Slow Food People

I wrote a post on FMC’s website about my duties while attending Slow Food Nations in July, so I thought for my own blog, I’d write something about a few of the people who I hung out with, or heard speak, in the hope that it might offer some context.
As for the event itself, it was definitely more focused than the first year, with fewer locations and seemingly fewer listed events which was pleasant logistically, but in doing so the event lost the direct connection with the Union Station Farmers Market which was really unfortunate. Related to that, I’d like to see SFNations figure out a way (and they would like to as well I am sure) to include more market leaders and small family farmers into the agenda and in more free-form discussions, although as we all know the time of year is not the best for those folks to leave home. Those that were there were able to talk to those doing similar work around the world and to see and taste some regional products from across the U.S. in the SF Marketplace. I try to get through the Marketplace a few times during SFN because the businesses that SFUSA brings together are always impressive and great at explaining their approach and products. I’d like to have market vendors be able to see how well they educate and sell.
I hope for the day when funders and partners offer support to market managers and interested farmers to attend more events not designed only around market day issues but events like this one as well.

Now on to the peops:
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Michael Hurwitz, Greenmarket Director. As Michael tells people whenever we both show up somewhere, he and I met when he is was just two months into his job, 11 years ago. That time was at Kellogg’s Food and Society meeting and we both spent much of the down time discussing (debating) the functions and potential of markets. Even then, he had a solid grasp of the potential for greater impact and the possible pitfalls of operating what are the most well-known markets in the most competitive retail area in the U.S. That conversation has continued since. Through talking with him, I am reminded what a flagship organization can do, especially if the director trusts in his excellent staff and his vendors. What may not be evident is that the success of Greenmarket’s sites don’t happen automatically – like every other market organization, it requires constant calibration and some luck and Michael is so very honest about those facts when asked to share his lessons learned.

-Most importantly, he asks great questions of everyone, constantly learning more about the field he is in.

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Michael and Richard meeting up at SFN

Richard McCarthy, Slow Food USA Executive Director. It’s probably no surprise that I include Richard, as he is my former boss as well as my friend. Going through building and rebuilding farmers markets, disaster recovery, staff hires and fires, funding gaps and much more as his Deputy Director for almost a decade gave me as solid of a start in my national work as I could have wished for. Even so, I added him to this list on the strength of his enthusiasm for front line organizers and his skill in exploring how the people who are around him at an event can be connected. He throws a helluva event because he is obsessed with maximizing the results for the attendees by packing in as many informative and appealing touches as possible. It was the same back when he was the market director.
-Most importantly, I think Richard weaves a story around food and farming that is practical and aspirational to even those yet unfamiliar with what we do. Here is a podcast that I happened across that I think is a great example of that.

Sofia Unanue from La Marana. During the Disaster Strikes panel, Sofia offered a powerful, real-time reality check on recovery, beginning with her sobering and yet uplifting video:

I imagined I felt her stress level and exhaustion even as she stood there calmly and pleasantly in Denver in front of a group of people who care deeply but cannot truly know what she and her community are going through over what is being lost with every passing day in the absence of a well-organized and empathetic public and philanthropic aid process. Not even those of us who have been through our own version truly know her reality, but what I do know is that recovery depends on people exactly like her being there and coming to these events to share that reality. And that her video made Richard McCarthy and I standing in the back of this room both weep and as we did, we knew we were remembering New Orleans 2005.
-Most importantly, don’t forget Puerto Rico.

Brian Coppom, Boulder County Farmers Market CEO. I first met Brian at last year’s Slow Food Nations event as I was tasked to help SFUSA with events that were scheduled at BCFM’s Union Station Farmers Market. As helpful as he was, the best thing he did was to give me access to his lead staffer, Elyse Wood who, like most market leaders can make decisions lightning fast about the market space and what will work and in doing so, smoothed the events out so that featured speakers like author Deborah Madison and legendary MS farmer Ben Burkett were primed to lead lively and informative talks. If I would say that to Elyse, she’d likely shrug and smile, because in her list of things to do, it had been a simple task. I know because that’s how I would have reacted while doing very similar work in New Orleans for a guy very much like Brian (see above). But it isn’t so easy and the knowledge accrued by market organizers managing multiple sites, staff, programming, a network of colleagues and so on is impressive and yet, I don’t think  funders and partners have done as much to support them as well as we can with professional development opportunities and other rewards. And I know that market directors like Michael and Brian feel the same way.
Brian has quickly become a good pal and a strong voice in my list of go-to people when I search for input. He is a board member of FMC so even though he is constantly working on food and farming in Colorado, his goals are at a national level in intention and in impact.

-Most importantly, he is hilarious and comfortable at a mic talking markets and in wearing hats:
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Poppy Tooker, Writer, host of public radio show Louisiana Eats. Like Richard, my relationship to Poppy is long and so full of amazing and sweet stories. Suffice it to say, Poppy has taught me how to share the stories of food producers with the larger world. During this SFN, I walked out to the festival area and heard my old pal’s mic’d voice doing a cooking demonstration and since her educational, wickedly funny, and precise demos are the stuff of legend in New Orleans, I immediately made a beeline in that direction. I got there just as she was wrapping up but did snag the last bean calas that she was offering. I shared it with the California couple next to me, explaining what this was and its importance to New Orleanians because that is exactly what she’d expect me to do.
Her panel introduction for the disaster panel was extraordinary. I say that as someone who stood in the back of the room and watched every chair’s occupant lean forward and the quiet descend on the room as she spoke with humor and pathos about the trivial and tragic memories Gulf Coasters carry from 2005. Because of Poppy, those of us in the food community in New Orleans know that we have others to call in across the globe in these times.

-Most importantly, really truly because of Poppy (and Slow Food) we rebuilt our market in two months in 2005 and saved a lot of farms and family businesses. And had a lot of laughs while doing it.

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Poppy and Miss Linda (the Yaka Mein queen of New Orleans) talking at SFN about love and loss. New Orleanians can always veer from the chatty to the profound in a blink of an eye. This story Poppy was telling as Miss Linda and I sat rapt involved a vengeful, murderous jaguar and poor alpacas at our local zoo and then segued into a lovely story about husbands and high school sweethearts. A typical wide-ranging Poppy story with a message.

Raj Patel. Well I do not share a long and rich history with Raj, but I appreciated his thoughts during this SFN so much I wanted to include him. Of course, his writing has always been illuminating as he takes on the dominant thinking around “value” which, of course, has actually devalued everything worth saving. He’s included in this list for the moment he took a general question about local and elevated it to the question of justice:

“Almost all of the food that is grown and eaten in the United States today, that is bought and paid for, involves the hands of people of color…What’s important about local is you also need a robust sense of history…

-Most importantly:
You don’t fix the past with a certain type of tokenism; you fix it with a reckoning. And that reckoning is something the food movement has yet to have.”

And with that, I’ll close the curtain on SFN 2018.

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Farming oysters and clams

Recently, I heard an absorbing edition of Louisiana Eats (food and culture maven Poppy Tooker’s radio show full of “edible content”)  about seafood, and specifically about oysters and clam production along the Gulf Coast of the U.S. Poppy visits a new “off-bottom” oyster farm that is producing bigger and cleaner oysters than ever before and talks to our pal Rusty Gaude, marine biologist and seafood extension agent who has been working on increasing varieties of clams and oysters for many years.  I wrote a short piece about the oyster project a while back and now with Poppy’s show, could actually visualize and understand what they are doing down there.

As for Rusty’s excellent work, I wrote a bit about it recently here.

I know Poppy knows a great deal about oysters as she and I (with funding from Kellogg for our market organization to make teaching videos) had interviewed innovative oystermen in Puget Sound among others, a few years back. The amount of time that she volunteered for ours and other projects confirms how committed Poppy is to improving the lot for Gulf Coast fishing families while also educating folks on the need for reducing the erosion that is likely to sink New Orleans within the next 75 or so years.

To me, the link to all of this is the market organization that first introduced Poppy and Rusty (and me) and allows all kinds of leaders in the community to ask for feedback or space to test out ideas: this is the type of work that farmers markets can curate and encourage even if they are not the main recipient of those new goods-after all, more regional sustainable goods available helps everyone.

Read about another innovative project to reduce the erosion using artificial reefs that encourage oysters to grow and protect the coast.

 

 

 

St. Joseph’s Day-New Orleans style (March 19)

I thought I would share some pictures uploaded by our recently retired newspaper food editor Judy Walker (seen in one picture in the hat with altar host, Subil Prosper) of her visits to St. Joseph’s Day altars around town. There are also pics of Mardi Gras Indians -taken by local photographer Roy Guste- as St. Joseph’s Day is also a public day for showing off their beadwork and parading.

The holiday is one of my favorites as it is a true New Orleans experience and involves food, superstition (or faith depending on how you look at it),  “visiting” and tradition. Really, this is an extra-extraordinary day among many extraordinary days in New Orleans. The farmers market itself has hosted beautiful altars in years past, courtesy of food maven, media star, and Slow Food founder Poppy Tooker. Each item on the altar has meaning, some to honor different saints or the Trinity or local or family traditions.

Fava Beans
The fava bean was the main food that kept families in Sicily alive during the drought. Italians would carry this “lucky bean” with them for good fortune. If you pick up a dried bean from an altar on this day, you will receive good luck all year.

(I carry one in my wallet.)
Fish
The 12 fish represent the 12 apostles.
Breads Shaped into Symbols
Several breads are made that represent both Jesus and St. Joseph. The symbols include ladders, hammers, nails, saws, lilies, and a staff for St. Joseph; and crosses, palms and wreaths (for the crown of thorns) for Jesus.
Olive Oil and Wine
These serve as a reminder of the many vineyards and orchards in Sicily.
The altar is broken up on St. Joseph’s day and food and donations are then distributed to the poor.

March 19th marks the Catholic celebration of St. Josephs Day where Catholic New Orleanians construct elaborate altars in honor of this saint. The tradition, commemorating the relief St. Joseph provided during a famine in Sicily, began in the late 1800’s when Sicilian immigrants settled in New Orleans. Altars are found at local New Orleans churches, especially those with strong Italian roots, but they are also constructed in private homes, halls, Italian restaurants, and public spaces in different communities throughout the city. If you happen to see a fresh green branch over a local’s doorway, it means you’re invited to participate in the altar ceremony and to share the food.

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I’ve also heard raves from friends about this altar.

New Orleans had a large influx of Sicilians in the 19th century who celebrate their patron saint but it is also an important day for the Mardi Gras Indians for more obscure reasons. The Indians activities defy easy description as do their amazing handmade regalia, stitched by the wearers themselves on many a night after getting off their day job. The Indians’s traditions can be viewed at the Backstreet Cultural Museum in Treme and if you are lucky to be in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday and around St. Joseph’s Day or on the Sunday before, you can view these amazing artists on the streets of New Orleans.

this excerpt gives one explanation:

St. Joseph’s Night with the Wild Indians is not an experience to be taken lightly in any measure. It’s the living manifestation of an age-old ritual, preserved and practiced by the descendants of the African slaves, which goes back to the perambulating societies of West Africa and their call-and-response chants, the secret societies of masked warriors which are common to both African and native American cultures, and the unsanctioned moonlight ceremonies conducted by African slaves under pain of death on the plantations of the American South.

 

photo by Roy Guste

photo by Roy Guste

Joyce Montana (Widow of Big Chief Tootie Montana) and son Darryl Montana. photo by Roy Guste

Joyce Montana (Widow of Big Chief Tootie Montana) and son Darryl Montana. Photo by Roy Guste

 

The Difference Choosing Ugly Vegetables Can Make – CityLab

If “grow it to sell it” was the revolutionary idea in farmers markets during the 1970s-1990, and “healthy food for everyone” was the call to arms for the last 25 years, then “use it all” has to be the next big idea for food system organizers. Keeping food out of the waste stream by encouraging use of the ugly food items is such a simple and elegant idea that it may very well finally connect the entrepreneurial to the environmental in food organizing.

Actually, it supports a corresponding and extraordinary idea that my pal Poppy Tooker created over a decade ago for her New Orleans/Gator region Slow Food work: “eat it to save it.”

(check out the previous post too, about the Farmer Foodshare project in North Carolina which addresses getting good food out of the garbage bin and to more eaters.)

The Difference Choosing Ugly Vegetables Can Make – CityLab.

Michel Nischan

Great interview with Michel Nischan, founder of Wholesome Wave and long time Farm To Table chef. He tells Louisiana Eats host Poppy Tooker about how and why he created his public role.
http://wwno.org/post/tradition-begs-evolution-changing-federal-policy-reviving-local-customs” title=”Interview withMichel Nischan by Poppy Tooker”

Louisiana Eats on seafood issues

Slow Food maven, radio host and author Poppy Tooker did a great show on seafood on Louisiana Eats: Gerard Maras (a giant among chefs in New Orleans) shared his boiling technique, Tenney Flynn who is still the best seafood chef in the French Quarter, talked about fish handling and finally Poppy and her guests discussed the ecological issues facing the harvesting community. Seafood is something Poppy knows a great deal about-she is a fisherwoman herself and one of the champions of fishing families in Louisiana and across North America.

Can you remember to mark “listen to Louisiana Eats” to your Saturday calendar? I’d recommend it.

The Ebb And Flow Of Louisiana Seafood | WWNO.

Richard McCarthy and Poppy Tooker at CCFM event circa 2003 or 2004

Richard McCarthy and Poppy Tooker at CCFM event circa 2003 or 2004

A fascinating interview with Richard McCarthy,  one of the founders and the first Executive Director of Market Umbrella and therefore of the Crescent City Farmers Market, Festivus (the fair trade holiday market), Market Match, Marketshare and so many other initiatives devised and run by this disciplined little NGO in New Orleans. This interview was done as McCarthy was leaving for Brooklyn for his new job as Executive Director of Slow Food USA and so is important as a record of the people and ideas that were in place when he devised the groundbreaking work that many of us proudly did under his direction.

Poppy Tooker has been a deep supporter of the organization and as she says, remains a close friend of Richard’s. There is so much detail in this interview about the history of the organization in those days when we existed as a project of Loyola University’s social justice center Twomey Center.

To hear a market founder talk about the plans and dreams of his work and how it was put together seems useful to anyone embarking on their own version.

The Importance of Being Slow