacrifice to pay for delicious, healthy meats, and we are eager to find more folks who share these values!

Image

deboning leg of lamb and cooking up a feast with chard, potatoes, and figs

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