I’ve always tried to shop locally and organically with frequent visits to the Carrboro Farmer’s Market, Whole Foods or Weaver Street. These places were my version of farm-to-fork living, but after ten days on a farm, I now realize I had no idea what this lifestyle really means.
The Piedmont region of Italy pioneered the Slow Food movement in 1986 after a McDonalds was slated to open near the Spanish Steps in Rome. The now-worldwide movement focuses on keeping regional specialties alive by supporting local farms that harvest local products. It stands firmly in opposition to anything that could be considered “fast” food.
Our farm, Tenuta Anitica, keeps with this mission. It operates as an Agrotourism bed and breakfast in which they grow local products like hazelnuts, Barbera grapes and strawberries and then use these products in their restaurant and to sell to their guests. The nuts they make into homemade Nutella and cakes and cookies, the strawberries and other fruits like apricots become jams, and the grapes turn into delicious wine.
Italian tourists visit Tenuta Antica to take part in this proud tradition of local production. While at the farm, they get to see the natural growth and then eat traditional Italian cooking made from these very ingredients. For us, it provided an insight into how hard, and truly slow, this process can be.
During the summer, and especially in June, you have to pick the crops every day, or they will quickly go bad. Once gathered, they must be prepared and cooked or canned immediately. This is the part of the process I had never before considered nor appreciated.
The following is just a small example. We spent an entire morning picking fava beans followed by an afternoon shelling the beans and then peeling the peas. All day for a single crop. We finished the day backs tired from leaning to pick and fingers quivering and died green. All in all we produced 800 or so individual fava beans–a long days work for a minimal outcome. Back in the states, it’s an easy purchase, but here it makes you understand the finger-numbing process to just prepare the raw peas.
After searchimg through multiple cookbooks, it was decided the beans would be used in a salad and a side dish for a cabaret the farm was hosting. Within a few hours our beans had disappeared into a single dish. We kept peaking in the party to see if the guests were appreciating the beans as much as we thought they should. Luckily for our spirits, they proved a popular item.
The point of slow food (and on a deeper level, the fava beans) is not just healthy eating, but instead cultivating a certain pride in your product. Tenuta Antica has definitely taught me that lesson. It is in everything from the daily effort it takes to prepare food for their restaurant to their otherworldly peach-ginger jam to the deep regional pride in hazelnuts and wine.
I will bring this pride home with me (as well as some jam and hazelnut spread) and hopefully look at North Carolina’s own regional products with a deeper level of appreciation and respect.