Sunday, August 31, 2008

Slow Food is for Life, Not Just for Labor Day

A day in the life of a non-conformist Slow Food kinda girl...
Featuring Alemany Farm
An Urban, Organic, Community Farm in San Francisco
One Slow Food Saturday For Me, One Slow Read For You
picture photograph image the bean bed at Alemany Farm 2008 copyright of sam breach newly planted Bean Bed at Alemany Farm (iphone photograph)

I had a wonderful and productive Sam-style "Slow Food Saturday". After waking up at around 7AM, I made some shopping lists, jumped on my bicycle and headed towards the Farmers' Market. Once there I was pleased to find it relatively quiet - none of the bike racks were taken and the usual crowds weren't yet thronging. I chatted with some favourite vendors and was encouraged by the 'Slow Food Fringe' contingent (deciding that's where I want in!). Fellow Brit June Taylor explained her theory: In the spirit of slow food ... it is important to show the process of making hand made foods as well as tasting them."

At the Balakian Farm stand, a couple overheard me talking about the Fatted Calf meal at Piccino and asked me about it. I enjoyed spending several minutes sharing my love of everything about those two local, slow-living food producers with the interested strangers. I hope I didn't over-gush and put them off? I had wondered if the market might be overrun with gastro-tourists, given that it is Slow Food Nation weekend in San Francisco, but the opposite seemed true. It was eerily quiet for a Summer Season Saturday and so I was extra glad that I had made the decision to support the farmers I regularly shop from on a day when much of their traffic seemed to be elsewhere.

Once home again I sprung into what Pim would call "Fast Slow Food" action, by quickly putting together some pot luck offerings. OK - perhaps not so fast, an hour soon rushed by as I covered both sweet and savoury options: A "Made Up Carrot Salad", using Mariquita Chantenay carrots, came together beautifully with some help from a Heidi Swanson recipe which suggests flash-frying carrot ribbons before adding them to a salad. Genius! In a diversion from Heidi's version, I paired my vibrant orange slivers with exquisite White Crane Springs chervil, Andante goat crottin, and a champagne vinaigrette. I toasted Lagier almonds for the salad, too, but later in my not-so-slow rush to leave on time, they somehow were forgotten and left at home.

The cookie making process was better thought out. I had remembered, the day before, to prepare some Alice Medrich 'wholewheat sable' dough and leave it overnight in the refrigerator to rest. In the morning I cut the log into cookies and baked them until just golden around the edges. Made with organic ingredients including local Full Belly Farm wholewheat flour and Straus butter, these later proved quite popular, probably only because I was one of the few people to have covered the dessert option.

Since I would be sharing my potluck at an official Slow Food event, I figured that other participants might be interested in the ingredient list for my contributions. I spent a few minutes writing them out by hand on re-used paper, including the names of any local farms where applicable. This would turn out to be a good talking point later at lunch. I stuck the labels to the glass canning jars that I was using to transport the food in, and packed them into my backpack, with ice and water, ready for the journey.

If nothing else, the Slow Food Nation [SFN] event has made me stop and think long and hard about what my personal 'slow values' are and what I could do to improve my contributions to the world by being more self sufficient? I am not perfect, and could never claim to be, but I give it my best shot most of the time, especially where food is concerned. It's a no-brainer for me to buy all of my fresh produce from local farmers' markets and I regularly cook meals up from scratch. I find the time, money and perhaps most importantly, the desire to do that. To celebrate this weekend's SFN efforts to start making people think a little differently I endeavoured to step outside of my own comfort zone a few strides and push myself to do something that was more of a challenge to me.

So I committed to riding my bike through Bayview. "Don't get shot", said Fred. The plan was to get to Alemany Farm, almost 4 miles from my house, without impacting the environment all. Using my own power. This meant riding my bike. Through Bayview. And past intimidating freeway entrances and exits. I not only survived, the journey made me feel a little more independent and strong. It is so liberating to journey under your own steam. Try it again sometime, if you haven't in a while!

I must backpedal for just a second here. I zoomed past a little piece of my slow food jigsaw puzzle for the day. I'd heard word that Mariquita were having an Emergency Tomato Day caused by a glut of the fruit at their Farm. Because my trip to Alemany meant I wouldn't be there at the allotted hour of the pick up from Piccino, I arranged with the cafe's owner to drop off the cash early in return for the flat of San Marzanos I could collect later in the day. Supporting a local farmer who has too much produce to sell and then canning it to last through the Winter months, is a pro-active and positive slow-food-style act and I was more than happy to commit to a little canning action on the very weekend dedicated to the celebration of Slow Food.

My plans to volunteer at Alemany Farm this Saturday had been made before it became an event on the Slow Food Nation calendar. I had long since come to the conclusion that I wanted to show some sort of willing to celebrate the notion of 'slow' without being part of the official Slow Food Organisation, which for several reasons unfortunately irritates me. And irritated is not a productive state of mind to be in when trying to share a positive message about the politics of food with your readership.

Slow Food Nation's admirable, ambitious goal for their Labor Weekend Extravaganza is to create an event that would catalyze a huge shift in how a wider Americans perceive and prioritize food. For me, this didn't mean gourmet tasting halls or attending lectures where the speakers find themselves preaching to the already-converted. To me it meant volunteering at a farm where, at a grass-roots level, the volunteers are already living something along the lines of the SFN mission statement every day: Alemany Farm
Alemany Farm empowers San Francisco residents to grow their own food, and through that process encourages people to become more engaged with their communities. They grow organic food and green jobs for low-income communities, while sowing the seeds for economic and environmental justice. Read the full Alemany Farm Mission Statement here.
The Slow Journey to Alemany Farm was something from the SFN I found I could buy into wholeheartedly and I was glad that it aligned so exactly with my own personal plans for the day. I also loved the way this event truly engaged community by requiring participants to bring a pot luck lunch and encouraging them to remain and volunteer. This was an event where people could be involved with the process and move beyond consumerism.

It happens I have actually volunteered at Alemany Farm before [see my Flickr set here], and done the tour before, but I wanted to do it again, not only to see what had changed in the past year but because I had persuaded a friend from the Peninsula to come up and join me for the day. At the start I did a quick count and estimated about 40 SFN people had probably turned up, but this number may have increased due to late-comers tagging on as the tour progressed. What a great turn-out! I was so excited that all these new people would learn about the farm and then maybe go out and spread the word about its existence.

After an hour long tour around the grounds, headed by Jason Mark, the Farm's Manager, in which he shared future plans for the greenhouse, laying hens and an urban garden demonstration, we gathered some produce for a farm fresh salad and then stepped under the shade of the Farm's beautiful weeping willow to socialize and share our food. This was an eye opener. Many people had gone out of their way to make fantastic salads. One with green beans, another with a medley of melons spiked with hot pepper and a glorious panzanella beautifully presented on a pretty earthenware platter were just some of the delectables that caught the attention of my taste buds. By comparison, it would appear that Slow Food Nation still has a way to go in educating some of its participants to the values of slow food living. I hope that those who brought the shrink-wrapped slices of cheese and the bag of supermarket baby-cut carrots had their eyes opened to the notion of making better food choices by attending this communal feast.

No sooner was the breaking of bread complete, the Farm cleared out. Zap! Most of the tourists were gone. I was a little disappointed that less than a handful remained to volunteer. Their loss was my gain, however, as Penny and I set about implementing some crop rotation for one of the beds. With the help of a charming couple and their baby daughter, regular volunteers, we pulled out all the onions, weeded the bed, fertilized it, dug it over, laid down the water hoses and planted it with beans. The feeling of achievement I gained from being part of the farming process by doing something proactive really made my day.

For the remainder of the afternoon I helped with harvesting some cherry tomatoes and clearing up the space under the willow tree, in particular sorting the trash from the lunch into compostable and non-compostable piles. Before I knew it, 5.30 had come around and it was sadly time to leave. Volunteers are welcome to help themselves to a portion of the harvest and so I packed my backpack with a small helping of quinces, cherry tomatoes, onions and strawberries before setting off on my bicycle, happy that I had helped contribute to the Slow Food Nation weekend in a small but important way.

At the beginning of this post I stated that Slow Food is for life, not just for Labor day weekend. To that I have taught my own self something. Yes, I do live a fairly slow food life already. But in truth I could do even more. And I will. If I leave it more than a year, again, before I return to help out at Alemany Farm, I will be a lesser person than the one I aspire to be.

You, too, can volunteer at Alemany Farm. Everyone is welcome. Find their workday schedule here. Perhaps I'll see you there one day..?

QUESTION OF THE DAY graphic copyright sam breach
?How did you Celebrate 'Slow Food' this Labor Day Weekend?

2006 | Blog Day 2006
2005 | Hey there YOU, you eat some Rabbit! I tell you, Sam, that's a nasty habit
2004 | News Just In: Chaos Theory Spawns Tuscan Risotto

© 2008 Sam Breach
Slow Food is for Life, Not Just for Labor Day


  • At 31/8/08 22:18, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sam, this has been a really, really difficult day for me regarding Slow Food, and, it turns out, for many of the reasons you obliquely or directly delineate here in your post. We'll talk more about it in person, I'm sure, and I have a post (or 28) of my own to write, so pardon me for saving some of my own thoughts for later, rather than in this comment, but suffice it to say that, while I may have been surprised when you first expressed to me that you had some hesitation about Slow Food Nation, I get it. Fully. And I'm struggling through the many layers of what that's turning up.

    Long story short...thanks for your post. I had an inkling it might be as it was, and I'm glad to be reading it tonight.

  • At 31/8/08 23:03, Blogger Alice Q. said…

    I think we're all struggling with it a bit - including some people who are very involved! There was a lot of discussion about these conflicts, and I'm working on a post myself. It's been very overstimulating and emotional for me, and I'm sure for a lot of other people too.

    I recognize your description from how I feel when I volunteer at my school's garden. I would have loved to be there with you on Sat!

  • At 31/8/08 23:50, Blogger Sam said…

    I am so sorry to hear that two of the people I knew who were the staunchest supporters of the event initially have reached some kind of cracking point. Although I didn't buy into it , for the sakes of wonderful people like you, I didnt hope for it to fail. Has it? This makes me very sad to hear.

    Let me know when you have your articles up and I will link to them at the bottom of my post.

    PS - I also wanted to add, for the record, that this event was actually free to attend.

  • At 1/9/08 00:40, Anonymous Stephanie said…

    This is a bloody great post, Sam. You already know this, but I am with you on work days at The Farm. I love that place.

    I have my own very separate, very bad ideas about what went down at SFN but I'm going to get you a tee-shirt made that says, "Slow Food Every Day, Not Just Labor Day."

  • At 1/9/08 00:47, Anonymous Vanessa said…

    I am quite vested in this event, as I was part of the staff. I have to say that while I am bought into it 900%, I like to see so much discussion about SFN going on- in good and bad. The whole point of this event was to get people to talk about a more sustainable food system that is good, clean, healthy and fair. And while not everyone bought into it, everyone talked about it. For the foodies, it's an engaging happening. For those who are not, and who are not as well informed as many of us who make of local produce and organic farming a way of life, this has been an incredibly educational experience. You'll have to agree with me that, in itself, that is incredibly precious, no matter how we reached this result.

    Love the way you spent your Slow Weekend, mine was spent...
    * Setting the Table for the Changemakers' Day,
    * Hopping between stands and learning about new farmers and product,
    * Trying Fatted Calf for the first time,
    * Gazing at how pretty the Civic Center turned out,
    * Listening to Petrini blab away at the Mayor in his fast and funny Italian,
    * Standing in line for Taste, and * Enjoying the many producers I would not have been exposed to had it not been for the event.

    Happy Slow Weekend, fellow Foodies! :)

  • At 1/9/08 09:23, Blogger ChrisB said…

    Sam I enjoyed reading about how you spent your weekend.

  • At 1/9/08 13:13, Blogger Zoomie said…

    I have to admit I avoided what I imagined would be the Slow Food crowds in SF and just tended to my own home garden and met some friends at a farmer's market for coffee and a stroll around the market. None of us were very good customers as we all have home gardens...

  • At 1/9/08 14:21, Anonymous Tana said…

    I avoided everything to do with Slow Food, no longer admiring Mr. Petrini much at all.

    Instead, we went to a potluck at the home of Jim Dunlop and Rebecca Thistlethwaite, who run TLC (Tastes Like Chicken) Ranch. Also there was Rebecca King (who is starting up her own sheep dairy, and who supplied lamb shanks and two wheels of cheese she'd made by hand), as well as the founder of, Guillermo Payet, and the owners of Claravale Farm (one of the only raw milk dairies in the state of California). We feasted and feasted. I made deviled eggs (two varieties, including some with jalapeños sautéed in Stella Cadente Persian lime olive oil) from TLC Ranch's eggs. They have 3200+ pastured hens, and a bunch of baby pigs that are SLOWly turning into bacon.

    : D

    I blogged about my thoughts here.

    I think more than anything, Slow Food needs to get under the circus tent with all the other folks, and stop acting like they own the tent.

    Just my two cents.

    As always, Sam, I appreciate your thoughtfulness, your considerate and gracious thinking, and all the good work you do for us all.

  • At 1/9/08 19:40, Blogger cookiecrumb said…

    Sam, I have never known you to be anything but politic. You are never unfair.
    You may have your opinions, but you are careful not to insult other people.
    This, as usual, was a brilliant post. We get your point of view, but you didn't slime anyone.
    You know me: I'd have slimed someone.
    Oh, I spent the weekend gardening, drying prunes, hanging at the farmers market with a gang of friends, making some homemade tomato juice and enjoying a slow meal with another couple of SFN avoiders.

  • At 1/9/08 22:27, Anonymous Laurie Gauguin said…

    What a lovely way to spend your day. I attended a few of the Slow Food Nation events that were open to the public, feeling that those captured what should be the heart of the movement, instead of claustrophobic tasting rooms and celebrity-chef events. I was torn between volunteering at Alemany Farm and attending a lecture on Saturday, and I chose the lecture because it was a one-time opportunity, and felt I could volunteer at Alemany Farm anytime. Now I must make sure "anytime" becomes "now."

  • At 2/9/08 12:24, Anonymous Erika said…

    Thanks for sharing what is, to me, a story about a day that embodies a personal slow food ethos in action. I have been a slowfood supporter for many years, and chose not to volunteer or get involved with planning the SF event due to personal opinions regarding the local chapters and their events/structure/organization. I did attend the tasting, and wil also be writing about it later this week, after I have digested it more fully. Thanks for sharing your day.

  • At 2/9/08 13:51, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Really great, inspiring post. We missed our CSA's annual potluck this weekend due to family obligations, and now I'm even more sad we weren't there. We celebrated "slow" food ourselves with a nearly entirely local bbq, which hardly compares to the manual labor you put into the day. You've set the bar high now for the rest of us!

  • At 2/9/08 14:28, Blogger dairyprincess said…

    Fabulous post, Sam!
    While we did send our cheese (all 25 pounds!) to be sampled in the taste pavilion, we chose to skip out on the event itself.
    Instead, we shared our handmade cheese with dear friends who were married at Holly Farm in Carmel, CA among friends, family and incredible food and drink.
    We'd hoped to stop in on the way home for a 'meet and greet' at SFN to visit with folks who will be making the trip with us to Slow Food's Terra Madre in Italy this October, but our dad was invited to attend a great event featuring Joel Salatin and Jerry Brunetti in the Central Valley, so we came straight home to milk so he would be able to go.
    To me, our reconnection with the cows over the last two days and dad's chance to get off the farm to chat one-on-one with others who share our farming ideals was worth missing this year's Slow Food Extravaganza. :)

  • At 2/9/08 18:58, Blogger sfmike said…

    I love the phrase, "Irritated is not a productive state of mind to be in when trying to share a positive message about the politics of food with your readership." You sound like a nineteenth-century schoolmarm and it's delightful.

    I was in New York City and environs, having a delightful time going to Long Island beaches and exploring Manhattan. I'm glad I wasn't in town to cover the event for "Civic Center," because I fear I too would have been irritated, and like cookiecrumb, would have found it very hard not to be mean.

    Also loved tana's comment, "I think more than anything, Slow Food needs to get under the circus tent with all the other folks, and stop acting like they own the tent."

  • At 3/9/08 08:39, Anonymous Jennifer Jeffrey said…

    Sounds like a perfect way to celebrate slow food, Sam.

    There's something so satisfying about working in a garden and helping things grow...

    And biking through Bayview: brave girl! Bravo.

  • At 8/9/08 06:29, Blogger Sara said…

    I came into San Francisco to check out the Slow Food marketplace. I really enjoyed the gardens.


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