Media for Mulling
Ideas for Winter Pondering
Ask local farmers and foodies to name the books, websites, videos and more that have impassioned them, and a hefty list emerges. Stash a few of these away for snowy evenings in, and they may inspire you, too.
My friends Maria Lemanis and George Tselepis vend their wares Capewide at nine farmers’ markets every week. For six months straight, from May through October, they sell olives, olive spreads and extra virgin olive oil from their family’s business abroad, the Monopati farm in the Kalamata region of Greece. They prepare a lovely version of spanokopita, a Greek vegetable pie, with spinach layers sandwiched between homemade dough brushed with olive oil, and peppered generously with lemon and dill. And they bake baklava and traditional Greek biscuits in the evenings, intended as a treat for special occasions.
The couple is unified in their concern that we focus more on achieving healthful diets. Without hesitation, Lemanis has a recommendation. “That Sugar Film,” she blurts out. “It’s about the effects of the sugar we ingest from so called 'health foods,' like low-fat yogurt, snack bars and ice cream.” With a nod to Super Size Me, where only McDonald’s food is consumed by a film maker for a month, in this documentary, an actor who has already eschewed the sweet stuff for several years dips back into the sugar bowl for two months to experience its psychological and physical effects. Released in 2015, it’s now available on YouTube.
Lemanis’s husband George echoes a similar theme about our food choices, when he offers his addition, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Filmed from 2010-11, the series chronicles British chef and restaurateur Jamie Oliver on his travels, first to Virginia and then to Los Angeles, with the intention of educating school children about the importance of our meals. Oliver has gone on to be a leading campaigner for initiatives such as backing sugar taxes in many European countries and Australia, with his personal goals being more vegetable-laden plates and fighting obesity worldwide.
David Light, Orleans Farmers’ Market’s zinnia, raspberry and veggie grower extraordinaire, is continually upping his game in culling the latest small-scale organic growing theories and techniques from farmers worldwide. The tome The Lean Farm, is the current volume to earn his favor. In it we meet Ben Hartman, who, with his wife, farms less than an acre of land to support themselves, and supply a CSA and several weekly farmers’ markets. Focused on bringing efficiency strategies first introduced to Japanese auto makers in the 1980s to landowners, Hartman clearly demonstrates from his own experience how rethinking and streamlining every facet of his farm has lead to more production and profit.
Elisabeth Leaning, now with one year firmly under her belt as co-manager of the Brewster Historical Society Farmers’ Market, is a tremendous fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Fearnley left London to take a stab at selfsufficiency first in Dorset, and later in the Devon area. A long-time champion of local healthful food, sustainability and education, his goal is to teach people to get comfortable preparing an extensive array of vegetables healthfully and to include tips for growing many of them in a home garden. His River Cottage enterprise now includes a television series, cookery courses, events, eateries and products such as beer and yogurt. Google “Fearnley” and a variety of YouTube videos appear for specific recipes and causes dear to him, and chronicles of his adventures to find and prepare local foods, including fish and game. Fearnley has also penned several cookbooks, of which River Cottage Much More Veg is just off the press.
Flower farmer, photographer and writer Stephanie Foster vows every year to plant less. Yet somehow her will softens. “My problem is I am inspired in the low gray season of winter. In the fall, I vow to cut back. Forget cosmos, too weedy and doesn’t last long in a vase; give up love lies bleeding, half my customers love it but the other half hate it; statice is too difficult to plant and takes forever to grow. And on and on. Then I get a shiny catalogue with beautiful new offerings like cupcake zinnias, green sunflowers and Cafe au Lait dahlias.” Foster places her orders for seeds through Fedco, located in Clinton, Maine. “It’s a coop owned by both customers and employees and their catalog is a no-frills black and white affair with down-to-earth descriptions with a little Maine humor thrown in. This is my go-to catalog and they offer the best prices. I go through the fancy color catalogs and make a list of what I want, then I order as much as I can from Fedco, followed by Harris Seed (Rochester, NY) and only when I can’t find it elsewhere—Burpee. I am unable to resist. Each growing season I multiply my stock rather than simplify. Thank God I love what I do.”
Drew Locke, in one second, answers emphatically, “Joel Salatin, and anything Polyface Farm.” Locke, a seventh generation farmer of his family’s land in Truro, raises chickens using the humane methods developed by farmer and clean meat champion Joel Salatin. Salatin educates others worldwide about his practices from his home base at the Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. A devotee of Salatin’s moveable chicken pens, Locke replicated the design, and rotates the custom lodgings around his fields every morning. This keeps the chickens safe from predators most of the time, and gives them optional cover from the elements while they graze, producing the much-sought-after Hillside Farms bird. Visit the Polyface Farm webpage for more Salatin how-to’s, workshops on pasture raised meat and eggs, and check the education tab for a complete listing of instructional volumes. There are public farm tours, on-line study sessions, a full length film for sale on DVD and a children’s book.
Jane and Jim Rainey of the Route 6 Farm in Eastham are two years in as vendors at the Orleans Farmers’ Market. Always arriving with a compact but sumptuous spread, their organically grown produce features blossoms, herbs, unusual squashs and bumpy blue pumpkins. These heritage edibles are notably flavorful, and also treat us to a serving of visual delight. Jane believes it’s all because she gets lost in the pages of The Baker Creek Seed Catalog each winter. Exquisitely shot and printed in full color, the seeds are all organic, and the text directs how to plant and care for each specific seed. Jane declares, “I’d pay for it if it weren’t free.”
Cape Cod Organic farmer Tim Friary says that when he finally gets a moment to read, “Well of course, I just sit down and catch up on a stack of all my Edible Cape Cod’s. Then after that, I’m happiest if you just give me my Fedco catalog to pour over.” He pauses and grins, “But what I’m really looking for, is a good book on how to keep your house clean.” When you find it Tim, all of us hope you’ll share.
Turn Here, Sweet Corn is a book I discovered at last spring’s Meet Your Local Farmer event in Harwich. It’s the heartfelt and compelling memoir of Atina Diffley, who, for 30 years alongside husband Martin, farmed Gardens of Egan, one of the first organic farms and CSAs in the Midwest. This volume is an exquisitely penned outpouring of one woman’s love and commitment to her husband, family and the health of the earth that you may not want to see end. Together they raised equitable food for all while always fighting for clean land and sustainable methods of production without harmful chemicals. Diffley now is an advocate, public speaker and consultant, guiding young organic farmers.
Just released this fall is the film Faces Places, a quirky ninety-minute jaunt that, although off the beaten path in approach, will touch many of us. In French with English subtitles, the now 89-year-old Agnes Varda, a leader of the avant-garde film movement of the 1950s, joins forces with JR, a contemporary modernist photographer on a journey that is part impromptu, and part by design. The tour is anything but urban, and as the pair always chooses the road not taken to visit obscure villages and sites—even frequent travelers to France might not find these locations. Included are talks with a farmer, a waitress, a visit to the abode of a man who is jobless by choice, and a tour with a farmer who raises goats and makes cheese. There’s bitter, there’s sweet, and there’s magic.
List (in order of mention)
That Sugar Film (thatsugarfilm.com)
Ben Hartman, The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work (2015)
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (rivercottage.net/hugh-fearnleywhittingstall), River Cottage Much More Veg (2017), River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes (2013)
Harris Seeds (harrisseeds.com)
Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm (polyfacefarm.com)
The Baker Creek Seed Catalog (rareseeds.com)
Edible Cape Cod (ediblecapecod.com)
Atina Diffley (atinadiffley.com), Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works (2013)
Faces Places (in theaters now)
Melissa Sweet, Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White (2016)