Farmer Skip Essay
Slow Food Conference
It’s never easy coming off the mountain. And this was a mountain to remember – a 14th century church for a crown, a stone wall for a necklace, and a viewpoint that stretched from the snow-peaked Alps in the North to the grape-vined hillsides in the South.
A slow descent we made. Slow as in Slow Food. As in Slow Money. As in Slow Down You Harried Farmers, Life Is Too Short. Holding hands forces you to slow down. As does stepping down the same path a shepherd trod before Charlemagne was born. Or strolling across an alfalfa field capped with a well dug in the Middle Ages. Or crossing paths with an old Italian widow leading her goats to pasture.
At every intersection, from the cobblestone village square of San Casciano Val di Pesa to the teeming Piazzas in Florence, you sway between two times: gray, moss-covered yesterday holding hands with green-and-yellow today.
Erin and I didn’t want to let go. Not that we didn’t miss our kids, our Austin friends, or our flourishing Green Gate Farms. We just fell in love unexpectedly – totally and completely smitten. Italy will do that to a farmer, especially when it invites you to join 5,000 agrarians from around the world. We stood in line with farmers from Mongolia dressed in green and gold ceremonial costumes. We drank wine with the leaders of the largest Italian farmers cooperative. We stood up and applauded our heroes — Alice Waters, Vandana Shiva, and the famed Brazilian economist Max Neff.
And we ate. Farmers being fed. The tables turned.
Take, eat, this is our body and soul. That is the Italian litany. And eat we did, finding delight and surprises at every turn Our first meal outside the conference was in Alba, known for its wine and truffles. Tired after a long drive, we stepped into the first café that was open. Its name, Pink, should have been our first hint that we were not in Iowa anymore. We ordered what we thought was salad (insalate crude) and sat puzzled at the bowl of minced tomatoes topped with what looked burned potato chips. Erin took the first bit and grimaced. This “salad” was raw ground meat, tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper then topped with black truffles. A local delicacy. Our tastebuds were dazed and confused. Alarms went off inside our conditioned brain cells – isn’t this unsafe, illegal even? It was delicious.
Italy surprised us not only at the table but in the fields, too. The countryside is a quiltwork of small, odd-shaped patches of land and not an inch of it is wasted. Five acres of cultivated poplar trees border ten acres of corn; swaths of trellised grapes march straight up a steep hill – against the contours! To the right are hoop-housed peppers. To the left a small dairy with mounds of steaming manure waiting to be spread. So much diversity and small-scale economy makes a Texan wonder – could this be the time-tested model for sustainable farming?
So many questions. So many towns to explore and tastes to experience. So little time. Meanwhile, our CSA swings into midseason. We hear that animals are being born and no rain has fallen in since we left. Vacationing farmers is an oxymoron, but with the help of a village we have done the impossible – made an unforgettable escape to what undoubtably is a food-lover’s mecca. After 11 wonderful and inspiring days of roaming Central Italy, Erin and I return to Central Texas with some wine to share and a resolve to eat better, live slower, and find more time for family and friends. These are the lasting gifts from Italy and all the people who made it possible.