Getting Ready ...
I don't know how to prepare for a 40-day trip. It's so long a time to be away there does not seem any way to prepare. What's the use of shoring things up and thinking you can prevent bad things from happening when you are gone for as long as 40 days? Will my dog remember me when I return?
I am downsizing my existence. The ax is out and swinging. I picked out my favorite sleeveless shirts, brown boots, pair of blue jeans, white blazer and asked myself why I saddled myself with 100lbs of baggy pants and dress shirts that I never wear. This excess clothing has survived endless moves, Manhattan mini-storage rooms, backs of basements and now have finally ended their run as property of mine. I gave four bags of stuff to charity. Folders that have been crowding the surface of my desk have finally been opened to reveal their supreme irrelevance. They are out too. I feel lighter. - Patrick
NYC and the countdown begins ...
Its Memorial Day and we have 2 days before liftoff. I first felt the stress of departing on a 40-day journey when Thursday, the day we leave, first appeared on the 5-day weather forecast.
We saw our van and its trailer for the first time today. Sarah's future step-father loaned it to us for the entire journey. He sells "teak" furniture at shows around the country and already owns all the equipment we need for the 40-day affair: a van, hitch and trailer, first-aid kit, locks, spare tires, generator, even a cage for the pigs that would join our caravan in Kansas.
We met Donald at the best conceivable time - the perfection of it all leads me to believe the fates want this trip to happen. Donald just proposed to Sarah's Mother a few months ago but they haven't officially tied the knot so I think Donald wholeheartedly embraced the idea of getting good marks from Sarah and the rest of the family.
Donald collects many things that he finds on the road. He has a marvelous walking stick/cane collection made of ceramic, wood and porcelain. Some canes double as guns, others as guitars. He even has Bat Masterson's walking stick. He collects chairs, desks, refrigerators, imported foods, animal sculptures of giraffes, lions and tigers. As Sarah puts it, his garage looks like a Cotsco of Dean and Deluca and Pottery Barn He has a land deed signed by President Grover Cleveland for territory in South Dakota, which he gave to us to give the owner if we drove back that way. He even has a working mini-cannon, which he exploded for us as a sendoff in a ceremony that befit the one 202 years ago for the departure of Lewis, Clark and their team in a quest to find a continuous water route from the East to West coast.
The van and trailer are 32 feet long. We parked it in Long Island City, Queens and it takes up four spots. Driving it feels serious and plagued with responsibility. All of a sudden I have to fear things like jackknifing, fishtailing, sharp turns and big bumps. I find myself constantly looking back to make sure the trailer is following me. Reversing into a tight spot is harder than finishing a Rubic cube. - Patrick
Preparing the Trailer in NYC Saying Goodbye to La Frieda in NYC
South to Atlanta
We set out with 15,000 miles ahead of us, 32 feet of van and trailer behind us and we made our west cross-town NYC at 10:20am. The new Heritage office is between Patrick and me, housed in two laptops and a few attachés.
One of the delights of the trip is being away from a computer all day, but I still wondered how I'd get a groove on and unwind and feel on the road, away from my desk, the four telephones and the people dropping by the office throughout the day. Now, on the road, it's just us and our thoughts and the sights outside our windows. Today is Thursday and Thursdays are typically tricky and a bit difficult to define. On that day, chefs across the US have just received their deliveries ordered the week prior, so there's usually quite a bit of follow-up. Plus we've just finished selling the parts of 100 pigs, dozens of ducks, and cuts of lamb and beef for the week. We don't skip a beat in the van though - the calls start up right away with questions like: "why don't the frenched loins on your cutting sheet match your packing orders?," "how many slabs of fresh belly will feed 50 people?," "those Grade A pig heads will put us over the pallet weight limit?"
Nine hours into our trip, we get off in Archdale, North Carolina, for food. Aimless and searching for the family restaurant the gas guy recommended, we see a sign for 'Taqueria' and swing in. The Mexican grocery and taco shop opened just two weeks ago. The cook and his wife carefully and slowly make us the best chorizo taco probably ever served in Archdale. Rich with pepper oil and spiked with cinnamon and clove, it satisfies us immensely. We but hadn't asked for the chorizo taco, they'd given it to us for free because it was the house specialty and they wanted to make sure we tried it.
The van is a dream. We are blessed with a spacious, comfy ride and it hasn't taken long to turn the van into a home - it seems better than my apartment. It took a little adjusting to drive in traffic and open, curvy roads. But now, it is almost too easy to drive.
I remember when the four of us (Patrick and I and our filmmakers, David and Anthony) first started talking about a caravan cross-country. We posted the plan on our web site without really being certain it would happen. Then we began working on it; we broke the news to our Red Wattle farmer Larry that we wanted four of his pigs, joked about having to take books out on animal husbandry, started calculating mileage and confirmed chefs' and farmers' schedules. Hundreds of friends and colleagues are about to welcome us into their homes, walk-ins, milking stations, kitchens.... I've seen more of what is outside this country than within it and I know I'm about to be blown away. I'm not going to want to sleep - Sarah
874 miles to Atlanta! It wasn't pretty. Highway 95 doesn't provide much eye candy. But we made the 15-hour trip without trouble. Our only pleasure, besides the company, was in Archdale, North Carolina where we stopped at a taqueria. The huge sparsely filled room had a random assortment of imports from South America on Wall Mart shelves including colorful sodas in glass bottles, peppers and spices, FIFA soccer balls and Latin CDs. The owners, who are recently married and about to have their first kid together, were no where to be found when we entered because they worked behind a tiny window at the end of the shop which provided a glimpse of a sizzling grill and steaming kitchen which churned out tongue tacos and chicken quesadillas. The owners were so happy to see out-of-towners that they gave us a free chorizo taco. It was our first good food of the trip.
It is exciting to finally depart. There is electricity in the van - we left our wild vertical city for the open road and the unknown. The van is spacious and steady. Gas is expensive - $75 per tank and hauling the trailer we only get 15 miles per gallon. Good to know our administration is looking after us. I am sad the bio-diesel idea didn't work out. Where were you Willie Nelson when we needed you?!
Work was conducted from the road for the first time. Our trusty Vassar intern Carrie relayed the messages with a skill beyond her years. It is weird that the work of farmers - such an old and honorable and life sustaining profession - can be supported and maintained through nothing more than a telephone and a Blackberry. Those, in the end, are the only tools you need to sell the food.
Tomorrow we prepare for our first event: a chef/press breakfast at Woodfire Grill with host Michael Tuohy and guests chef David Larkworthy (5 Seasons Brewing); Gerry Klaskala (Aria); Shaun Doty who also opened his house to us (Table 1280); Delia (Flying Biscuit); and Linton Hopkins (Restaurant Eugene). The breakfast is followed by a meeting of our friends at Georgia Organics who are looking to organize a local food distribution service for small farmers. Then off to Restaurant Joel and the first big heritage evening event at Farm 255 in Athens! –Patrick
Good Eating at Farm 255
Georgia is a fertile hotbed of local, sustainable agriculture. In Atlanta, the chef scene is particularly diverse and wonderful and the guys there do their very best to support a healthy farming industry. This morning we pulled seven chefs together at Woodfire Grill for breakfast. We'd worried that an early morning round-table would turn out to be a groggy, boring mess. But the chefs are all good friends and the conversation was rich and flowing. We talked about schools serving foods that are worse than what they give in prisons and about how local farmers are dying off while there is a bastion of chefs who'd pay more for their foods. I realized that in my next life, I'd need to return to earth and fix all that is wrong with the lunch program in the Atlanta schools and then buy a refrigerated truck and travel the state looking for farmers who need to move their products..
The weather's been 1/2 gorgeous and sunny and 1/2 rainy and annoying, it changes in the course of an hour. In the early evening we pulled onto the patio of Farm 255 in Athens GA as the city was just drying up. Farm 255 is more than a restaurant, it is a lifestyle. The people who work there and eat there are in constant celebration mode. They celebrate the day's harvest from the farm, the flowers on the bar that open with the sunshine, Lily's fresh-baked cookies and they celebrate each other. Nothing is taken for granted. We gave our first awards out to Olivia and Tamar who run the front of the house and the kitchen respectively. They are young, energetic, funny and edgy - a personality the whole city of Athens exhibits. They are part of a crew that manages a fruit and vegetable farm a few miles away that provides most of the restaurant's ingredients. The farm manager, Jason Mann, is a force of nature, I sat with him at dinner. He straddles the line between being fully alive, attentive, thought-provoking and hilarious, to being a little distant, contemplative and generally 'out there'. He is someone who is deeply affected by being on the farm, hosting tours and working on experiments - who wants to do good and only good, who seems weighed down the crap in life and who is constantly searching for ways to increase the quality of life in the world.
For their life-time achievement ceremony, we pinned a broach of a little Swiss-looking farm girl on Olivia and one of a tall regal-looking lady with a head dress for Tamar. The jewelry sparked laughter and joking, and while we did want to provide humor and entertainment through the presentation of the pins, we are truly sincere about it. These awards are dear to us. We spent several weekends strolling the flea markets in NYC choosing the perfect pin, pendant or statue for our friends across the country. When I explained this to Tamar, she thought her award was a little less ridiculous.- Sarah
I think its going to be hard to encounter a better experience on this trip than the night we spent in Athens, Georgia. It was so good and the people so beautiful that I couldn't help but think of the song "Midnight Train to Georgia" and how I would take that train direct to Athens if things ever get to be too much. The lyrics go: "L.A... Too much for the man... So he's leaving the life he's come to know. He said he's going - he's going back to find what's left of his world- the world he left behind. He's leaving, he's leaving on the midnight train to Georgia. He's going back to a simpler place and time."
The event was at Farm 255, a restaurant run by Olivia Sargeant and Tamar Adler and a slew of kids in their early thirties that serves as the primary outlet for Full Moon Farm, located just 3 miles away. The food was refined, it wasn't too heavy and it was tight. Being "tight" has turned into the ultimate word to define a great dish for me. Staying simple and sourcing the best ingredients, a la Alice Waters, is an easy way to keep it tight, with no lose ends. A guy like Mario Batali, whose father we will award a lifetime achievement award in three days in Cleveland, goes all out and makes some dishes very complicated yet still keeps it tight with no random tastes to annoy the taste buds.
Tamar is talented and Farm 255 is indeed a culinary destination. Her tight path was one that shot for simplicity on certain dishes like a strawberry soup (which I never thought I would like) and risked a taste mess in other dishes including one with a feta cheese sauce, potatoes and beef carpaccio. Pond raised Pekin duck was served two ways. In the end, it was all tight!
Olivia is a little force of nature and she is one of the few people in Athens who doesn't look like she could have just come out of the back of a smoky VW van. She is organized - - she might be the only one in town to wear a watch. She knows how to work the computers, set up email, print lovely menus and make guests smile. She is the backbone of the Farm 255.
Athens is a very hip town even though it consists of but a strip of music venues and an internet café. Michael Stipe lives there but didn't come to the event. The town has become even hipper thanks to the group of people who run the Farm 255 and the real farm that supplies it. The guy responsible for the energy behind both is a guy named Jason Mann. Jason is a prophet of sorts and I hope one day to meet him again. His words convinced a dozen of his West coast friends to pack their things and buy a one-way ticket to Georgia, And judging from the beauty of the restaurant and farm and the goodness of what is produced there I would say that everyone who came found the religion they sought. The people who work there make it successful; they are happy to be there. And sitting outside the restaurant after supper, drinking wine, listening to the music that emanated from basement windows around the town, there was part of me that would be happy there too.
That morning couldn't have boded better for the rest of the day and trip. Michael Tuohy of Atlanta's Woodfire Grill is a very generous man. He opened his restaurant for breakfast and hosted a round table of numerous great culinary energies in Atlanta to talk heritage and food distribution. Todd talked of the rare breed movement in the retail realm, Linton about it in schools, Gerry in the form of cured meats, David in terms of portion cost, Shaun about the tourist industry embracing it, and Delia about supporting the movement through franchises. In the end we learned much about food distribution and how to better the plight of small family farmers in the culinary Mecca that is Atlanta. Our meeting was followed by one of Georgia Organics and its Alice Rolls who if the sustainable food world would clone, would solve all woes. - Patrick
Life with the Keeners
Its hard to write about Bill Keener and what he helped create in the cove of Sequatchie. Sometimes I think Bill was placed on the earth to teach us through his farm but returns to the stars and the ages, which is ultimately where he resides. Any lover of small family farms and sustainability must visit Bill and his family. I do hope the Keeners open an agri-turismo there soon so that more can witness what exists.
In the Lord of the Rings Trilogy there was a scene that got cut from the movie version. It was about a tiny man who had the most bountiful garden in the universe. The life force that existed there was so powerful that even the dark forces of Modor could not affect it. The only reason Frodo Baggins could not leave the ring of power there was that the man, who I guess was a God or God, was forgetful and might have lost it to the dark forces. Not to say that Bill is forgetful, in fact he is more in tune and connected to many things than just about anyone I know.
Bill said about his rare breed herds, probably the largest and most diverse in the country, "when we lose a breed, we lose a part of our consciousness". He lets his pigs roam the forest and sleep under trees. At one point in our journey around his paddocks, he found a litter of Large Blacks who had been left alone by their mother who sought a meal. When Bill picked up one of the babies it squealed and the mother pig came racing to it, across the deep shrubs, to save it. That bond was awesome to behold. It is how all living creatures have come to be. And we saw it there in action. If only the mother knew how important that rescue mission was considering the Large Black is one of the rarest of all pork breeds, with fewer than 200 breeders left in the world.
Bill Keener and Sarah
That evening we saw a glimpse of true southern culture. Our friends Tom and Kincade and their circle of friends hosted a dinner to honor Bill and his family for their work. The award given to Bill was of a farmer on a buggy pulled by a horse and it looked like a constellation. The food served at Saint John's was Gloucestershire Old Spot and it rocked many worlds. The breed and the light touch of chef Daniel created a taste I will not soon forget. - Patrick
Last evening we'd met farmers Bill and Alice who run a grits mill powered by their mule behind their house. At 6am Bill picked David and me up at Farm 255 and drove us a few minutes outside of Athens to their humble home that sits on three acres. They have the mule and the mill and several garden patches and sell their foods at the local market. They build all their own farm equipment. Bill was called by God to till the earth and Alice seems to live this life out of necessity - she can't stand the controls put on her by commercial agriculture. I noticed her quirkiness as she explained how she re-marketed her grits as "Polenta de Georgia" because that makes better sense to her Latino neighbors than grits. Alice's birthday is on Tuesday, I hope I remember to call her. We'd visited two farms by 7:30am, Red Mule and Full Moon Farm (which supplies the restaurant Farm 255) before taking off for Tennessee three hours north.
Alice's Polenta de Georgia. Keener's chickens laying eggs.
Today, I was officially exhausted. Sleep deprivation is like a bad drug, my brain is cloudy and eyes are watery and twitchy. But I was able to sleep a bit on the way to Tennessee to be with one of America's greatest farming families. The Keeners live in a lush, pristine cove at the end of the town road dotted with Baptists churches, poor homes and kids walking back from swimming the creeks. We got to the farm in Sequatchie TN at noon and I wanted to head straight to the chicken coop and pick eggs. It's a therapeutic and peaceful chore: collecting eggs and handling them when they are still warm and glowing with their pastel colors. Last time here I took a carton home with me on the plane but no point in doing that this time.
The Keeners started planting about 15 years ago. They have an incredible farm with smart, sustainable systems that help them stay off the grid. They have rare breed pigs (Ossabaws, Large Blacks and Old Spots), Devon milking cows, Katahdin lamb, those egg-laying chickens, strawberry and blueberry patches, vegetables and shitakes growing in the dark forests of the farm. They use solar energy and bio-diesel and are starting to make cheese and cure meats - maximizing fermentation and culture on the farm.
Their punk rock teenage daughter Anne made lunch for all of us and the farm guys and interns: perfectly braised pulled pork, beet green salad, sweet roasted beets with sugar peas, eggplant and tahini and chocolate-beet bundt cake with apricot glaze. Bill, Miriam, their children and their friends that work the farm are preserving the core of humanity and protecting food as culture and consciousness. They continue agricultural practices and keep their foods diverse so that we don't loose our sense of self and place. Sequatchie Cove is magical.
At dinner in Chattanooga, at the restaurant St. John, we feasted on one of Bill's Old Spots. We awarded Bill a pin with a farmer sitting on what looks like a chariot. - Sarah
Off to see the Amish.
On the road again to visit my old Amish friends in Berlin, Ohio. We left Chattanooga at 8am after Tom took us to the memorial for the Trail of Tears. I drove our trailer and van like a maniac because we had to be in Holmes County by supper and if we were late its not like we could call in. On my first cross- country trip in 1990, I read in Lets Go USA that Berlin was an Amish town. My friend Spencer and I stopped the first buggy we could find and asked where we could get work for the day. After numerous attempts to walk onto farms we were finally given directions to one owned and operated by one of the four ministers of the community. After much convincing that we were pure and meant no harm, Rob let us onto his fields, and into his home and life. He has 6 boys and 4 girls.
The next morning back in 1990 we arrived at 6am to begin work on the pepper patch. We hoed up and down the rows of peppers in a line that consisted of his entire family. We were in the middle of the line of workers with the rest of the family lined out in order of importance, which also seemed to correspond to age and height. We talked for hours asking each other questions. We talked about the movie Witness and how it portrayed the Amish. It was a glorious day and I remember thinking I had never been closer to God.
In 1997 I returned to Berlin with my graduate school friend Dan and again they accepted me into their home. This time we talked about religion partly because crazy Dan is a Russian Orthodox Catholic and wanted to try to convert them. Everyone seems to want to convert the Amish - especially in the movies. Even Harrison Ford converted Kelly McGillis for one night.
In 2004, on my way to pick up West from his Scottish terrier breeder in Toledo, I again stopped in and we continued our 14-year friendship. This time they told me they would soon be on their way to the Adirondacks to visit another Amish community (this community of Amish is not allowed to drive but they can be driven - they use few amenities but some of these include milking machines, rubber tires and indoor plumbing). I told them that the entire van load of them (13in all) had to stop for a visit to see me in Manhattan. They told me the chances were slim but sure enough last June I got a call from the driver's cellphone telling me they were heading south on FDR drive and careening to my apartment. The rest of the day was one that I can never forget.
Amish children in the chicken field Our Amish friends' home
I ran downstairs to find them a good parking spot. God must have been watching his peeps because one opened up right in front of my building. I stood in the spot looking for a grey van to make a right onto first avenue but as I waited my neighbor pulled up in his Jaguar and started to inch closer to my knees to push me out of what he thought would be his spot. I didn't move and he got angry. He opened his window and started yelling (good parking spots are hard to come by in NYC) despite the fact that I explained to him that a van load of Amish were about to pull up and that we needed to show them some love. He shouted something vulgar in my direction and pulled away, just as a van pulled up.
Every store owner on the block came out to see the 8 men dressed in black sporting long beards and the 9 women in dresses that fell to their feet wearing bonnets that made the features of their face hard to see. Three children were there too. We shook hands politely and reminisced about our prior meetings, filled the meter with quarters and walked to my place. Ramon the doorman agreed to feed the meter while were gone touring the city. Rob, the eldest son, asked if he could pay Ramon for this service but we explained to him that favors like these were included in my exorbitant rent. For many of them, the trip to the 10th floor was their first elevator ride. I gave them a tour of the apartment, they washed up and we descended to the city streets to begin our NYC adventure. On the way down, my angry neighbor with the Jaguar came in. To his amazement the elevator was awash in Amish. He was humbled. I really didn't need to say anything more but to spite my neighbor I thanked him in front of everybody.
Our journey around NY was efficient. We took 57th street west, past Dior and Hermes, and briefly entered the southern tip of Central Park, which they liked very much. We walked to Times Square where I was mortified to see the Naked Cowboy playing his guitar in front of the MTV studios. That image was one they would refer to as having been particularly troublesome when I next saw them in Berlin. They took the Ferris Wheel in Toys R US -not what I would have recommended but they insisted upon it. We soared to the top of the Empire State Building. While in line numerous of the security guards asked them questions like: do you have to be born Amish (no) and what % of Amish are farmers.
I was amazed to see the effect Amish had on New Yorkers. Never before had my fellow urban dwellers given such wide berth. This town sees absolutely everything to the point that nothing phases it - but when the Amish walk down 42nd street or into a subway car New Yorkers act generously, as if trying to make the city seem friendlier. Seeing Amish affects a person - dressed in somber clothing, looking so serious, they seem to come from a different place and time and that place seems closely connected to God. By forsaking so many amenities, they can make a person feel guilty about his priorities. On 33rd and Lexington we took the 6 train one stop. As it pulled up they riddled me with questions like, how many doors are there per car, how long do they have to make it inside before they close, where do we meet if one of us doesn't make it.
Walking back home we ordered 3 large pizza pies to be delivered with 13 Cokes, a drink they like very much but only drink occasionally. We feasted, while the youngest played with West. I felt the pressure of the world on my shoulders as I gave them directions to the George Washington Bridge and Highway 80.
Seeing them this year was nice, this time with Sarah, Anthony and David. The little girl remembered West from her trip to NYC. I am amused that my Scottish terrier is a household name among the Amish. They don't believe in having portraits taken of themselves feeling that it is not modest to do so, so we were not allowed to film them, but they did allow us to capture audio and film their feet - also their children who were "innocent" and not caught up in hubris related vices. We ate but I must admit that food is not so grand in communities that don't believe in pleasure - there was little to no seasoning in the mashed potatoes, meatloaf or gravy. Only the strawberry jam was superb. So much so that I think we should sell it.
Part of what excited me most was to see my travel companions interact with our hosts. They were in awe. We walked through their farm, asked questions and laughed about our preconceptions. Rob Sr. is one of four ministers of the congregation so he is used to teaching and enlightening those he talks with. Every time with him I learn something about farming, life, and religion. I have come to have a deep respect for this family who now have over 20 members, most recently a set of twins. In a way I think they respect me too, even though they don't agree with some aspects of my lifestyle. And I look forward to continuing our infrequent meetings over the rest of my life. Knowing that I will grounds me. Our meetings are one of the rites of passage at which I judge what I have accomplished, not just with my career but with who I am as a person. I am lucky to know them. - Patrick
We rushed out of Chattanooga at 7am racing through the 10-hour drive to meet the Amish in Berlin, Ohio by 5pm for supper. Great, I thought, we're driving like speed demons to get to a place where no one drives.
Having arrived safely and on time, we parked in front of the greenhouse and one of minister Rob Schlabach's sons appeared, as did another and then another. Together we walked to the stable built in 1820 where their father and other brother were at work milking cows. They didn't look up, speak or acknowledge us. The minister seemed solemn but maybe he was just driven by his work. Soon after, the two met us in front of the buggy garage, joined the conversation and brightened up. The father and his milking son turned out to be quite happy and the most enthusiastic and articulate of the family.
We were invited in for supper and after prayer we lined up at the stove with styrofoam trays in hand to serve ourselves some food. The meal was one of the worst I've ever suffered through; we had gelatinous mystery meatloaf, mashed potatoes greasy with burned brown butter, yellow gravy and a chopped-something salad. Their homemade strawberry preserve was the only thing that saved me from crying, so I slathered jam and butter on slices of plain bread.
Despite the strict rules and rigorous religious lifestyle that dictate their lives, the Amish have a surprising warmth, intelligence and sense of humor that makes it comforting and interesting to be around. It certainly helps that they trust Patrick and know him more and more now that he's visited this family many times over the years.
The Amish sell their milk to Organic Valley, a company I was not aware was as supportive of small-scale operations. They also have chicken, eggs, flower greenhouses and stone fruit trees on the land. The Schlabachs, just like all the other farmers we've visited, are constantly expanding their agriculture roots. Instead of blowing up one part of the farm, like raising five thousand chickens, they grow horizontally, produce diverse foods, more types of animals, and make farming a stronger, longer and more lasting part of their lives. All of them want more agricultural independence and more control over their food supply and their income.
This lifestyle requires exceptional hard work and hardship, but the fruits of their labor are so deeply rewarding. And it seems these farmers are safeguarded - for the time being - because what they are doing can not be replicated or co-opted by large-scale, industrial agriculture. They endure the great challenges and major frustrations of doing this kind of farming, it seems implausible to think other companies or big-guy farmers would stay with it for more than a little while.
We're doing business much in this way. We're not interested in selling herds of 700 pig heads a day. Instead, Heritage takes on interesting varieties of lamb, salmon, ducks, geese and other rare foods, we'll publish books and hold events before we rest our laurels on blowing up one aspect of agriculture. We too are diversifying in order to survive.
We left the Amish home after dark, in the pouring rain, and had to reckon with the horses and buggies on the road. - Sarah
A Fabulous Evening in Cleveland
At 8am we were off to Cleveland's NBC studios for an interview with host Fred Griffith, an old friend from my days with Slow Food. Fred has logged more TV hours then anyone, including people like Regis and Hugh Downs. He has interviewed the likes of Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford and introduced issues like abortion and the realities of living with cancer to Cleveland audiences years before anyone else would tackle these topics. There is a lot of smiling that goes on in morning shows. Everyone is happy in the studio even though everyone at home is just pulling themselves out of bed. We talked about saving rare breeds while the other guests rolled their eyes. The guy who put my mic under my shirt is the "You've Got Mail" voice for AOL.
On Cleveland's NBC Good Company
That night Linda, Fred's wife and a real force of nature, drove us to one of the largest heritage events of the tour. Dominic Cerrino owns a restaurant on the outskirts of Cleveland that is so large I am convinced that different dialects are spoken among the staff. I got lost many times trying to make my way from the reception area, to the kitchen where we interviewed the 5 chefs who cooked for us that night, to the main dining room which seated the 300 guests who attended the fundraiser for Terra Madre and Heritage Food.
Armandino Batali in Cleveland Fred and Linda on stage at Carrie Cerino's
Carrie Cerino's Ristorante (Dominic Cerino), Lola/Lolita (Michael Symon), Fahrenheit (Rocco Whalen), Baricelli Inn (Paul Minnillo), Moxie/Red (Jonathan Bennett), and Fire Food & Drink (Doug Katz) is who participated. The crowd was electric that night. Armandino Batali was there to receive a Heritage lifetime achievement award. Armandino is a gentle man but he also has a fire-like intensity just under the skin, like that of his son's which is not always under the skin, and that intensity makes him an intimidating presence. His wife is also intense. We tried to get her on camera but she said no and she only needed to say no once and we understood there was no chance of changing her mind.
After a reception of cured meats, the guests made their way through the kitchen to see what the chefs were up to and then into the main dining room where each chef served his creation, buffet style. Chef Michael from Lolita, who just opened the delicious Parea in NYC, which got 2 stars from Frank Bruni in the Times, was there and you could hear his bellow from across the vast room.
During dessert Fred and Linda got up to give thanks to the people who made that night possible. Together they seemed like an older version of Johnny Cash and June Carter - Fred the straight man and Linda the fiery energy that keeps Fred going. Fred is the consummate professional: he is elegant, funny and has a little ham in him. He is very American -proper and polite but with an edge. All those years on morning television means that absolutely everyone in the room knew Fred and he can't walk two steps or let his eyes wander without someone stopping him to shake his hand.
Fred and Linda turned the mic over to Sarah and I. It was the first speech of the trip in front of a huge crowd but seeing Fred act so smoothly calmed my nerves. I was on that night. I talked about our 40-day trip and the pigs that will come on the journey with us from Kansas to Napa. I explained how in the 1970s the backlash against pesticides led to the birth of the organic movement but also of seed saver exchanges that traced and documented all the fruits and vegetables so that they could be raised in greater numbers. I said that the 80s was the decade that rebelled against blandness. In that decade you saw the arrival of 400 artisan cheese-makers, 1500 micro-breweries and a bakery in every neighborhood of America but also cheese-making, bread and brewery guilds. These groups organized the new varieties of cheeses, beers and breads to document the various traditions they helped maintain or create. The 90s saw a rebellion against the major meat slaughter houses and the ethical problems with how our meat is raised. That led to the birth of businesses that raise better meat but it also led to Heritage Foods, which is like a seed saver for rare breeds so important to a safe food supply.
We talked about how Armandino is correct in his buying habits for paying above commodity pricing for above commodity quality food and how that in the end perhaps his greatest achievement was not in becoming a nationally renowned cured meats artisan but in creating such a neighborhood fixture in his home town of Seattle with the deli named Salumi. The award for Armandino was a pin of Paul Revere on his horse for just like Paul, Armandino is heralding this country's need for better food. We also gave an award to Linda for her work publishing 6 books and for helping create such a strong food community in Cleveland. Linda has not been well lately and we all pray for her for the world is a better place with her in it. The 300 people attending were there for her.
The night ended at a bar with the sous chef of Lolita, Matt. We drank through the night and at a certain point someone at the bar bet that Sarah couldn't run around the block in under 3 minutes (it was a very long block). I took on the bet because I believe in Sarah and she did it, in plenty of time, even though she is wore high heels. My $20 went to Johnny Walker black on the rocks. The cab ride back was long for Cleveland is vast but it was a ride I shall never forget. I am happy to be on this trip and I love my three travel companions. - Patrick
We got to Linda and Fred Griffith's in Cleveland real late last night. Their place is filled with wonderful things to look at, thousands of cookbooks (a few of them they wrote), food periodicals and artifacts from around the world. Their kitchen is stocked with fabulous ingredients, wild spices, flours and preserves. Outside the back deck are a bunch of bird feeders and while we worked outdoors on the phone and laptop today the sounds of cardinals, hummingbirds and blue jays calmed the senses. How fitting, since we'll be giving Fred and Linda a lifetime achievement award this evening which is a pin of a pair of golden birds perched on a branch. It's been great staying here.
In the early afternoon, Linda rushed us out of the house to drive to North Royalton to Carrie Cerino's Restaurant for the evening heritage celebration. We, along with hundreds of others, pulled up to the valet at the catering hall. I felt like I was at a sweet-sixteen party in the suburbs, everyone was dressed up and ready for a good time. The immense kitchen was buzzing with action, ten chefs with their sous, crowded the kitchen to work on their own dishes which included Heritage ham legs, small roaster pigs, Greek cured meats and Sockeye salmon which Dominic Cerino had a lot of trouble bringing back from a fishing trip in Washington the week before.
Dominic is moving mountains locally. He started to quietly weave in the best, freshest, most sustainable ingredients he could find on to his menu. But he's mindful of the expectations of his guests. They expect a certain routine and consistency at Carrie's and they don't like surprises so to make the changes Dominic wanted to make, he had to get the look of the product on the center of the plate exactly right. He's forwarded us pictures taken of our pork chops next to the ones he used to serve to show exactly how he wanted it trimmed.
Linda helped start the revolution in Ohio and introduced us to Dominic. In turn he's connected us with some of the friendliest chefs around. Everyone seemed to know each other that night and I was especially happy for Linda who seemed to radiate with happiness as she was surrounded with her foodie friends from Slow Food and from neighborhoods around Ohio. - Sarah
93 Hogs this week!
And on the sixth day we did sales. We sold 93 hogs this week. The chefs came through for us - they kept standing orders thus making our sales from the road not so bad.
We had dinner at Fire with Doug Katz. That account plus Lolita is almost enough to get a rare breed pallet into the city each week. -Patrick
Off to Ann Arbor
Off to Ann Arbor to visit Eve Restaurant, Earthshine Farm and my founding partner Todd Wickstrom and his wife Kristen. There are a lot of memories here.
Earthshine Farm is a farm I know through Todd. Frank and Laura Kay took us to see their chickens and slaughtered a bird before us. They are USDA exempt so they can kill on premises. They did not however let us film them doing it fearing PETA and all the other groups that try to deny the fact that people eat meat and who fight the short-sited and un-winnable battle of trying to stop meat eating rather than fighting for ethical meat husbandry standards on the farms that raise animals in the greatest numbers.
That night passed in downtown Ann Arbor, just next to the legendary Zingerman's deli. Chef Eve hosted us to a night of Red Wattle pork (Anthony said it was the best rib of the trip thus far) and wine. We feasted and awarded farmer Peter Stark and Eve Aranoff for bettering the food culture around them. Eve and her sous chef Asa Schwartz are two of the sweetest people on earth, an unusual trait those who spend their days in the heated bowels of restaurant kitchens. - Patrick
Earthshine's Frank and Laura Kay
Earth Shine farm is nestled in a lush residential area 45 minutes outside of Ann Arbor, MI. There isn't another farm nearby. Frank and Laura Kay started the chicken farm years ago and have dabbled with every breed of bird imaginable until they settled on raising the dark cornish. From its looks the farm is simple and rustic, but it's really quite fascinating. They had a few pens up around birds of different ages. They are one of the only farmers I know of that sets their birds out immediately, instead of waiting even a week before putting them outside. They're creative on their farm and recycle used vinyl signs as roofing on their chicken coops. They process their chickens on the farm and wrap the meat up in wax brown paper. They've engineered a small breeding room, with warmers and dozens of trays of eggs ready for hatching.
Frank used to work in the auto industry in Flint MI and Laura Kay used to be a designer until they switched to farming. They really stand out in their community. None of their daughter's friends have any parent in agriculture and no one is around them willing or able to help out. The group Future Farmers of America doesn't respond to their invitations to bring over school kids on a tour of the farm. So they are moving to western Michigan to an area where farmland is less expensive and labor is easier to find. It's sad that there is so little interest and few networks or services to help farmers as small as Frank and Laura Kay. - Sarah
Chicago Turkey Rescue
Today turned out to be the most stressful leg of the trip thus far. Before heading to Chicago, we stopped by our cold storage facility in Trolley, Michigan where we rescued 2,000 lbs. of heritage turkeys (it's a long story). The bulkiest, toughest guys in Michigan pushed three pallets worth of frozen turkeys into the trailer and we escaped without getting our knees broken and we were off to Chicago where our delivery service there was willing to accept our shipment, hopefully forever.
Rescuing Heritage Turkeys in Michigan The Chicago Skyline
In Illinois, the boys exhibited zero self-restraint when they left me while I was in the bathroom at a gas station and blazed off to an unnamed burger joint (they knew I wouldn't eat the stuff). I was certain they wouldn't leave me in the middle of the state and that they'd be back for me soon but waiting the 15 minutes gave me time to steam up. They picked me up, I climbed in all pissed but they just laughed at me.
We were really running late though, stuck in traffic on W 94 in Chicago, 15 exits away and 5 minutes until our event at Nacional 27. There wasn't going to be any time to bring the turkeys to their rightful freezer. But Anthony, god bless his soul, offered to drop us off at the restaurant and go on to the cold freezer storage place alone.
We cleaned ourselves up in the back of the van and walked into Nacional 27 where a handful of Slow Food Chicago board members and press were there having Randy Zwebien's cocktails and heritage tapas together. Ellen Malloy who does publicity for Nacional 27 and for a bunch of the great restaurants in Chicago pulled together a group of fun people: freelance travel writers, columnists from the Chicago Tribune, brew masters and local agriculture connections. I had the best rhubarb cocktail of my life there. The fiesta got a little raucous but which was refreshing after a long day. Anthony showed up just about 10 minutes before we needed to head over to Blackbird for a Red Wattle and wine extravaganza.
Blackbird is a sleek place and everything came together beautifully there tonight. We finally got to meet the chef Paul Kahan who is 100% pork-centric. He's been excited about our work and our products since we met him on the phone a while back. Weeks before this event, Paul's right hand chefs, Jared and Dillon, ordered tons of Red Wattle to start their curing for tonight's party - all parts of the pig were represented. We were like giddy kids in the kitchen looking at the dishes on the menu that night. The bar area was filling up as the sun started to set and cast a cool bluish green light in the room.
Breaking Bacon at Blackbird (see the tattoo) Pile of Cured Red Wattle Pork
Paul is not only a talented chef, he is also a great speaker. He gave a warm introduction, talked about our products and pieced together his role in the whole heritage food chain. Blackbird did right by the wattle; they expertly wove pork into all five courses, including a little bacon with the sour cream coffee cake and peach ice cream. The pancetta wrapped sturgeon was outrageous. My cousin John and his wife Niki attended; it was great to have my extended family there to experience Heritage Foods first hand. Also, our new friend Chicago David who we'd met at Craft in NYC a few weeks prior showed up to say hello. The room was alive with laughter.
Valet parking at Blackbird Late Night at Avec
We spent the rest of the night partying next door at chef Paul's other place Avec, Blackbird's little sister restaurant. Happy people were pouring in and out; love was in the air. We headed back to my good friend Eileen Sweeney's place where we were staying, a block away from Nacional 27. – Sarah
Morning: The Fed Ex Guy, the Box Guy, and the stats man, Todd, pulled together a time line to pull off the 10,000 heritage turkey project this November. On the day this trip ends, the TURKEY PROJECT will dominate our every thought.
Today we rescued frozen turkeys from a bad cold storage facility in Michigan to move them 4 hours west to Chicago so that they could fulfill their destiny as food. We loaded the trailer and fishtailed to Chicago. Fishtailing is a slow process that builds and builds until you finally lose control of the vehicle. We survived by slamming on the brakes many a time and got to Nacional 27 for our Chicago press event 10 minutes late.
Chef Randy Zweiban uses our pork for a Latin American cuisine that he learned while spending time in Miami. Randy uses every part of the pig and my favorite dish was his fried cheek. Like with a growing number of chefs, Randy has mastered using secondary cuts from the pig so that he can keep his food costs down but still get a stellar product. For years, the loin was the only easily sellable cut of the pig. Now bellies, cheek, shoulder, feet, and even ears and tongue are selling like wildfire. Neck is a real diamond in the rough - one of the tastiest cuts, also one of the cheapest.
Ellen Malloy did a great PR job and a bunch of cool people showed up to Nacional. We talked about our trip and what we have seen thus far. Everyone seems interested in what will happen once we pick up the live pigs. How will they survive? Where will they sleep? How will we keep the van ventilated? A few Chicago Tribune people attended including an ex-Tribuner and mentor of sorts: Bill Rice who I first met in my Slow Food days. He made great points on camera about the Chicago food scene. He said that it is still a great meat town even though beef is not the industry it once was here. Because of how great a meat town it is, he says, Chicagoans already know on Wednesday what they want to eat that weekend: a good taste that's so reliably good, there is not much of a need to change. Chicago then is almost known for its lack of trends and for sticking to what works.
This point was a perfect setup for Paul Kahan who is one of the very few breaking new ground. Chef Paul owns Avec and Blackbird where we organized a 70 person-Red Wattle feast to raise money for Slow Food's Terra Madre and for Heritage Foods. Jared the sous chef has a whole pig tattoo on his arm - a good sign for a pig event. This is the fourth pig tattoo we've seen since the trip began. Paul is pumping with energy and his flowing hair waves as he jumps from room to room at his neighboring restaurants. He welcomed us into his kitchen to film as he prepped and plated the food, an unusual lens into the kitchen. An array of cured meats made their way onto the menu. It is amazing to see all the curing experiments happening in the basements of kitchens throughout the country. There is a definite pig cult in the USA and Paul is at the forefront.
Paul's energy breaks down the divide that separates the back of the house from the front. His Q&A created great laughter from the crowd and prepared them even more for the feast. It's amazing he and his staff even had the time to speak to the diners before dinner much less have a camera crew running around while they prep. The meal was awesome and I strongly encourage any Chicago bound visitor to reserve now at Paul's two places, soon to be three.
The Team at Blackbird
During the festivities an interesting question was brought up: why is such a great meat like pork prohibited by the Muslims and the Jews. I ventured a theory, which I learned in school. When the Muslims and Jews were first starting their religion and looking for converts they wanted to differentiate themselves from other groups but probably didn't want to make it too painful for the potential converts to convert. So a strategy was to prohibit certain foods but not any foods that people would hate to lose. So the pig, which did not fair well in the dessert (along with other foods like lobster) seemed perfect to make illegal - they didn't really exist so being a Jew or Muslim really wasn't that bad!
The night ended at Avec with long conversations that went into the night about issues like food, life and agriculture. Everywhere I travel I try to figure what place I would frequent if I lived there. There is no doubt that most of my nights should I find myself in Chicago would be spent at the Avec bar, hopefully with Paul and his lovely team. - Patrick
Chicago's Powerhouse of Food Culture
Frontera Grill is an impressive empire. We visited Brian Enyart, Rick Bayless's side kick, early this morning. Brian's been with the restaurant for 10 years since his late teens and now he runs this massive operation. Frontera is a maze of dining rooms and storage rooms. They have a most unique way of buying produce and preparing seasonal dishes that last them the entire year, like the strong limes they use for their margaritas and creamy avocados for the guacamole they get from Mexico. They've put our bison, tepary beans and cholla buds on the menu. Frontera uses recipes from some of their workers who were born and raised in Mexico, the place keeps their prices in check and appeals to the masses without whipping their guests over the head with their edge toward sustainability.
We walked over to Naha across the way to see our friend Carrie Nahabedian from restaurant Naha. She's got great energy and a thick endearing Chicago accent. Carrie runs the restaurant with her family, her sisters and her cousin - they are second generation from Armenia. When we asked her why it's important to preserve diversity in our food supply, she said that loosing something is like ripping a page out of a book, it's gone forever. When something replaces what's old and traditional, with time, we forget it forever. I welled up a bit during Carrie's interview.
When a farm shuts down and is paved over it's never turned back to a field. When a shiny new supermarket closes out a block of small mom and pop shops, we're up in arms but eventually we forget what was there and accept the new neighborhood landscape.
I left the boys and walked from Naha over to Avec to meet my brother Michael and his family for lunch. There's something very different, very clean and organized about Chicago, it seems odd. For one thing, they don't allow food carts on the streets.
I was so happy to see Michael my brother, Connie (sister-in-law), Dominic (3 year old nephew), Mia Isabela (newborn niece). I miss them, they should be in NYC but Michael's working on building his toy business in Chicago. We had a fabulous lunch at Avec, a testament to its ability to cater to both hipsters and families with kids. Plus Avec has hooks under the bar - very important.
Carrie at Naha Sarah's family feasting over pork shoulder at Avec.
Tonight, David and Anthony put together a 10 minute rough trailer of the footage we took with the Amish to show Eileen Sweeney, her daughters and friends she invited over for drinks. Hanging out with Eileen is like getting an infusion of excitement and enthusiasm. This season she's fond of saying "it's going to be the best summer ever." And I believe it.
The film short was powerful, the boys had to get creative with editing especially because there were shots of the Amish, who are not able to be photographed. The screening was well received. It also reinforced just how huge a project this documentary is going to be. We've shot about 30 hours of footage thus far and have gone only 1/5 of the way. We have the job of distilling the content and images and rebuilding it into a cohesive story that entertains and has great impact. - Sarah
Our lovely host Eileen Sweeny sent us off into the Chicago morning with bagels and coffee. First we visited European Imports, our current distributor in Chicago.
Then we went to meet a powerhouse in the food culture of this country: Carrie Nahabedian of Naha Restaurant. We got there at 1130am, that awkward time where hunger pangs have started but where it's still not entirely socially acceptable to begin lunch. But we were there, and the restaurant is beautiful and the menu had about 10 items that jump out at you like lamb and yogurt from Carrie's native Armenia, the number 2 rated hamburger in Chicago, and a Heritage Food pork chop. So we ate and we were happy we did. Carrie arrived at around 130 and we sat outside to do an interview on film. Few interviews created as much emotion in me as the one with Carrie. There is something about her that nourishes and I didn't want our time together to end for everything she says lasts and spawns new thoughts. When we asked her why preserving biodiversity was important, she responded that when we lose something we rip a page out of the book and it is lost forever. There was something about the way she said it, but I will never forget it.
Carrie is one of those people that seems to have lived longer than most -centuries more. She has a calm about her that connects to a more peaceful natural and spiritual world. She seems wise and I wish that many people might pass through the realm of her restaurant so that they too might be connected to the foundations of the universe.- Patrick
Onward to Kansas City
Travel day. Travel can be hard but my companions make it fun. Sadly I am so tempted to eat fast food and there is little else to choose from. But I resist despite what other writers on this website might say. We got to KC around 6pm and met Lidia Bastianich, the grande dame of Italian cuisine, for the first time.
Lidia is the kind person who has done everything you have only better. When you tell her that you plan to visit an abetoir, she will respond that she used to slaughter animals as a child when she grew up on a farm near Friuli. When we named the breeds we have seen on the trip thus far, she responds with a laundry list of breeds she has seen over the years including taste differences between each cut of each breed. When we told her we planned to edit the footage of this documentary on our own, she told us that her PBS show is entirely self-produced. She has done so much I was even tempted to tell her something absurd, just to see if she if she could top it. If I told her my father was an astronaut perhaps she would respond that Sputnick was her dog! - Patrick
We took off for Kansas City this morning, which marks the middle and most important phase of the trip: spending a week with our slaughterhouse and a week on a handful of our farms throughout Kansas and Missouri that are the backbone of Heritage Foods.
Our van has become much like Air Force One. We have electric strips, camera and editing equipment and computers plugged in every possible power source. It's pretty cool that we're able to keep the business running smoothly from the van. We're better at keeping everything well organized, respecting each other's set-ups and individual spaces; and that's imperative given the tight quarters we're in and all the that we each need to work on and accomplish every single day. - Sarah
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Dinner with Lidia
Lidia is very smart and is so seasoned at interacting with people - she is used to being the center of attention. When we arrived to Lidia's, she was doing a Q&A with a few dozen guests who embraced the opportunity to ask this Italian food powerhouse questions. Lidia was very generous with her time and granted us numerous on camera interviews even though she was busy with events throughout the weekend.
The events on this Sunday were spectacular and offered Heritage an ideal opportunity to celebrate the farms who make what we do possible. Lidia's was the first restaurant to embrace Heritage Foods and we could not have hoped for anyone more important to honor the farmers we work with than the queen of Italian cuisine in this country. The first event was a lunch and it was attended by almost all the Kansas and Missouri farmers we work with: Craig and Amy Good, Doug and Betty Metzger, Danny Williamson, and numerous of Mark Newman's consortium members. The panel discussion was led by Frank Reese, Larry Sorrel and Mark Newman. Frank led the guests through a tasting of Bronze turkey which Lidia had prepared in a veal tonnato sauce. Then Larry and Mark took us through a tasting of two breeds of pork shanks: the Wattle and Berkshire. After the tasting concluded we awarded each farmer a Heritage certificate and then Lidia gave a lifetime achievement award and pin to Frank Reese for his efforts to preserve poultry genetics and to the Fantasma family for their efforts to maintain the lost art-form of butchering. There were a few tears shed that afternoon. Frank was moved when he told of a promise he had made to an old dying friend that he would preserve the turkey line that his friend had dedicated his life to raising. Frank was awarded a Viking shield pin which we chose because Frank's defense of poultry happens in a hometown of Lindsborg, also known as Little Sweden. Lou Fantasma was moved to tears when Lidia explained why he received his award for working so hard to cut meat for this country's great restaurants.
That night 15 remained for a spectacular dinner where Lidia again introduced the heritage farmers by name so that they could receive the applause they deserved from everyone dining in the restaurant. We could not have hoped for any better way to thank the people who raise our food in a healthy and sustainable manner. Each one is a hero in his or her own way and to be in their local major city, at its best restaurant with a food figure of the caliber of Lidia was a dream come true.
I must say the Lidia event was the most stressful stop thus far. Unlike in other cities where we knew almost no one, in KC we knew almost everyone and most all of the people we knew we do business with. One of the things we work hard not to forget is that the only thing that really matters for the farms we work with is that we pay them what they deserve. - Patrick
Mario Fantasma and Lidia Bastianich Farmers Frank, Larry and Mark at Lidia's
The farmers that were on the panel and there today for the heritage tasting lunch at Lidia's KC rarely leave their farms. Many of them had arrived in the city the night before and since most work alone on the farm they had to plan ahead and get someone nearby to come over and help with chores while they were away from the fields. The tasting was a huge deal for them all and I was proud to introduce Lidia to the most important and traditional producers in her backyard.
The godfather of American poultry, Frank Reese, the king of Berkshire pork, Mark Newman, and the savior of the Red Wattle, Larry Sorell, were on a speakers panel with Lidia and Patrick. These farmers have never been on center stage together with an audience of their own (many guests were farmers), other chefs and one of the most influential food buyers in the country, Lidia Bastianich. It was a summit of sorts. The farmers spoke about themselves, their families, their animals, the genetics, the meat quality, etc. Lidia spoke about growing up with animals that she butchered herself, about the flavor-sticking quality of pork cartilage and how it melts into sauces and about the virtues of cheaper, less premium cuts like shanks. For lunch, the heritage turkey was sliced with a tonnato and caper dressing and the Berkshire and Red Wattle braised shanks went head to head on the plate (the Berk to me is buttery and sweeter and the Wattle has a sharper, stronger flavor.)
We gave out certificates that said, "For your endless pursuit to enrich America's food culture, Heritage Foods awards," to individual farmers and we gave Frank a life time achievement award which was of a Swedish-looking shield to signify the protection of heritage poultry and we awarded the Fantasmas of Paradise Locker Meats, the family that runs the slaughterhouse 20 miles down the road in Trimble, MO, a carved wooden sculpture of a pig. Mario and Teresa Fantasma own the locker and they have two sons, Louis and Nick, in their mid-twenties, who were born into the business. There with them was Mary, a good family friend who works at the locker too. Their profession is not sexy or high profile, it is rarely celebrated so we needed to find a way to thank them for making it possible for us to bring in every week 60-80 pigs and some lamb. They keep things small scale and respect the family farmer, the animal and the art of their trade. Lidia presented them the pig to the Fantasmas and I think they were more than touched.
Everyone got face-time with Lidia and she, in turn, got to know the farmers and guests quite well. She gave Mario advice on where in Northern Italy to go to master the art of curing and she encouraged him to train. The afternoon ended with an early dinner where dozens more heritage foods were featured including our lamb, duck, albacore tuna, syrups and heirloom chocolate.
Back at the Fantasma's for the evening, at midnight Nick remembered he had to turn the scalder on and prepare it for the next day's work. So I went over to the plant with him. One of our farmers had already dropped off his load of pigs, so we checked on them. They were sleeping and seemed cozy, not knowing what was in store. - Sarah
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Hauling into Missouri
Alas, we have parked the car for 5 days and even unhitched the trailer! This is the week we spend at the Fantasma house and slaughterhouse. I am writing these entries now from the farms that support Heritage Foods. It is good to write about the Fantasma family from the peaceful pastures of Kansas and Missouri for what they do is very important.
Mario Fantasma is the head of the family. He is a large man with a thick neck and bone-in hams for arms. You can tell that he has earned his position as head of the family through years of hard work pulling pigs, cows and lamb in from the pen and lifting them onto meat hooks for cutting. Now that Mario is getting up there in years and thanks to his two strong sons, he chooses to work less than the others in the family. But his experience and knowledge allows him to accomplish more in less time. His subtle touch goes a long way. That is not to say that Mario won't keep you on the phone to tell you a story like how he killed that cow that escaped from his plant in the summer of 1998. Actually the cow ran for miles until it came to the Smithville Lake where it jumped in to swim even further towards safety. Mario received a phone call from a friend who saw it take the dive. The great escape finally ended when Mario caught up to it on the other side of the lake. The next week he opened the local paper to the headline "Lock Ness Monster Seen in Smithville Lake".
Mario is the person you deal with when you talk about big things like labeling, boxes, price increases, packaging issues, USDA regulations etc. He is the big gun that gets brought in to close deals or open new ones. Mario's first great decision that I saw him make was taking the risk of upgrading his facility to USDA once he met Heritage status so that he could ship across state lines.
Teresa is the mother. She has a lot on her plate and being the only woman in a family of four. She is in a male dominated line of work so she has developed a tough skin. She can tell someone off with the best of them and she can make her voice carry over that of others. She pounds beers after work, she parties until late. But she is also sweet and considerate and maternal, making sure that everyone is accounted for, with clean clothes and money in their pocket. She is a great cook, although there is absolutely no fresh food to be found in Trimble. Teresa is in charge of everything in the front of the house including running the retail store (the biggest Heritage Foods retail presence in the country!) invoicing, and keeping track of the millions of documents that a USDA plant has to deal with on a daily basis.
Nick is the youngest son. He is steady and strong. His primary job consists of breaking down the pig so that it can be further processed into its individual cuts. He wields big saws and moves carcasses around the cutting floor using huge chains. He is no doubt the quiet one in the family. Nothing phases him. When not on the kill room floor Nick can be found on the golf course. Nick is a very thoughtful chef and prides himself on his culinary skill more than anyone in the family. He is even a master at making delicious food from products that everyone else ignores. Nick once called us to say that he had discovered a succulent part of the pig that they had been throwing into the trim pile for sausage: it was a 6oz piece that results when you cut the small piece of meat off the loin to french it. These "riblettes" turned out to be the biggest seller for our mail order business ever besides our turkeys.
Nick Fantasma at work Patrick listening to Teresa and Mario
Lou is the son who runs the plant. He does it much in the same way that Heathcliff ran the homestead at Wuthering Heights. He is moody and his stormy personality keeps everyone on their toes. But he is talented - perhaps the best butcher in the land. Certainly no one suffers more for his craft and takes more pride in his butchering work. Each week 90-100 heritage pigs make their way though Paradise and each and every one has specific cutting orders: some are frenched with a long bone, others with a short bone, some ribs are st louis while others are baby back and spare, some shanks are center-cut, others are made into osso-bucco and others still come whole with the hoof attached.
Unfortunately Lou does not have much time to bask in his fame among the great chefs of this country because the pieces come flying off Nick's table at an amazing pace and he only has 2 days to complete all his work to get the product onto the Cannonball truck by Friday. It is amazing how Lou can do such sophisticated work in such an abrupt environment so quickly. The final customers are very demanding yet we almost never get a complaint - it is an amazing feat. Additionally amazing is that Lou and his team have allowed Heritage to resist becoming completely standardized in the cuts we offer: each and every week the cut orders change for the pigs yet they are able to cope. This is a crucial point when you cater to the great restaurants of the world. I admire Lou's work ethic. When Sarah and I send off the cut sheets each Tuesday night we almost always make a mistake or two, which could bring numerous headaches down the line, but Lou always catches it. His understanding of the pig and his ability to work on the fly make him one of a kind.
The best of the rest of the crew is no doubt Doc the USDA inspector and Mary - also known as Murray - one of my favorite people to hang out with. Mary could sink Heritage if she really wanted to for she is the lady who cryos our food, packs it in the appropriate boxes and registers the weights (a very crucial step so that we don't over or under charge our clients). Mary has a tool shed in the back of her pickup - sometimes I ask her for the most random garden tools like weed-whackers or chainsaws just to see if she has them with her. She almost always does.
Doc is the USDA inspector - he is serious and thoughtful. The USDA inspector is much like a pro-sports referee. He has numerous infractions that he must remember and when he sees one he yells it out. I thought of buying him a whistle and a black and white striped shirt. I wonder if he has all the potential infractions running through his head at all times or if he just makes rounds looking for one that is at the forefront of his mind. Either way, Paradise almost never gets a dock from Doc.
The rest of the team is a rag tag group of individuals. It is hard to find consistent group of workers when you pay little and are in that line of work. Bonding with everyone at Paradise takes place during cigarette breaks every 3 hours. They last for 15 minutes and there is much laughter all around.
Paradise Locker Meats is located about 20 minutes north of Kansas City up highway 69 in the town of Trimble. Its sits on top a hill surrounded by cornfields. Paradise used to be located closer to the lake but it burned down when a fire broke out while smoking a ham. They have a painting of the old plant made of wood depicting a cow escaping from the back. It's amazing how many people root for a great escape. I am perfectly comfortable eating meat yet there is part of me that wants to hear of a pig that made it out and maybe even settled down in the forest to start a colony of free feral pigs.
I am amazed about how much work gets done at Paradise each week. Running heritage requires little manual labor so I am quick to forget just how much sweat goes into making what we do possible from the farm to the slaughter end. The pigs are wrestled into pens and then again into the kill stall. They are lifted onto hooks, flipped around and cut with heavy saws. And the pace is frantic.
The schedule at the plant is busy. Monday and Tuesdays are kill days. Wednesday and Thursday are cut/pack days and Friday is a day when local customers slaughter their animals. Spending the week at Paradise I found the first two days of the week to be stressful and hard. Wednesday and Thursday is when the organization of the plant becomes most obvious. These are the days when everything gets pulled together and when the most mistakes can be made. A hundred pigs creates about 2,000 cuts, each of which has to be sent to a specific place.
There is a special feeling you have Thursday afternoon when you peek into the cooler to see piles of boxes stacked high, ready to go out to restaurants across the USA. Even at the slaughter house, it's easy to forget that the contents of those boxes were running around on a farm just four days earlier.
The Fantasmas can see the Locker from their porch. If any unusual vehicles appear Mario will drive over. The four of us spent 5 days there eating them out of house and home. Throughout the trip our friends have been very generous to put us up. Nights at the Fantasmas are spent eating meat and watching an immense flat screen TV. I cooked my famous tomato and mozerella pasta on the last night. They were amazed that meat wasn't on the menu.
Just before we left Mario walked up to me and gave me a $400 donation for gas money. He believes in what we are trying to accomplish on this trip. My eyes welled up with tears for gestures like these are hard to come by. Sometimes I wonder if this trip was a mistake since we are trying to run a business. But when Mario did that I felt that we are doing something right. - Patrick
Mary: Employee of the Month The UDSA doc
I admit to being a bit anxious about picking up the four pigs next week at the end of our tour through Kansas and Missouri. Most everyone at Lidia's yesterday laughed out loud when we told them we were to bring four piglets westward with us, a 10-day trip in the van. But most seems to be more worried about us than they are about the little ones.
We are spending this week at Paradise Locker Meats, the best thing that ever happened to Trimble, Missouri. The Fantasma family runs the locker about a mile from their home. They are one of the last bastions of truly independent slaughterhouses in the Midwest and they help the local farming community tremendously. They get calls for help in the middle of the night from neighbors who've shot deer during hunting season. Their retail shop offers things no longer available in supermarkets like bone-in cuts, custom butchering, and a smoke house. They process our pigs and lamb. We're lucky to have Paradise; we know that their profession is just as endangered as the animals they process.
The Fantasmas have become very good friends of ours. Mario, Teresa, Nick, Louis and Mary (Mary's like family) came to NYC together in May and we had a blast bringing them to restaurants they'd only heard about. The Fantasma boys have taught us a ton about butchering, And Teresa knows what she's talking about. They gave us advice on why the country 4-rib rack is so awesome, what we could do with the riblets that come off the frenched loins and how many tenders, strip loins and porterhouse chops you can get out of a hog.
This week we'll witness first-hand one of the most important aspects of our business. The pig delivery schedule was screwed up a bit because only about 10 hogs were dropped off at Paradise last night so tomorrow will be especially crazy at the locker because there will ten times that coming in at once. Paradise is small potatoes compared to the majority of the packers that cut up tens of thousand of animals a day and this kind of flexibility would never be tolerated at the corporate meat lockers.
At Paradise, the pigs are processed one at a time. They get stunned quickly and get drained of their blood, before being placed into the scalder which has tire flaps that pulls the hair off. Then guys are there to set the pig down and scrap off the remaining hair. The heads are particularly labor-intensive to clean, but it's important to do it right since the heads are coveted by so many chefs. Then out come the insides, and if we need caul fat that day for instance, Lou is there to pull it out and wash it clean.
Someone else pulls the pig up onto hooks by its hind feet and takes a saw perfectly down the middle right to its butt. They are identified and tagged, and the line of pigs is pulled into the cooler, glistening and looking beautiful. Tomorrow and Wednesday I'll be there when they break down the hogs.
Tonight, I went back over to the slaughterhouse to take the hams out of the smoke house with one of them. There's always work that needs to be done at Paradise. - Sarah
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Back at Work
Teresa got me up early today to go walking around Smithville Lake, which is 16 miles long and is surrounded by thousands of acres of rolling hills and trails. The birds swinging around the treetops we walked under put me in a great mood.
At the slaughterhouse, David and I spent the day with the crew on the cutting floor. It took some maneuvering to figure out how to film the commotion and keep the noise from drowning out Lou's explanations. Paradise was short-handed, which is typical and frustrating for them, so even Mario had his hardhat on and was working the floor. Nick begins by sawing through the rest of all the hogs; he cuts off the sirloin from the loin and belly and separates the shoulder out. That way, they can work on the same cut from all pigs at once. It's up to Lou to organize the day and make sense of our cutting orders which get quite specific: Tamworth belly with ribs, 12 oz. chops with no fat cap, 20 lbs. of 80% trim.
Lou is a particularly good teacher. He spent time going over every piece of the pig, pulling out the neck, showing us where the shoulder blade is in the boston butt, how they use the skinner on the bellies. He'd stick his gloved finger deep into the meat to demonstrate how healthy our farmers' meats are, due to strong muscle fibers and cells; commodity meat is mealy and would tear if you poked at it. Every once in a while, someone will get over the loudspeaker and say "keep on cutting" in Lidia Bastianich's thick accent. It's what she said to them once a while back when they'd first met at her restaurant in KC.
Mary is there to manage the packaging, weighing and dividing out for Fed Ex deliveries and pallets that go to NYC, Los Angeles, San Francisco and sometimes Phoenix, Cleveland and Chicago. Now I know what she's got to go through when we have last minute changes and she has to find a few extra packs of jowls (skin off!) at the bottom of one of those pallets.
Tonight we went back to the lake and cruised around in one of their friend's speed boat. We had beers and fried food at the marina afterwards and bickered about business. Lou insists that you have to be sick to be in his line of work, and maybe you do but they are like family to us and I cherish our friendship. They couldn't be more different than us New Yorkers but together we don't skip a beat. They are hilarious and opinionated and have great respect for the small farmers of this country, and for the animals themselves. As Lou puts it, you'd be dumb if you didn't respect and treat well that which provides you your livelihood. - Sarah
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Reality Canine and Sheep Center
We visited a local lamb farmer in Cameron, MO we had been working with on and off. Bridget raises horned dorsets, a beautiful lamb that has thick, strong, beveled horns that curl like Princess Leah braids. Bridget's lambs run the wide pastures and she uses them to train her boarder collie. She blows a special whistle that commands the dog around the farm and, like magic, the collie moves the lamb into the shed or to another part of the farm or away from coyotes. The coyotes are vicious and conniving though and still get to some of the lamb every once in a while. Aside from her dog, Bridget works alone though she has the companionship of her husband Sug, who's corny but very funny.
Bridget & the Horned Dorsets Sug and his watch dog
We've bought a few of her lamb whole for chefs in NYC, but we wanted to try offering cuts to individuals and chefs. We always thought the pig was the best animal to work with in primals (that is, in major cuts: shoulder, loin, legs, shanks, etc.) because it was the easiest animal to find outlets for all parts of its body. We've been waiting for the right opportunity to do something similar with beef or lamb so we're bringing in five horned dorsets a week from Bridget's Sheep Station and we'll weave them into our mail order and wholesale business. It's nice being able to make decisions to bring on new products and start new projects at the snap of a finger.
We went back to the Locker and witnessed what it's like on a busy late Thursday night when everyone is packing and preparing the pallets for delivery to their destinations. There's so much paperwork: total weights, USDA docs, bills of laiding. Before dinner (Patrick was making a last supper of pasta and mozzarella dish with salad), I went for out for a walk with Mario and took off jogging. I messed up Mario's cryptic directions and got lost. I was running for over an hour before I finally ran into someone who could tell me where I was. Since I was miles away from home, I hitched a ride back home. When I finally arrived to the Fantasma's, dinner was ready but not everyone was together, Nick had gone back to Paradise Locker for meat, because there was none on the menu. - Sarah
Today we took some time off to find a new lamb farmer. And we met a dandy. Bridgit had called us often trying to get us to buy her lamb. We were reluctant since lamb is a hard market to break into. Its funny that pigs are not easy animals to sell in the entirety but when we started selling them everything fell into place - it all made sense. With the lamb we did not have the same luck. The lamb market is harder to conquer and selling all the cuts of an animal can be quite tough. Another issue is yield. A 60lb living animal only yields 20-22 of sellable meat when you do fancy cuts. With the pig on the other hand you only lose 30%. This loss must be taken into account as you calculate costs.
Reality Canine and Sheep Center doubles as a training ground for Boarder Collies that run up and down the rolling hills of the farm herding sheep according the instructions that come from Bridgit via her high pitched whistle. These beautiful dogs are swift and glide in and out and around dozens of sheep moving them here and there. A new generation of these dogs had just been born and I was tempted to buy one. All but three had already been sold to various farmers and sportmen.
The lamb on the farm are Horned Dorsets - a very rare breed. Reality is the second largest grower of the breed in the USA. Its unusual to drive for days through farmland and urban sprawl and then all of a sudden come upon one of the last refuges of an animal type. One of the advantages of the relationship between Heritage Foods and the last farmers who raise certain foods is that there is little bureaucracy that holds us back from making agreements together. The contract between the two of us was written on the back of a piece of paper and made official by a handshake. We agreed to buy five lamb a week and went over the how best to break the animal down. And now we will wait to see if the product and the story behind it sells.
Sug, Bridgit's much older husband, is a riot, one of my favorite encounters so far. Sug is short for Sugar, a name his mother gave him because he was so sweet. Sug is old and frail but has great energy and a superb sense of humor. He invited us to lunch at a local pub and had us in stitches the entire time. He would talk about regular things like going to the salad bar, or walking to the bank and it was hilarious. We got some great footage of him cracking one liners about our trip with the pigs in the back of the van. I hope Sug comes to NYC - I would take him around and be sure that all the chefs would love to hear him weave a merry tale. - Patrick
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Off to Omaha's Cannonball Trucking Facility
We had the great idea of following our meat out of Paradise Locker on the Cannonball Express big rig as it made its way to the hub in Omaha, Nebraska for distribution. I'd gotten very comfortable in Trimble MO so it was hard to pick up and say goodbye to our dear friends at the locker. We pulled into Paradise Meats and Dale from Cannonball was there cleaning his 48 foot truck. Mario and Nick brought the forklift out and started to load our product. They'd only just gotten the forklift, before that they had to pile the pallets into the trailer by hand.
Mario and his Forklift
As we prepared to go the USDA inspector (every meat locker has one in house), frustrated that we'd spent the week cornering him with interviews, made a point to stop us in front of the Fantasmas and plug us with a few questions. He did a fine job of upholding his government duty and now, he said, we should review those HACCP guidebooks and USDA guidelines he referred to.
David and I pulled out of the Locker in the Cannonball cab with Dale, and Patrick and Anthony filmed the trip from the van. Dale, like everyone else I've met thus far, loves his job. He's been driving a truck on and off for 30 years. He has kids and grandkids and a wife who sometimes comes with him on his tours, but otherwise it's just him in his cab. It's clean and spacious and has a big bed and storage like you'd find in a home. Dale is a real straight shooter, he's tough but real; he's thoughtful and informative. He remembers little vistas and specific spots from his trucking travels that he'd like to revisit. We had lunch, appropriately, at a truck stop and we talked about the underbelly of his trade. Though things are tamer than ever, we asked him about the drugs, the "lot lizards" and fixing the log books. But the Cannonball truckers are generally safe, well-paid, loyal and work for the company for decades.
It was too early to see height of action at the depot, so went downtown with Larry Bokal and other Cannonballers and come back to the station later when things were buzzing. Omaha is a neat town, it's got style and edge. It's also the home to some of this country's biggest corporations, like Tyson, Kellogg's, many credit companies and Con Agra whose arched spray of fountain water can be seen from any balcony in Omaha (see picture below).
Top of Omaha
We met up with a new friend, Brian O'Malley, who heads the Institute for the Culinary Arts here in the city. He's a rare breed, a native Nebraskan who came back home after stints as a chef in cities elsewhere. The Cannonball team came with us to meet Brian in the Old Market; we invited him back to the trucks and he joined us. The parking lots and bays were lit with the organized chaos of 50 plus trucks moving in and out. The trucks tend to be beautiful and colorful and have just as much character as the truckers themselves. Like tattoos, the detailing and painting give off a personality.
Cannonball is like a Fed Ex hub or a central post office, where cargo arrives and is repacked for redistribution across the country. It was fascinating to see the wide spectrum of designs and language on the all packaging of products from the diverse companies Cannonball services, many are small, unique businesses. By 4 or 5 am on Saturday morning, the warehouses are completely empty once again. This business is tangible, and there must be a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction to know that the week has ended successfully when there's not one single box left in the warehouse.
It was nice to be able to show Brian to the backend work of Cannonball he no idea existed. It couldn't have been a better introduction. Brian is looking to set up a local distribution center for the farmers in Nebraska and now it looked like we could help spawn a local project from our own.
After the tour, we left for Seneca, KS where farmers Doug and Betty Metzger live. When we arrived at 3am, Doug and Betty were still on the road coming back with hundreds of newborn turkey chicks. They got in after 4am and immediately woke up poor Anthony to get him to film them bringing in the babies! - Sarah
Paradise, Heritage and Dale Superstar
Dale pulled up the trailer around 9am. We loaded 6 pallets onto the back of it and Sarah and he pulled out of the Paradise parking lot with Sarah and David filming in the cab and me and Anthony following in the van. We were off to Omaha to unite our meat with another 2 million pounds of product for points across the USA at the Cannonball trucking facility. Considering we represent less than .1% of their weekly shipping merchandise the folks at Cannonball were awfully hospitable, allowing us to film in the truck and eventually giving us a private tour of the facility and even taking us out to a free steak dinner!
Dale gave us a fascinating lens into the life of the trucker. For one truckers are never in a rush. There is no way to speed up what they do. They drive long distances at speeds that are predetermined by the weight of what they are hauling. In fact Dale's greatest pet peeve is drivers who cut in front of him when he is stopped at a red light because they don't want to get stuck behind him. Where do they need to get to so fast he wonders. And how much of a delay would driving behind him for a few miles be anyway? He doesn't drive that slowly. This next one is me speaking, not Dale: Attention All Drivers: the left lane is the passing lane!
Dale reminds us that everything we can think of has been on a truck at some point. Name something - just name something. Sun glasses, an apple, your desk, a toothbrush -its all been on a truck at some point. It's easy to forget how important the truck and trucker are to American commerce. Dale laments the lack of camaraderie with his fellow drivers. He says when he started in the business 30 years ago he might pass 500 trucks on the road each day and that he knew half those truckers by name or sight. He enjoyed meeting them and catching up at the various truck stops that dot the roads of our highways. Today sadly there are thousands of trucks and he knows but a small percentage of them. As a result much of the trucker culture has been lost including that of the CB Radio parlance and driving etiquette where drivers look out for one another on the roads and make sure they help everyone along to get to their destination. Dale does not own his truck as many drivers do. Those that do are entrepreneurs and they go around marketing themselves to various trucking firms. They invest over $100,000 in their cabs and keep them shiny. Dale works for Cannonball and enjoys being part of the team there. After working with the folks there and now that I have visited their facility, I would too.
What strikes me most about Cannonball is how important they are to helping so many small family businesses succeed. Three things they do which few others do is that they deliver anywhere in the country within five days (thus allowing you to ship food fresh), they allow you to control the temperature (they have dividers in each truck so that you can ship room temperature, refrigerated or frozen), and their minimum shipment is one pallet (no matter how small your business, you have a friend in Cannonball). So anyone can ship anything, even as little as 50lbs. And the cost is cheap.
Cannonball's great achievement is their organization. Product is accumulated in the warehouse on Friday and divided into dozens of rows and eventually re-loaded onto trucks that depart for destinations in all 50 states. The product arrives anywhere usually on Monday but never later than Wednesday. Each truck delivers product within a 200 mile radius ensuring that drivers don't have to be on the road longer than necessary. In over a year of working with them, they have never made a mistake.
Our tour guide at Cannonball was also the captain of the ship: Larry Bokal. He and his office staff of 6 or 7 keep the business afloat. When they were done working Larry and the owners of Cannonball invited Sarah and me and our two-man crew to a steak dinner at Anthony's, an Omaha institution. The T-bone was succulent. Dave said the pasta had ketchup in it. But few places that excel in steak also excel in the spaghetti family. After dinner we went to Larry's apartment in the downtown district. It was in his home that we realized that there are dimensions to Larry that are not immediately apparent at first impression. Larry has the most diverse collection of random things I have ever seen and the only thing that unite his collection is that he likes it. He collects antique model cars. He keeps a working Pepsi machine where soda costs a quarter. His living room has a huge door in it that leads nowhere but is dedicated to Jepeto, of Pinocchio fame. His wall art is Betty Boop serving a burger to someone in a car. Every couch and lamp in the place is a 60's motif with various bright colors. It's amazing what lives behind each window and door you pass in the city and on the road: the stories, the people, the collections.
Inside Larry and Linda Bokel's Home
Larry took us all out for ice-cream and beer in downtown Omaha which is absolutely fun and I would argue even a destination city. It boasts great cafes, music stores, antique shops and old-school loft architecture. We met up with Brian O'Malley, friends with Shane Coffee of Alias Restaurant in NYC. It was like a blind date. We met at a bar and talked about his culinary school. One of his big projects is developing a local distribution system for small family farms through the schools in Omaha so who better could he have met than Larry Bokal. We hope Brain puts Larry on his Advisory Board. Its obvious that the great fault of so many organizations that claim to want to help local agriculture is that all they do is talk when they should be out finding a van, a driver and a sales person. The non-profit world and the Cannonballs do not combine forces as much as they should.
We left for Doug Metzger's Farm that night - we wanted to start there early. We pulled up around 2am (like an ass I realized I forgot my computer at the Cannonball headquarters after driving an hour towards Doug's). Doug was picking up turkey poults so we had to find our way to the trailer he reserved for us by ourselves. We took one step in and thought we were in a Blair Witch Project. It was dark, there was no electricity, there were numerous rooms, it was 100 degrees - we were scared. I slept in the van that night with bent knees. - Patrick
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Meet the Metzgers of Kansas
Doug and Betty run the last truly diversified large farm in Kansas. I love it. Most farms struggle to excel in one aspect of agriculture like pork or cattle or sorghum or dairy production. The Metzgers choose to excel in all of them. I don't know how they do it but I do know that they react to the market and push production in whichever aspect of agriculture that is peaking at the time. They use tactics to react to the moment and there is something about that that I find refreshing. My work at Slow Food and Heritage always involved juggling many balls at once and this keeps me engaged and interested and forces me to rely on my ability to react, to think on my toes. I can't even imagine how they can do this with agriculture, which is riddled with secrets of the natural world.
Its amazing how much conjecture goes into running a farm. No one really ever knows exactly why an animal gets sick or what the best feed combination is other than through trial and error. Everyday new issues arise that force the farmer to call upon years of experience and there is never only one answer and every farmer reacts to situations differently. Doug knows so much and deals with so many issues. He even excels in fixing farm equipment!
He also manages to avoid falling into the sad pit that so many of his colleagues fell into: partnering with commodity businesses that underpay and have no care for the destiny of the small family farm. He sells all his foods independently to groups like Heritage and he keeps all the business deals going from his cell phone on the fields. No one really knows how he survives but he is one of the last ones left.
Despite his success, Doug leads a hard home life. His house is small and is as messy as his farm. He benefits from few amenities except for this energy potion, which I see in delis around NYC. I hear he buys it by the case. He works mostly at night and sleeps much of the day. Betty has many wrinkles on her face from driving pigs to market and raising the turkeys for over 50 years. The night we arrived she had pulled an all-nighter. I can barely pull an all-nighter at 34. I don't know how she does it at 69. They are both strong.
Doug and Betty have also resisted one of the greatest phenomena to me. They buy regular old shoes that look like the ones Pa and Ma Ingells would have worn in Little House on the Prairie. That is so unusual - in my experience no matter how out of the way some of the characters are that we have crossed paths with, they all have the fanciest most comfortable sneakers. Even the Amish resist electricity but have embraced comfortable and expensive shoeware.
Before we left Oneida proper, Doug took us to visit a commodity hog farmer. What struck me at his farm was how clean his pigs were - an unnatural clean for pigs like to roll in the dirt. These pigs lived their lives on wood planks. There was a lot of squealing going on, much more than at any of the other farms we visited. The pristine pink pigs ran from us when we arrived. At the Heritage farms we visit, the pigs come to you and let you touch them. They are more familiar with the hand of man. Finally, Doug and the farmer were talking about where they house their pigs. The farmer had invested thousands in a new separator that divides the pigs so that they get to the feed bin at different times. He was frustrated with it because it didn't really work as promised. You could hear the pig screams when they got stuck in the turn style. Doug has had his barn for 30 years and it works perfectly to this day. Even with all the fancy technology, it's obvious they don't make things the way they used to.
We were silent for the first part of the journey. We knew we had a long way ahead of us. Newman Farm, the primary supplier of Heritage Food, was 8 hours away. We found out that day that the farm was on the boarder of southeast Missouri and Arkansas - the furthest point from where we were in Missouri. We treated ourselves to a fancy dinner in the town square of Springfield. We wondered if it was the true home of the Simpson family. We dined at Bruno's, a Sicilian themed restaurant that made us feel like we were back in NYC. We pulled into Myrtle and Mark's farm at 2am. They were up and waiting and showed us to our room in their beautiful wood cabin home. - Patrick
Doug at Home Doug and Betty
I slept outside in the tent for the first time, which was quite uncomfortable but better than the alternative which was to sleep in Doug and Betty Metzger's extra trailer with no lights, no running water and no air circulation (it will be fixed up soon for a few farm workers from Eastern Europe who have been "on their way" for months).
This morning, we found Betty tending to the new baby turkeys; she was standing over two circus rings that were filled with a low light making sure the babies were warm enough and not crowding each other. Betty absolutely loves turkeys and truly mothers them. She's an extremely early riser, especially now that she milks in the morning. Doug never really seems like he's working, but in fact he always is. He works late and gets up late, an odd schedule for a farmer. He's old-school and looks only a bit older than his high school picture but he's got the unique habit of drinking water with Emergen-C powder packets.
Doug and Betty's farm is very rustic and appears disorganized and messy. Things haven't seemed to have changed in the last few decades. There are numerous cars on the property that are filled to the gills with stuff, pressed up against the windows, right up to the ceiling. Doug bought a decrepit van without doors and placed it in the middle of the turkey range; he thought he'd sleep in it to protect the turkeys from predators. He never does, he's just addicted to junk. Inside the house, they have a line of dusty Fischer Price barns and farm animals along their windowsill. Betty and Doug are real talkers, they're very funny, self deprecating and quirky.
Metzger's farm is complicated to maneuver in, alley ways between silos and garages lead to different animal pastures and open plots. It seems inefficiently run, but that's not to say there's any better way to farm - it works for the Metzgers. If ever the farm were bought Betty says surely they'd take down all the buildings and sheds and combine all the plots to plant a single crop. Marilyn, their daughter, has a penchant for turkeys too and there's hope she'll continue the plight of the small farmer in Kansas.
Before we left, Doug called his neighbor, a 1000-head confinement farmer, to see if he could check out his new building and asked him if we could we come along. I'm not sure whether or not Doug had a real interest in the guy's pig building or not, but it was obvious he was giving us a chance to see the conventional way pigs are raised. The pigs are pinkish white, seem a little bloated and are very skittish. Doug told his neighbor a little bit about what he does with Heritage and emphasized the right way to raise pigs, no antibiotics and outdoors. I was surprised but I admired Doug's way of putting the commercial guy on the spot. The farmer didn't see there being a realistic way of staying in business without high numbers and loads of inputs. A bit defensive, he ended the visit by saying, ah, isn't this a great country we live in?
As we left the farm, Betty got a call from Marilyn that we'd just missed her turkey eggs hatching in the basement where she'd set them out.
We got directions from Doug on how to get to Mark Newman's farm. He accidentally sent us 80 miles out of the way, because everything - to him - was in relation to where he got his knee operated somewhere kinda near the Newman's. Many hours later, in a torrential downpour, we pulled into the Newman's log cabin in Myrtle MO. - Sarah
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Life at the Newman Farm
The sky over Mark and Rita Newman's farm was filled with big, billowing clouds cast in silver lining. The day was gorgeous. It had rained buckets mid-day for about 15 minutes and then settled down. We're at the top of the Ozarks and just above the Arkansas border and the delta; it's a lush, green haven. The Beatles hid out just down the road from Newman's place when they needed some respite in the sixties.
Touring Mark's farm is like going to class. Mark is a pig professor; he knows just about everything on hog production because he's lived through it all. He's worked for the huge confinement plants, consulted for the World Bank, developed supply in Jamaica and China, studied outdoor production methods in England and finally he settled on having the best and only 100% pasture-raised, pure-bred Six-spotted Berkshire pigs in America.
His family is wonderful. They eat drink and are very merry (and sarcastic!). All four kids and their families came to the event at Lidia's in KC and when we visited them today, Father's Day, we were able to hang out some more with his son Chris. Chris talked about wanting to come back to the farm one day and work it. Hopefully his brother, David, will too. He's getting his PhD in animal and meat science and has been sought after by the likes of Cargill. I'm crossing my fingers that Mark's boys continue the heritage on Newman farm.
They have a small house behind their own that used to be the Meat Shop where they retailed cuts from their pigs and other homemade products from local communes and farms. The place is filled with nifty knick knacks and the walls are papered with old-school signs promoting pork. Later in life I'm going to insist I come back and reopen the shop.
The Meat Shop
There's a huge sign at the gate for Newman's Heritage Berkshire Pork inviting people in and so many of their friends came to know the Newmans just from stopping by. Their farm and their home are so welcoming, they belong in the pages of Country Living and the Father Day's BBQ they hosted was out of Saveur or Gourmet magazine celebrating Americana, good times and comfort foods. A beautiful mix of folksy people, military veterans and musicians came over. A guy named George played with Neil Diamond decades ago and a great fiddler from Mountain View, AK came with her instrument and played with David and Anthony while we all sang along.
It feels like we are being parented by the best farmers of the country. We're staying in their kids' rooms, grabbing food from their fridges, listening to their stories and gaining their wisdom. We're so fortunate to be here in the heart of America, where farming and rewarding yourself with a good time are the essences of life. - Sarah
Newman in his glory Music Making at Newman Farm
If I were a pig I would need to be a pig on Newman farm. Defining happiness for a beast is not easy- what makes an animal happy? The answer to that question is to be a pig on Newman Farm. Newman pigs live on a series of bushy, Moorish fields divided by electric fences that can't be seen through the thicket. They spend their days in huts and mud ponds and wait for Mark to deliver food once a day. The pigs boarder on being feral but in the end they are food. These animals are the only 100% Berkshires raised 100% on pasture for their entire lives.
After a tour of the farm, Sarah and I finished invoicing for the week as Mark, Rita and their bulky son Chris prepared for a Southern Feast. When it began there was part of me that felt like I was in a Dukes of Hazard episode. We were in the true South in the heart of the Ozarks. Guests at the event included a guitar player who played with the likes of Neil Diamond and Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley; a four star general who was in charge of 12 of the 18 divisions of the US army under Reagan; young Phillip who cried because Daddy didn't invite him out for a Sunday armadillo hunt; the head folklorist for the state of Arkansas, also a Slow Food member; a fiddler from Alabama; and numerous other friends who sang as the crew played the harmonica and the guitar. Baseball and Frisbee were played in the fields while mangy dogs nipped at bare feet. The whole hog BBQ was superb and ended with homemade vanilla ice cream. Rita is a most gracious host and leaves you needing nothing. The whole event lasted 8 hours but it felt like 8 minutes. Sleep is intense at Newman farm, the only noise coming from the rustling of pigs in the fields.
Southern culture is an Ark product in and of itself. It's a dying culture that forever appears more and more marginalized. But there is charm and tradition and honor there and it would be tragic for it to ever end. I notice that Southern humor is self-deprecating. The common man is the respected one and even the expert plays the novice. The humor embraces the hillbilly and ignorant stereotype. One of my favorite objects in the Newman home, one I hope to find one day, is an old Mountain Dew glass bottle with a label of a man shooting an intruder with a pig looking on and on the back is written "Mountain Dew, the hillbilly drink". - Patrick
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Good Shepherd Ranch and Frank Reese
Off to visit the most legendary farmer of all: Frank Reese. We got stopped by the cops on the way, near Wichita. They kept us there for 45 minutes on the steaming tarmac as they searched every crevice of the van. We look like trouble: a van with Pennsylvania plates and kids in the back followed by a trailer which, they found out, is filled with film equipment and other non-Wichita-type products. They did find a white powdery substance on the floor but it turned out to be dry wall pieces. After many hours we finally pulled into Little Sweden-town, also known as Lindsborg, home to Good Shepherd Ranch and Frank Reese.
Heritage Poultry Commune at Good Shepherd Farm Frank Reese Godfather of American Poultry
Frank was busy with hatching his turkeys when we arrived. In 2004, Frank turned from being primarily a turkey farmer to primarily a turkey hatcher raising babies, selling them and then buying them back near Thanksgiving from local farmers like Doug Metzger, Larry Sorell, and Danny Williamson. Running a hatchery is a complicated process involving many steps. First the breeder turkeys, which continue to live on the farm, lay eggs and Frank takes them to the hatchery room where he washes them in a machine that looks like it came out of the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie. They are then placed over the next month into a setting machine, then an incubator, which rocks the eggs back and forth slowly, then a hatching box where the birds see their first light. Then the birds spend their first few days in trays, socializing as they process the fact that they are turkeys, until they are finally ready to be picked up by the other farmers in the group. These farmers then place them into indoor rooms lined with woodchips, water and feed. Over time the turkeys get moved to bigger and bigger rooms until finally, at puberty, they are ready to live outdoors.
Frank is a genius when it comes to turkeys and poultry and as usual, he was on for the camera. - Patrick
Ducks and Geese at Sunset
In the early evening, we arrived at Frank Reese's 100-year old farm. Here it is like a museum, home of the widest array of poultry genetics in America. His flocks include Pekin and Muscovy ducks (the only 100% outdoor and pond-raised of its kind), geese (Embden and French Dewlap Toulouse) and turkeys (Holland Whites, Blacks, Slates, Bourbon Reds and American Standards). Frank focuses on breeding, not producing for the masses. He's seen too many breeders go belly up and just wants to keep the genetics alive, so he's doing it himself. He works in town as an anesthetist and doesn't rely on a living from farming.
Frank above all emphasizes the inhumane methods of raising and processing animals the conventional way. In addition to the flavor factor and the rarity of the genetics, he also gives priority to the faulty industry and the bizarre and destructive techniques of the major meat packing companies. One packer nearby processes 24 thousand turkeys a day which are destined as deli turkey roll and lunchmeats. Birds are shackled and hung at the slaughterhouse, which is undeniably painful. Many of them are slaughtered with dislocated joints, broken bones and bruised muscles.
Frank is soft spoken and sensitive, he can talk for hours without taking a break. He was getting ready for a trip to Norway tomorrow to partake in a conference on animal humane certification. We helped him collect the turkey eggs, wash them and set them. Turkey eggs are immense and beautiful, they are textured and dotted with colored splotches. Frank has set up the baby birds on different parts of the farm, mainly in open door houses with an area much like a porch where they can frolic.
We wanted to help with more chores, but Frank wouldn't have it. Some things truly have to be done by an expert hand. I've noticed most farmers have shielded us from farm work when we've wanted to help. - Sarah
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Selling 90 Pigs
We are at Danny Williamson's Windmill Ranch today. Frank introduced Danny to heritage varieties of poultry over 10 years ago and Danny now is one of the next generation of breeders we can rely on to preserve virtually unknown kinds of turkeys and chickens. He lives on a ranch, not a farm, he's quick to remind you. It is immaculate, vast, windy and a bit lonely. As far as the eyes can see, it is flat. Only a few houses exist within a few hundred miles. The sounds of the railroad intensify the experience on the ranch.
Danny is obsessed with perfection, so naturally he's gifted at selecting the next breeders to continue the line. He can identify strong characteristics in a bird from afar: regal, triangular breast, tall, long legs, no defects, etc. He is also a judge at national turkey shows. Animal shows are big business and most people I've met in these parts had a pig or a turkey that they raised as children and showed as part of a 4H club or Future Farmers of America project. Some farmers feel the show industry is at odds with the heritage meat industry, but I haven't quite learned why.
We had lunch in Danny's town, Tampa KS. It seemed like a ghost town on a movie set. The towns are drying up (literally, there's no water) in middle and western Kansas and the problem's growing. Stores are boarded up; farm implement centers have folded; schools and churches are out of commission. We lunched at a coffee shop, one of only two businesses in town. When we sat down an older, a local came over and asked if we were the guys who were cutting down trees around there. We said "no" and never found out what exactly he meant. - Sarah
Outside Windmill Ranch
We spent the day selling. Selling 90 pigs is not the easiest thing to do but it is nice talking to the various chefs who are happy to learn about what we have seen. Danny Williamson and Windmill Ranch were the unlucky hosts for this day of sales. When we enter a home office to work, we take over phones, computers and desks making it hard for the hosts to conduct business as usual. On the Serengeti, animals like giraffes stay in one place year round while animals like wildebeest come storming through their world on a migration, reeking havoc on everyone and everything. I feel a bit like a wildebeest. But Danny is gracious. David helped him on the farm while we worked. Tonight was a late night – we finished at midnight. Tomorrow we wake up early to start our fullest day in Kansas. - Patrick
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We Visit a Slaughter House
We have three visits to make today all in Kansas: Homer Krehbiel, owner of our second slaughterhouse in McPherson; Wes Jackson, the mythical naturalist at his Land Institute in Salina; and Lazy S. Farm in Glasco, where we pick up the pigs.
Homer runs perhaps the only slaughterhouse in the country that can process both poultry and meat. Homer lost his arm in a farming accident in the early 1980s. The tragedy forced him to sell the farm. But Homer was determined to remain closely connected to his agricultural roots so he opened a slaughterhouse with the mission of helping small family farmers get their product to market. In addition, he opened a deli and BBQ joint next to the highway entrance providing an immediate outlet for his clients. Located just behind an Arby's, you can't help but think of all those sad clueless drivers that stopped at Arby's because of its tall sign, instead of driving an extra second to eat real food cooked by a family.
Without Homer there would be no heritage duck, goose, chicken or off-season turkey market. He is also five hours closer to Larry, our Red Wattle farmer, than Paradise Locker and it provides us with a great backup. The lack of USDA slaughterhouses in this country is the single biggest bottleneck in the meat supply. Homer is the one of the last beacons left for farmers who want to remain independent of conglomerate food companies. All his employees have been with him for years, including his right hand man and son, Jeff. Homer's facility is clean and dedicated to ethical slaughter.
Slaughter is a tough business to digest. There is something sad about knowing that an animal is giving its life to feed you. But at the same time, the animals only suffer because of their destiny for their last 48 hours. I would wish the same thing upon myself! I should be so lucky that hospitals and medicines and pain only take up the last two days of my life. What is more important is the life the animals live on the farm.
After Homer, we stopped by the Land Institute, just a few miles away, to see Wes Jackson. Wes is intimidatingly smart and is known around the country for being intimidatingly smart. But also very nice and willing to patiently explain his work to laymen like us. I can't really do his ideas justice but basically his Institute argues that agriculture hurts the land. They promote growing and consumption that revolves around the lessons taught to us by the American prairie.
Edible plants can be "annual" like most of what we rely on for nourishment or "perennial" like legumes, sunflowers and certain wheat varieties. Perennials grow all year, are supremely natural, and don't deplete the soil. Wes told a story of two side-by-side fields in the 1930s, one of corn and the other of perennials. The cornfield died of drought but the prairie survived because it was better able to distribute little amounts of water. It was healthier and more adaptable. Eventually the prairie grew over the cornfield until there was no evidence that corn had ever been grown there.
Post Wes, we drove West to Glasco, to pick up the four Red Wattles at Larry's farm. That stop also turned out to be the best dinner of the trip. It was cooked by Madonna Sorell and consisted of Red Wattle ham, fried chicken, and homemade bread. She has a home kitchen but turns out tastes reminiscent of this country's great restaurants. She definitely has experience with nine children, eight of which are boys.
Madonna also runs an agri-turismo. I always thought it strange that more of these farm/hotels don't exist considering how tourists are always looking for that "authentic" experience. On the farm visitors can enjoy seeing llamas that sniff your breath as a sign of friendship, riding heritage horses, playing with numerous Red Wattle passels and gazing down at this tiny donkey who follows guests around the farm.
The farm is hard work for Madonna and Larry, especially considering they are in their sixties. Farm work is so physically demanding what would happen to the farm if one of them hurt themselves? How did the settlers of this great land deal with pain? - Patrick
Homer Krehbiel and his son Jeff
What exactly is the prairie? Is it only dry, flat and dusty? I'd been searching on this land of the Wizard of Oz for better understanding – a visual definition. When we hit the rolling hills of Salina, KS, on the way to see Wes Jackson, it occurred to me that my introduction to the prairie was inaccurate and a bit disappointing.
Today the prairie barely exists. For centuries the lush tallgrass and its millions of creatures covered Kansas and all surrounding states. It's an ecosystem that has a rich history of evolution, fire and transformation. We stood with Wes Jackson, the geneticist, environmentalist and founder of the Land Institute and overlooked a basin of our ancient past, a barely touched spot of standard prairie where blood and sweat worked the soil, not the plow.
When we arrived at the Land Institute, Wes quickly brought us out to the garage where stood the manifestation of his mission: a grass plant with an enormous veil of roots over a story high. At first, the Institute's goals, and Wes's personal opinions, seem esoteric. But the essence of these ideas is to reclaim healthy, natural landscapes and to merge agriculture with proper ecology. He emphasizes perennial plants, deep roots, zero tilling and minimal reliance on oil. Wes is bringing agriculture back to its roots, literally.
His research incorporates genome science, breeding, crossing, chromosomes and hybrids. His conversation can border on the abstruse, ideas sometimes tough for my obtuse mind to wrap around. Just as he's a great talker, he's also a good listener. He stopped, softened, listened and shook his head in agreement as we spoke. We've found a special ally in Wes and our visit shed a bright light on the mystique of the prairie, the way it naturally exists.
Earlier this morning, we stopped in McPherson, just south of Salina, to tour Krehbiels Specialty Meats, the other slaughterhouse we work with. Run by Homer Krehbiel, the family patriarch, and his son Jeff and both their wives, it is one of the only processors in this country that accepts so many different species. They slaughter pork, beef, elk, ostriches, duck, geese, chickens, and turkeys. Homer mixes his own spices for special jerkys and BBQ rubs. They have one area of a psychedelic hodge-podge of designs and stickers used for their private labeling clients. It's interesting here.
After loosing an arm in a farming accident, Homer found a way to get back into business for himself as soon as possible. His entrepreneurial and spiritual drive has helped him build an amazing and unique outfit. You'd think he wasn't in this business to make a living but to make sure small farmers are making their livings. The family doesn't have butchering background, but they know everything about their animals and they painstakingly translate and handwrite our cutting orders for their butchers and packers.
The Krehbiel business is a blessing. It saves our farmers the super long drive to ourSo other meat locker, it allows us to slaughter smaller numbers of poultry later in the year and we're able to sell Homer some of our meat to showcase in his BBQ joint down the road. We had a heavy snack there before leaving and realized what a cool thing it is to have the family's market in the middle of the strip mall in McPherson. His shop has great variety and a huge meat case, stocked with dishes that are now hard to come by in the middle of Kansas.
By 4 o'clock we were walking around Larry and Madonna Sorell's Lazy S Farm, beholding the beautiful families of Red Wattles. There were dozens of babies, part of Larry's big breeding program. Wattles were farrowing in pens and were outdoors cooling off in the mud. The mamas were around to nurse. They'd roll over when tired of feeding the babies, who smartly know when to get out of the way when she's done. Wattles themselves are like hairy tonsils, they hang off the sides of the chin. I've yet to confirm whether there is anyone who's cooked the wattles themselves.
Madonna and Larry's home is filled with relics: a loom, old baking tins, velvet couches and bed canopies as well as newly published cookbooks and Kitchenaids. They raised their nine kids here and have turned it into a bed and breakfast where hunters and even occasional foreigners come and stay. When they were at the Lidia's event the week prior a bunch of their kids came to the farm to help out in their absence, and there was a lot of discussion about what would become of the farm when the parents have to stop farming. I hope the decision they'll face in the future is an easy one to make.
Larry helping us get ready Madonna Sorell's dinner table
Larry is the only farmer that's given us 100% confidence that our adventures with the pigs are going to go smoothly. We spent the afternoon going through the items he picked up for us at the farm supply store: a big cage, deep water dish, wood chips, feed, etc. We sat down for supper (dinner is lunch and supper is dinner in these parts) and planned our trip westward. We asked for a little whiskey and Madonna gave us a small airplane bottle of Jack Daniel, the last of a set she'd gotten her dad when he craved a few sips during his last days. - Sarah
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Living with Pigs
Larry took us over to his partner's farm in the morning to pick up our pigs. We walked through the farm and ducked into a barn made up of alleys and pig pens. We found a herd of babies hanging out under an open window. THEY WERE SHOCKINGLY HUGE!!! Even Larry was surprised at their size. We collected our two pairs, each weighing about 30 pounds and each piglet with a number newly tattooed in its ear. With the animals in the Jeep we went straight to the veterinarian to get the right paperwork from the Kansas Animal Health Department that certifies that the pigs have been inspected and are able to be brought across state lines. The seriousness of our endeavor was beginning to set in.
At Lazy S Farm, Larry sat with the pigs under a tree on this very hot and sunny day, while we prepared the car and the cage for the long drive out of the Midwest. We laid down layers of plastic tarp to protect the van's carpet (which was only effective for the first few hours), made a thick bed of wood chips and filled their deep water dish. We loaded the wattles into the air conditioned van and watched them settle down. The pigs were rigid and terrified at first, then boisterous, then calm enough and relaxed. Still, I wonder when I'll come to distinguish the pigs' squeals of joy from all the other noises they create.
As we pulled out of Larry and Madonna's, a turkey flew across our path. This is a sign of great luck and hope, I thought. The classical music was turned up, the pigs quiet now and there was a new and powerful spirit in the air.
Horses on Lazy S Farm bid us a farewell
In Kansas the perfect, round, snail-like bales of hay dropped on most farms are the only things that break up the monotony of driving on this flat land. Each farm has its own logic of placing them, I found it artistic. We drove for hours and stopped at a rest station in Trinidad, Colorado around 3 a.m. and fell asleep in the van with the pigs. It was pitch black when we stopped so we didn't get a sense of our surroundings until the morning. When we woke up at 6, breaking up the hazy yellow atmosphere was a ring of buttes (or mesas, it's still under debate), with colors and textures that matched our red wattles. It made me think of a new crayola crayon color. - Sarah
We were forced to keep the pigs in a cage in the van with us as the trailer was too hot. When we let them out during stops in Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles and Napa, within seconds they started jumping up and down, wrestling playfully, crashing into each other, and running around in circles. We bought them toys and put cardboard in the cage and they would immediately investigate, bite into the toys and play tug of war. It was obvious pigs need to be stimulated. It only took seconds to disprove the entire corporate claim that pigs function well in a staid environment. Confining animals is unethical and unacceptable. Pigs are intelligent, curious, playful creatures that need and deserve an active environment. I have never been so close to the mission of Heritage as having these pigs in the van with me.
The pigs never fell asleep without touching each other, even when they had room to sleep alone. It must be a safety mechanism in their brain that makes them do this. It is very cute to see them sleep in perfect rows or muzzle to muzzle even in big back yards. After a while Anthony, David, Sarah and I started to act like the pigs: we would choose to sleep on the floor together rather than split up in separate homes as if we too had the need of safety in numbers.
Pigs do not like to be picked up. They squeal like crazy when they have to be moved and they poop from nervousness. When we would move one, the others crowded around the door waiting to see where their friend was taken. They did not like being alone either. Chasing pigs and catching them is not easy and we required three people to do it. Pigs will run away and sneak behind plants to avoid being corralled. But after a while they give up as if to avoid delaying the inevitable.
The pigs eventually started to communicate with us. When hungry they would snort and tip over the water bowl. We filled their bowl often because pigs stop eating when they are full, unlike dogs. We fed them feed (containing no antibiotics and no animal by-products) from the farm and the chefs we visited gave them things like mission figs, watermelon and bananas which they devoured with great joy. Even though pigs can be dirty creatures, they do not like to eat in the same place that they relieve themselves. When the cage got dirty, they got pissed.
These pigs certainly made a sacrifice for their breed being in the cage and being forced to listen to our music and yammering. They were on a national tour with the mission of convincing the public that their kind had the right to a place on this earth in the 21st century and that no food Haliburton should determine their kind's ability to live or die. Just because they don't fatten up quickly and because they have a lot of backfat is no reason to be pushed to extinction by corporate America. Guests at the events and random strangers who peered into the van at gas stations also learned our four piggies will die of old age. These were breeders and their job is to have sex. People forget that breeders are what keep a species going. In the natural mating world of small family farms, up to 20% of the livestock are kept to propagate their kind. They don't all die to feed us.
The Red Wattle is one of the few pigs that comes from the south and not from the northeast via Europe. The history of the Wattle is blurry but we know that it came to New Orleans via New Caledonia in the South Pacific in the 18th century. A few farms raised Wattles until the early 19th century when the breed was thought to be extinct. Finally, in the mid 19th century, a wild herd with the signature wattles hanging from their chin resurfaced in Texas forests proving that some good things do come from Texas. Now there are but four farmers who raise them in real numbers and we brought them with us to California because four is too few. - Patrick
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Pizza in Phoenix
We went through many terrains on our way to Phoenix from Kansas. First we passed the flatland of western Kansas with its immense farms as far as the eye can see. Then the lush brush of Eastern Colorado. Finally the harsh desert of the Southwest including a spectacular final run through the Mazatzal Mountains. All with the pigs in the back of the van spilling their water and jostling for position to eat food. We made the drive in 20 hours straight sleeping in the van.
When we arrived to Phoenix Sarah crashed the van into our host's gate. It was actually more of a prolonged scratch that put a hole into the trailer and ripped an intercom off its hinge. It was the first accident but a very minor one. Chrysa's house is beautiful and its design embraces the true characteristics and colors of the southwest. We moved the pigs to her air-conditioned guest room and took a dip in the pool to refresh ourselves after being on the road for so long.
That night we were off to Pizzeria Bianco, considered by many to make the best pizza in the country. Bianco's is obviously an institution: when driving in Phoenix there are city signs that read "Street Closed, Except for Pizzeria Bianco Customers". We have tried many great pizzas on this trip including in Atlanta (Woodfire Grill); in Phoenix (Bianco); in the Bay Area (Oliveto, A16 and Pizzaiolo); and in Portland (Nostrana). All are thin crust. Bianco's version is the most dynamic and the dough is superb. His plain pizza is simple with lightly burnt flaky crust that almost floats away when the waiter walks it over; his sausage version is a veritable meat fest that is so substantial you can only eat two slices.
Our Table at Pizzeria Bianco Pizza Legend Chris Bianco
Chris is a mad scientist genius who commands the stage in front of his oven located in the center of the restaurant. With hair standing on end Chris reads the orders, places pizzas in the brick oven and just before he pulls one out he dips it into a roof of smoke, which hovers at the top. Chris is the only one who makes pizza here: when he is out of town, the restaurant closes. Chris suffers for his craft and he gets deeply involved with every pie he makes.
Chris' mind dances so much faster than his mouth that he is hard to understand. Chris reminds me of the chef character in Northern Exposure who lived in the woods, passionate, a master and a victim to his craft. - Patrick
The piggies landed in PHOENIX! There's a unique sensation that comes with driving live animals across state lines, into new territory: we're casting seeds and setting new genetics for the first time ever west of Texas. In the van, an hour would go by with nary a sound from our porcine pals. I'd climb to the back worried and nerve-racked and there they'd be sleeping perfectly and snuggly four in a row.
What were we thinking when we toyed with the absurd idea of letting them loose in the van. That would have added to the mayhem and, undoubtedly, the stench. But they're in the cage and they are OK, they're good-natured and really seem to love each other, they seemed to have adapted well to their temporary living arrangement. From the road I've seen huge trucks with cages stuffed of pigs, comparatively, it looked gross and dangerous.
The drive to AZ was legendary. We stayed ahead of schedule. We fed the pigs, replenished their water and lowered the AC when they seemed cold. The topography along the way changed so dramatically and quickly that it felt like we passed through a dozen different countries.
Our friend chef Chrysa Kaufman of Rancho Pinot was waiting for us at her home in Scottsdale. We pulled in tired and cranky and nervous about where the pigs would stay in this 115 degree heat but Chrysa immediately showed us to one of her extra rooms, a safe, air-conditioned haven for the pigs.
We jumped in her pool and chilled out a bit and assessed our new role as babysitters. We're not farmers and we're not parents, but we have a responsibility to nurture and protect these bizarre, emotionally distant creatures. The pigs' needs would come before all else. We got ready for dinner at Pizzeria Bianco, sad the pigs couldn't come with us.
A four-page article had just come out on Chris Bianco and his mini food empire, and of course his place was bumping. He smartly created a cove of restaurants and outdoor seating that allows people to wait comfortably at picnic tables on grass, among trees and herbs he's planted, or next door at Pane Bianco. People wait for hours for his pizza. Chris closes his restaurant any time he is not there; in fact he closed and brought his crew to NYC for the James Beard awards in May. He's a super champion of HFUSA, and has steered us to great chefs in Chicago, L.A. and NY and we are grateful for his friendship and loyalty.
The thick, lush, humid forest supports a crowded universe of animals and plants, they lurk everywhere. But here in AZ it's a wonder anything can survive. The sandy mountains and austere cacti that make up the landscape in this part of Arizona seems to intensify the heat of the desert - it's raw, unforgiving and untouchable. I asked Chris, who's originally from NY what he thought about the desert. He says he loves it for what it's not.
In NYC almost nothing is unexplored. But here, there's seemingly an endless sea of unchartered, unknown territory. – Sarah
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The Sausage Feast
The pigs slept indoors, right outside my room at Chrysa's. The smell is becoming a bit much, it's not a foul smell – it's just distinct and sharp - part farm, part pet-shop, part excrement, part construction site.
Heritage has a diverse following in Arizona: restaurants like Zinc Bistro (a classy bistro replete with old wood and perfect antiques) and the Greene House (California cuisine named after the architect) that line the misty malls of Scottsdale; Sassi (the dining room on a golf course) and Schreiner's Sausage (a funky free-standing sausage house operated by Nancy Schiller). We visited them today and then rushed back to get the pigs ready for dinner at Rancho Pinot.
Chrysa has embraced the pigs with gusto. Tonight, she welcomed them into her restaurant and made a little area in the corner of her bar where we placed the pigs (in the cage) on a clean white backdrop, as if ready to be photographed. Most guests appreciated the wattles and were touched by the story and the adventure, and it was neat to see for the first time a literal connection between the diner and the ingredient, still living. In the end, the pigs behaved well and entertained and delighted those that came by to watch them play.
Chrysa is wonderful, she's powerful and coy at the same time. She wears chef knife earrings that look like daggers and drives around in a creamy yellow Ford truck with a bumper sticker that says, "Hello, I don't care". Her restaurant is wide open but cozy, and is filled with old kitchy western posters and settings. She organized an entire event for us, rallying our biggest supporting chefs in the city to participate. But really she ran the whole show.
Tristan Reader, Terrol Johnson and Noland Johnson of the Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCA), a Native American tribe from Sells, AZ were special guests. The Tohono O'odham are on a reservation larger than most small states in the US and are faced with serious issues like gang violence, diabetes and poverty. But there's great effort in the community to reclaim their past, the ancient knowledge and culture, their songs and food traditions. I'd seen an art exhibit in NYC of the Tohono's basket weaving and it was truly awe-inspiring. The weave was perfect, symmetrical and sophisticated, made of natural plants and pigments. Basket making is a major part of their cultural history but in NYC the exhibit appeared like a hip rendition of something very new. We sell their products online and to chefs.
At the event, we presented the boys from TOCA with a solid wooden orb wrapped in etched leaves designed like an Ecsher) commemorating their hard work to remain an uplifting source of hope in the community. Rancho Pinot has a caring and wealthy following - a great combination. We received the most number of sign-ups and turkey preorders tonight. A few of Chrysa's good girlfriends stayed late that night to help polish the glassware. They talked to us about food in Arizona and being female behind the line. Terri surprised us with a gift, an aromatherapy spray with a soothing and delightful smell that she thought we could use for ourselves and for the pigs. - Sarah
The day was spent in one of the hottest cities on the face of the earth. Storefronts spray mist onto the streets just to help potential customers make those final few steps through the front door. Our tour guide is also our distributor in Phoenix: Adam Walker of Chef's Warehouse. Adam is one of the most patient and generous distributors a company like ours could ask for. We were happy to have him as a guide.
Our first stop was Schreiner's Sausage, a small sausage company owned and operated by Nancy Schiller who inherited the business from the owner when due to health problems he could no longer run it. Nancy is tall in stature and commands a presence behind the counter, which serves over ten types of sausages, about thirty types of mustards and eight types of old- school soda pops. The entire facility is tiny which is part of the reason why the quality of the product is so high. Nancy believes in supporting small businesses like her own and she does everything in her power to do so even if commodity options exist for cheaper prices. Here we tried over six kinds of dogs and six mustards and loved every one.
Next, we visited the chef at Greene House Restaurant and then Zinc, a great bistro that reminds me of Balthazar in NYC. Here we ate again thanks to the chefs Matt and Jeremy. If I lived in Phoenix, I would eat at Zinc twice a week. I love bistro food its simple and works for every occasion and the environment stimulates conversation.
After the Phoenix tour we rushed back to Chrysa's to get the pigs ready for the big event. They were, after all, the guests of honor. We cleaned the cage as they ran like madmen in the guest room. Then we herded them into corners so that they could be moved into the air-conditioned van. It is stressful carrying pigs in the desert because if one gets away it is almost impossible to catch and pigs don't do well in desert temperatures. Unfortunately the stress of the move caused them to all poop necessitating another cage cleaning in front of the restaurant. After a good hose down, the pigs were placed next to the bar of Rancho Pinot, one of the most respected restaurants in the Southwest.
Over ninety people attended the Wattle affair that evening to meet the new west coast breeders and to feast on a meal featuring a dish from Rancho Pinot (ribs), Bianco (shoulder), Zinc (belly) and Sassi (sausage). My speech ran long and Chrysa had to stop me. The Heritage lifetime achievement award that night went to the heads of TOCA, a Native American group based out of Sells, Arizona that produces tepary beans and various other foods. Their mission is dedicated to revitalizing Native communities in the Southwest. Terrol, Noland and Tristan spoke eloquently about their work and made numerous people in the crowd shed tears.
The food that night was spectacular. The crowd was the most friendly we had met it seemed as if they were all related to Chrysa. Her staff appeared to love working the event as much as we enjoyed being there. This quality is hard to find and speaks to Tom's skill as a front of the house manager. Behind the counter Chrysa and Keenan work magic and make a perfect team. Chrysa is strong but sweet, direct but polite.
That night we ended up at a bar with everyone who worked and cooked at the event. And then we went to the head waiter's home. I stopped remembering a lot from that point on but I do recall he had a comfortable couch and about 8 dogs including a pit bull who wore diapers and a golden retriever who he walked around in a wheel-barrel because his back legs didn't work. Keenan led us home and we slept, with nightmares of our drive through the desert with the pigs the next morning. - Patrick
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118 Degrees in the Sun
If our van breaks down the pigs will probably die. Even a minute without air-conditioning and the temperature becomes unbearably hot. We stocked up with coolant and oil, coolers filled with ice and dozens of bottles of water. These piggies were relying on us and we weren't going to let their breed down. We drove slow and steady. There are few gas stops along Highway 10 between Phoenix and San Diego so we calculated half way points between stations using our mileage gauge so that we would know which direction to hitch in an emergency. Most of the time in the car was spent watching the outside temperature reading, which sat at 118 for the first three hours. We passed pure desert; towns with no people that seemed to be owned by Dole because there were huge factories with signage; a short stint with green shrubs that seemed to be inhabited by humans even though it remained 118 (I wondered how nature worked that in the middle of the desert there was an oasis of green); and a couple of gas stations with long lines of cars waiting for sustenance. The Phoenix heat is dangerous. I am scared to think about how harsh an environment it is. The sun can kill you in just a few minutes.
David Walking the Desert
We finally pulled into San Diego to Gordon Smith's sister-in-law's mansion. We left the pigs in the garage, then ate and slept. The next morning we would drive them to a new home, for two of them at least. How would we divide them up? The ramifications of the decision would effect generations of Wattles to come. - Patrick
We went straight over to pick up the pigs at Rancho Pinot where they'd spent the night. I like to think that people strolling by late at night were startled/amused/disturbed to see the pigs through the window. The pigs ended up setting off the alarm.
By the time we finished errands and a little work, (I'd lost my data stick and had to find a hotel that would let me into their computer room), it was high noon when we took off for San Diego. We had no choice but to go during the hottest point of the day through the hottest part of the country. So we packed coolers of ice, extra oil for the car and other things for our survival kit. For if we got stuck along Route 10 during this next leg of the trip, the pigs' health and safety would surely be in jeopardy. - Sarah
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Red Wattles in California
We arrived in Rolling Hills, California last night where we stayed at Diane's, sister of Gordon Smith (a Slow Food governor).
It is a gorgeous house, in an exclusive complex, and the dichotomy of the surroundings and us pulling up in our mobile home loaded with four messy pigs was striking. But none of our hosts shied away from the pigs who always capture great interest and awe.
Before leaving for the San Pasqual Academy, I went for a run around Rolling Hills. Running is a fun thing to do in new places. This here neighborhood I imagine is a special pocket of California, there are equestrian trails and mini vineyards and backyards with grape vines, and I saw a sign announcing a missing peacock.
Many months ago, Gordon Smith suggested the San Pasqual Academy for Foster Teens as an ideal place to settle a pair of the pigs. A couple of hundred kids, who are under the custody of the state, both live and learn on the campus; they're in a dynamic environment that helps set them up to be stable, successful college or career-bound adults. Meal preparation and financial planning are part of the curriculum and the agricultural program is meant to incorporate lessons of farming into the students' lives. Up until now, they were tending to fruits trees and vegetables patches, and the pigs would be a brand new element.
The temperature was getting higher and higher as we headed to the Academy. While the views are spectacular and attractive, it's somewhat monotonous with no tree coverage or land barriers to break up the rolling vineyards. I worried that it would be too hot for the pigs. But Scott Murray, the farm manager, has done an excellent job of preparing for their arrival. He built a fenced in area under a few trees and we finally got to set all four pigs out to run freely for the first time. They were ecstatic, dancing and bopping about, I swear I saw two give each other high fives. They ran around in circles for a bit and basked in the mud pit we created. Scott had not been able to finish the roof of the big pen so we stayed to tie it up, god forbid we lost a pig, after all this, to a coyote.
School had just ended so we couldn't witness the kids meeting the pigs for the first time. I'm certain it's going to be a much-talked about addition to the Academy.
Before heading to L.A., we went to the Orfila Winery where Slow Food members were invited to visit with the remaining piglets. Orfila is a great place to picnic or have a party.
Afterward, Reparata, Gordon's girlfriend drove me back to their place in L.A. where we would be staying for a few days. Earlier in the day, when they realized that the two pigs were also going to be their houseguests in L.A., they took the news in stride and in good spirits. Gordon and Rep are two more fantastic people we've met on this trip. They both work at home on projects like writing a cookbook for men, running a catering company, and Rep even reports for a poker magazine. She led a girl band years ago called Reparata and the Delrons and was a backup singer for Barry Manilow's Lady Flash. - Sarah
All the piglets were let free on the farm but only two would remain. We were at the San Pasqual Academy for Foster Teens. We only met a few students there (they are very protected from strangers and especially cameras) but we spent a lot of time with the farm director at the school, Scott Murray. Scott proved his salt in our first minutes together as I got the trailer stuck on a steep hill. He had to drive his tractor up to the van to lift the trailer from the hitch an embarrassing first impression. The pigs were nervous in the back as Scott worked. He is well spoken, gentle and generous and reassured us beyond any doubt that we left the pigs in good hands.
Their new home was a large chicken wire cage on a hill overlooking the school shielded from the hard sun by short trees. Together we added chicken wiring as a roof so that airborne predators could not endanger our friends. Scott had put the fence of the cage deep into the ground making it impossible for coyotes to dig in from below. We made a mud pit and shaded the other side of the cage with a tarp so that the afternoon sun would not hit their skin, which cannot perspire. Keeping them cool is the biggest challenge.
The division of the couples was a decision we did not take lightly. We had examined the pig's behavior to see which pair spent the most time interacting with one another. We found that the smaller male and the smaller female made a good pair. This reassured us for we felt like this was the best decision anyway. The Southern California passel was an afterthought to the Northern California one where we thought the terrain was more adapted to pigs. So we left the two smaller ones in San Diego and put the breed's best foot forward in Napa with the two strongest ones. We did a last check of the organs, said our goodbys and drove off.
I was happy to know that foster teens would be working with the pigs. Farm work instills many qualities in those who do it and our Wattles were beginning a pig program at the school. I was sad however to leave the pigs all alone. What if one died? How lonely would the other be alone on the hill? We would have to get another one immediately if that happened. The summer temperature was hot and I questioned if we had done a good enough job thinking about how climatically adapted the breed was to the area. But in the end, I was satisfied and think it is what is best for the breed and for them. These pigs were pioneers and like all pioneers they made a small sacrifice for those who follow.
The event to celebrate the new San Diego residents took place at Orfila Winery. About 25 people showed up to toast the new genetics that had made their way to the coast for the first time. On the menu: Red Wattle shanks with tepary beans and spare ribs. The wines complimented the meat perfectly. After, we settled in Los Angeles at Gordon and his girlfriend's Reparata's house where the pigs were let lose in a lovely little enclosed garden. - Patrick
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Pork in L.A.
The event on this night was the first ever at BLD restaurant, owned and operated by Neal Frasier who I first met after he won Iron Chef using a heritage pig from Good Farm. BLD is so new it didn't even have all the proper permits; the windows had been put in just hours before the first guests showed up. It is said people in Los Angeles like being seen when they eat out. BLD accommodates by making the wall facing the street entirely out of glass. The restaurant is sleek beyond belief, almost nothing decorates the walls.
I don't know how Neal and his crew pulled off the evening so seamlessly in their new digs. The kitchen was very calm as the line cooks prepared 80 portions of Wattle belly, and Berkshire country ribs. The evening ended with pork ice cream. On the Food Channel show Iron Chef it always spells trouble when a contender makes his or her way to the ice cream maker. But in this case Neal pulled it off.
The pigs were there greeting guests. Having pigs in a restaurant might sound weird but they put people in a good mood and instantly gets buy-in for the chef who must be dedicated if he risks every HAACP plan in the book by having live swine in his food establishment.
My speech that night was the most well received of the trip thus far. Certainly one of the themes that strikes the biggest chord with listeners is that it is TOTALLY unacceptable to raise livestock in confinement. Our strategy to make each speech bearable by including awards to special guests continued to work. Lifetime achievement awards were given to Gordon Smith for his work with Slow Food, Mike Antoci for leading the heritage distribution efforts in Los Angeles, and Chef Neal. But the night was dedicated to Evan Kleiman, an old friend who I first met at Slow Food's Salone del Gusto in Turin in 1998. Evan started one of the largest Slow Food chapters in the country in just a few weeks, she hosts the radio show Good Food, and she began a local heritage turkey project. She has great humor, takes nothing and gives so much. Her award was a golden cock, a beautiful chicken that she said she would keep next to her bed. It represented her regal presence in the national food world. - Patrick
Pigs in the grotto Neal Frasier of BLD in L.A.
Last night our hosts allowed the pigs in the extra apartment. But today we were able to bring them up to the peaceful grotto on the roof. Though they were now only two, their squeals as we ran them up, echoed loudly in Eagle Rock. What must the neighbors think? But ultimately, the pigs were in their glory up there. Reparata fed them trays of watermelon and bananas and they eventually fell asleep in the garden of plants, making it hard for us to find them later on.
Before long, we had to pack our pigs back into the van for an appearance at BLD where we honored Evan Kleiman. Evan brought a big entourage including her mom, her friends and radio crew – in L.A. they know how to celebrate awards. Neal Frasier made a feast of Red Wattle country rib with grits and fava beans, two of my favorite foods, bacon brittle and bread pudding. – Sarah
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North to Berkeley
We hung rosemary in front of the vents of the van, to complement the aromatherapy. L.A. is hot and bothersome, but once you get off the highways there's something endearing about the place. But we still had to traverse a city we didn't know very well. At the offices of Heritage's distributors, Superior Anhausner, we bet Mike Antoci we wouldn't be able to leave his place in the heart of an industrial park, make it to the Santa Monica college campus to appear on Evan's radio show at 1:30 and then head over to The Border Grill by 2 for lunch with Mary Sue Miliken.
Pat on radio with Evan Kleiman
But we did it! I love the fact that the institution that is The Border Grill was spawned from a strong friendship between two great chicks. Mary Sue is a doll. She's bright, fun and beautiful. She has a lot of business to tend to: a new restaurant in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay, tv shows and cookbooks, and it was nice she gave us so much of her time and we got to know her. She loves to eat really weird food, especially from the pig. She and her husband travel the world seeking out the bizarre even though snake skin and pig heads are not the kind of thing she can serve to Border Grill guests.
We left for San Fran and had a long debate about how to travel. We wanted to drive on the Pacific Coast highway but it would take us hours to creep up and Route 101 would be less painful. So we did a combination of both and took 101 into San Francisco. We pulled onto Alice Water's quiet street in Berkeley well after midnight. Unfortunately there were no parking spaces long enough for our caravan, so we unhitched the trailer at an ungodly hour and left it in Alice's driveway straddling the strawberry plants she has lining the middle of the path. - Sarah
The later half of the day was spent on the road traveling north to Berkeley with pigs in the back and In and Out Burgers in the front, the only fast food joint that starts employees at $9 an hour and insures them with even eye and dental and a 401K plan. We would pull in to Alice's house at 2am.
But before we left, we visited our distributor Mike Antoci of Superior Anhausner; did an interview on Evan's Good Food; and ate at Border Grill for a lovely lunch. Boarder just opened in Vegas as so many restaurants have, and we talked with Mary Sue about the feasibility of industrializing slow concepts. Border in LA is a mini industry in and of itself turning hundreds of covers a day. Even so, they invest in organic rice and beans, two Mexican mainstays. The country ribs were charred with a dry rub so exquisite it might be one of the best versions of the cut on this trip. - Patrick
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A Pig Procession Around San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland Restaurants
We had packed the day with a series of appointments with chefs spanning San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland, a triumvirate of cities with maverick thinking and an independent streak. We were surely the most unusual visitors they'd ever had. We pulled the cooks out of their kitchens to meet, gawk at, talk about and pay respect to the wattles. The pigs stayed in the van, so the chefs and some of their staff had to crowd in between the trailer and the back door to the van, while Anthony and David did contortions inside and around the vehicle to capture it all on film. For a moment, I felt like maybe we were exploiting the pigs, showcasing them like freaks in a sideshow.
The pigs had now been with us for a week, so I had to remember that when now asked how old they were. It is said that the Red Wattle is genetically a gentle natured hog, that they are easy to work with. They exhibited these traits precisely, as they welcomed back scratches and human hands bearing foreign foods throughout the day.
The chefs we met during the day talked about the evening’s events at Pizzaiolo and went through the all-star cast of who they knew would be there. It was thrilling to think we'd be the center of attention among many of the great names in food. Davia from The Kitchen Sisters came with her equipment and caught the pigs' squeals on tape. The arrangement of the fiesta was perfect, different, well-thought and executed smoothly. The cocktail hour was open to anyone who wanted to pay the $10 cover. It was the least expensive ticket to an event on this trip and meant that the party was packed. The soiree was followed by an intimate dinner with only a few dozen people that was organized by Alice Water's office.
Taylor with Fatted Calf sausage in Oakland Bruce Aidell enjoying the fiesta
At the dinner, I sat next a guy who desperately wanted to get a pair of wattles to let loose on his immense property in California (1000s of acres). He wanted to witness how long it would take for them to go feral. Is that a good idea? Would this good-natured animal make it? Aren't feral pigs a huge and ferocious problem in the U.S.? What are the genetic ramifications of this experiment? I have a feeling I will hear from my dinner neighbor again. - Sarah
Today we woke up, loaded the pigs into the back of the van and began a procession around San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland restaurants so the chefs might get acquainted with the new Northern California residents.
The first stop was to see Nancy and Pam of Boulevard who inundated our piggies with the freshest organic produce. The pigs fell in love with mission figs. Pam and Nancy’s pork knowledge is immense in no small part thanks to Bruce Aidell, the sausage king, who is married to Nancy. Then we were off to visit Tom and the staff of Acme Chophouse who greeted the Wattles at the footsteps of the home park of the San Francisco Giants baseball team. At 1550 Hyde Peter and Kent pulled up in Ducatti motorcycles and toasted the pigs with champagne. It's amazing how many pounds of heritage meat they move each week considering how small a place they have.
A16 is where we stopped for lunch. Named after a southern Italian highway, Carlo Petrini once said that it was here that he had his best Italian meal outside of Italy. We feasted on chef Nate's various cured meats, which he processes in the back, beyond the gazing eyes of the public. The meal was superb and fit our model of a perfect one: normal portions of stellar ingredients concentrating on the "lesser" cuts.
Hotel Vitale is located on the Embarcadero and overlooks the bay, the Bay Bridge and the Ferry Plaza. It just won most popular ‘after-work drink spot’ in San Francisco and on this day, just as work ended, hundreds of hip customers were greeted by two Wattles in a cage grazing on fruits and vegetables. Chef Paul and his sidekick Erika are bringing sustainable lessons to a domestic and international crowd through the ingredients they use at the Hotel.
Then, we were off to shower and attend the headiest of all our events: the one organized by Sylvan and Sarah of the Chez Panisse staff at Pizzaiolo. Pizzaiola makes beautiful pizzas using organic ingredients. Its decor is rustic and elegant at the same time. In the back, behind the restaurant, Pizzaiolo is like a Brazilian favella where kids play soccer and hide-and-seek in the various doorways and alleyways on a dirt floor. Tables were set up in this area for the first part of the event, buffet style.
Taylor from The Fatted Calf treated 150 guests to some of the best cured meats we have ever had. We are truly honored to be selling 500lbs a week of heritage pork shoulder to him as well as countless bellies, caul fat and liver. Hopefully Taylor will launch a mail order business so that more people can try his food.
My speech was nervous. Looking out and seeing the likes of Alice Waters, Les Blank, Carol Ness and various chefs is not easy. What haven't they heard before? I wish the sun or heavy lights were blocking my site of the audience. There was perfect energy and conversation at the buffet, just as all events organized by the Chez Panisse crew.
The crowd gathered at Pizzaiolo Sarah in the audience
Chef Charlie then prepared a sit-down dinner for thirty. It was a Wattle explosion. This Chez Panisse grad cooked the entire pig, head, feet and all. His audience was one that would intimidate even the best chef. A lifetime achievement award was given to Eleanor Bertino for her work to preserve America's food culture through her PR efforts and contributions to Slow Food.
I was sad to see the event end. Charlie created a lovely world for himself and his co-workers a little microcosm of Berkeley utopia. When I left, I felt I was leaving a piece of a perfect self-contained universe. But alas our job was to move forward and the next day we were to be in Napa for our last California event. - Patrick
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A Day in the Napa Valley
Before leaving Berkeley we visited Café Fanny for breakfast, and then Chez Panisse where the chefs came to bid adieu to the pigs. Then we stopped for a meal with Paul Canales at Oliveto. No one on the trip can talk meat as well as Paul. He knows so much and has a great gift for explaining the culture of meat from all perspectives. He is one of the few who can explain issues concerning the difference between breeds and between confinement pigs versus pasture-raised by actually giving concrete examples with meat he has cured. I will be the first one to buy Paul's book when he writes it. We took two of his Red Wattle sausage pizzas on the road with us and they were delicious.
The drive to Napa was uneventful. Napa itself is not glamorous like one who has never been there might think those stereotypes are more St Helena and Yountville, just north. Napa is industrial and many of the residents are the men and women who work the vineyards. Our first meeting in the area was with a Sacramento Bee journalist at Copia where we got a few words in about the journey. We took advantage of our lovely surroundings by interviewing chef Victor of Julia's Kitchen who walked us through Copia's vegetable and herb gardens and explained the array of varietals they have there. Victor would also be preparing a dish later that night for our Silverado event.
We finally made our way to the Silverado Country Club. The pigs were hosed down in the biggest sink I have ever seen. Chef Peter Pahk and crew watched as Sarah and I got down and dirty cleaning Adam and Eve. Sarah then herded them into the clean cage and we golf carted them to their spot at the event which took place with the breathtaking backdrop of a golf course.
Patrick and Sarah wheeling the pigs into place Patrick feeding the Wattles at the country club
This event was more like an All-Star Game of famous chefs from Northern California. Participating, each at his own table, was Peter from Silverado, Ryan from Brix, Nate from Goggle's Café 150 (which sources all food within 150 miles of the restaurant), Kimball from Carneros Inn, Victor from Julia's Kitchen, Vincent from Meadowood, Peter from NV and Greg from Coles Chophouse.
Each chef used a part of the Red Wattle pig. An auction had taken place a few weeks earlier to determine who got which cut. For the most part the unusual cuts were the most sought after including ear, heart, feet, liver and head. It was great fun always being within arm's reach of great food from eight chefs. Great wine accompanied thanks to the charismatic Chris Lund who makes people laugh at every turn. He is actually one of the funniest people I have ever met. Only someone like he could unite such a diverse array of personalities.
Speeches were made by Chris Carpenter, Slow Food board member and former defensive lineman for the Fighting Allinai, Chef Peter, and myself. The talk went well although by this time the pigs were very bored of hearing my speech. They just slept. This was the last event with the pigs. On the next day they would be dropped at Long Meadow Ranch. And we would be off to Portland.
Later that night, N.V. hosted us to sliders (small hamburgers) and more drinks. I love sliders. Why don't more chefs make more "low-end" foods with great ingredients? In attendance were the owners of Frazier Lane Organics: Greg and Christine. They are a total riot. We got along so famously we decided to further partner with them and launch a local supply of pigs into Sonoma and the Bay Area.- Patrick
Early in the a.m. we stopped by to see Paul Canales of Oliveto in Oakland. He is a firecracker, and even conversations on the phone or by email could not convey just how energetic, passionate and excitable he is. Paul is a true supporter, quick with lines of encouragement that always pump us up. He is a perpetual student of meat science and taught us about PSE, something he is always on the look-out for. PSE is 'Pale, Soft and Exudative' which results in an excess of lactic acid that seeps out of a butchered piece of meat which occurs from animals that have undergone insane amounts of stress just prior to slaughter. Only once in our whole time working with him did he spot this in our meat, this is testament to the fine job they do at Paradise to keep the well-being of our pigs a priority.
That afternoon in Napa, we arrived at the Silverado Country Club, a vast, luxurious resort. But we weren't shy about pulling up to the kitchen, unloading the pigs and washing them down outside. We placed the pigs on the back of a golf cart and the driver took off for the entrance to the event. I am amazed at the devilish interest on the part of the chefs who bring the pigs indoors and put them front and center among their guests. Peter Pahk, the executive chef at Silverado pulled together a world-class group of chefs from the area (who knew that Google has a nationally renowned restaurant?!). None of them had previously worked with our meat but this was a marathon of cooking every part of the pig for each of their menus. Peter Halikas of N.V. (the only restaurant to stay open past 11pm in Napa) stood out for being one of the smaller, independent restaurants featured at the tasting.
In Napa, people sip wine professionally. They do the regular rounds of tastings and wine events, but with the energy that Chef Pahk, Chris and Tina Carpenter (Slow Food leaders in Napa) put into this one - it was certainly one of the most successful and memorable events in years.
We were able to meet Laddie of Long Meadow Ranch who would be accepting the piglets tomorrow. As well, another farming family, the Kentons of Frazier Lane Organics were there who will be parenting the next generation of wattles in Northern California. They are wonderful, peppy, funny but, admittedly, quite sad that they have to wait a year to raise the new pigs. We had great conversations at N.V. late that night. - Sarah
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Boar Meets Gilt
This article is more fun than one I could write. And it comes from the pen of someone who experienced the Red Wattle Project from a different perspective.
As printed in the Bohemian, July 19, 2006
Boar Meets Gilt
These little pigs came from Kansas. The curious journey of the red wattle
By Carey Sweet
"The two little pigs took tentative steps out of the extra-large dog crate that had been their home for the last several weeks. They snuffled the loamy soil at their feet. They looked curiously at the cozy, shaving-filled bunk to their left and at the grassy pasture that crawled up the gentle slope before them.
Then suddenly, in a mighty tandem leap, they careened across the pen, exploding like crazy coiled springs and squealing what could best be interpreted as "This is a bit of piggy all-right."
Patrick Martins, porcine chaperone and founder of Slow Food USA, watched his too-cute charges and smiled. "It took them a long time to get here, and 10 seconds to realize they're home."
Then he turned to the animals' new landlord, Laddie Hall, owner of the 750-acre Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena. He peered over his sunglasses and asked pointedly, "Are there any predators here? I've heard there are coyotes. I don't want these pigs to get eaten."
Hall shrugged. "It's always been safe," she said, nodding to the half-dozen ranch associates who quietly looked on. "I just hope you weren't expecting a marching band or something fancy for their arrival."
It was an exciting moment for the two very special eight-week-old piglets, and a note in history for Napa Valley farmers. These animals are red wattles, a severely endangered heritage breed, and they were brought to California this month to start the first-ever satellite passel west of Texas. According to Martins, only about 300 of the amber-colored animals exist today; the breed was actually thought to be extinct until a wild herd resurfaced in the forests of Texas in the mid-19th century.
Dubbed Adam and Eve, the boar (male) and gilt (female) were born in Kansas, where a group of farmers has banded together in a breeding plan to save wattle genetics. These two animals are to be the cornerstone of a new, sustainable herd under Slow Food's mission to preserve America's small, artisan farms.
It was also a rather low-key ending, considering the promotional extravaganza that brought the pigs to their new home. Because instead of just trucking the critters the 1,700 or so miles from their Midwest birthplace to this sprawling paradise high atop the Mayacamas Mountains, Martins and a team from Heritage Foods USA had put together a cross-country tour spanning 40 days and 40 nights (biblical reference strongly intended). Stops along the way involved putting the pigs on display with dozens of celebrities, staging high-dollar parties drawing hundreds of guests and hiring a team of documentary filmmakers to capture it all.
The end also smacked of irony. Because even if Martins wanted to ensure that Adam and Eve didn't get eaten at Long Meadow, that's exactly what the future piglets are for: not protected species, but new designer meat for upscale diners bored with the mass-produced "other white meat."
Martins is also co-founder of Heritage Foods USA, the sales and marketing arm of Slow Food, and the company that provides small-batch products like heritage turkeys and, yes, wattle pigs to the nation's leading chefs. And as beloved as these two little pigs might be right now, Martins envisions a future where their lean, extra flavorful dark meat joins the ranks of the now ubiquitous gourmet Kurobuta pork.
Business is business after all, and the reality is that most epicures would rather eat than admire such critters. Those celebrities posing with the porkers were food professionals. To get the word out, and also raise money to finance the pigs' care, Martins arranged a string of high-end culinary events featuring lots of red wattle dishes on the menu. How much of the rare animal was sacrificed for the publicity tour? Heritage spokespeople would not say.
At the group's June 30 "welcome to Napa Valley" event, however, eight chefs served 13 different tastes of pig, with one chef acknowledging that his order for the evening included five whole heads and an unknown number of tails. More than a hundred well-dressed guests wandered from chef station to chef station at the Silverado Resort, sampling fancy porky tidbits and pretty much ignoring the frolicking Adam and Eve in their crate next to the podium. (One guest was overheard saying, "Wattle, whatever. Just wrap pork in bacon and I'm happy.")
The wattle adventure began June 1, when Martins and associate Sarah O'Braitis departed Heritage Foods USA's headquarters in New York, driving in a small van towing a camping trailer. For the next three weeks, they stopped at farms, restaurants and other food-related enterprises, and made appearances on television and radio food programs, building hype about their new product. Accompanied by their documentarians, the team interviewed people intrinsic to America's food history, including farmers, butchers, sausage makers, truckers, pit-stop waitresses, cookbook authors and the generally unusual personalities that make up the Slow and Heritage Foods worlds (no word yet on when or where the film will air).
On June 22, they arrived at Lazy S Farms in Kansas, the leader of the only red wattle network in the United States. The pigs were packed and everything was a go, until a Lazy S ranch hand bid Martins "Enjoy the gilt and barrow." Small point: a barrow is indeed a male, but one that's been castrated. The trip was delayed a day as the trailer was backed up and the barrow exchanged for a boar.
After staging ritzy dinner parties in Scottsdale, San Diego and Los Angeles, the heartland-boutique culinary parade hit the North Bay on June 29, with a procession to heritage-supporting restaurants in the San Francisco area. There, the pampered pigs cozied up with some of the nation's most elite Slow Food stars, including Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, and the chefs of Acme Chophouse, Boulevard Restaurant, Quince, 1550 Hyde, Rose's Cafe, Mustards, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, Oliveto, Eccolo, Prather Ranch, Fatted Calf, Hotel Vitale, A16 and others.
The next day, after an interview on the James Beard-award winning radio show A Matter of Taste, the animals were presented at the luxe "Go West Young Wattle" reception at the Silverado. While Adam and Eve fought over a green apple in their crate nearby, each chef worked with a different piggy body part, tail to snout.
If the reaction of these kitchen masters was any gauge, Martins can expect Heritage's phone to ring off the hook for future orders. From chef Nate Keller of Cafe 150 (presenting braised pork heart with ume on a tempura shiso leaf) to chef Victor Scargle of Julia's Kitchen at COPIA (offering lemongrass cured pork belly with puy lentils, kale and grilled plums), local professional cooks seem thrilled to have a new product with which to play.
"Here's a pig that has some flavor and is really versatile," said chef Ryan Jackson of Brix, presenting pork tongue with fresh fava beans, oven dried tomato and lemon preserve alongside Calvado braised cheek on garlic crouton. "It's actually like red meat. The chefs are all behind [the meat] and the sustainable farming."
Showing that every bit of the wattle is useful, chef Peter Pahk of Silverado prepared pigs feet in honor of each tootsie: hot, sweet and sour; as estouffade; in consommé with wonton; and pickled. Chef Peter Halikas of NV restaurant, meanwhile, couldn't resist an obvious joke. "I was going to bring this over and introduce it [to the piglets] as their mother," he said,lifting the skull displayed next to his plates of pig's head brawn atop crispy pig's tail and mustard greens.
Other tastings included curry-crusted loin of pork alongside a warm salad of slow-smoked pork belly, fresh chickpea and frisée (from chef Vincent Nattress of Meadowood), country-style pork ribs in organic peach barbecue sauce with Rancho Gordo red Appaloosa beans (chef Kimball Jones of the Carneros Inn) and achiote-rubbed pork shoulder, black beans and lime-cured red onions wrapped in banana leaves (chef Greg Cole of Cole's Chop House and Celadon).
Assuming that Adam and Eve make a love connection, it will be at least three years before diners see Napa-produced red wattle on their plates. Until then, care for the piglets falls to a St. Helena high school student, Mollie Salinger, who now will go down in history and earn high school credit from Future Farmers of America as the area's first wattle wrangler. She takes her responsibility seriously. As the porkers pranced in their new pen, she raised her right hand and echoed Martins' oath.
"I do solemnly swear to treat these pigs like humans."
Martins then faced his piglets one last time. "There's something a bit sad," he said, "About finishing a heralded, film-documented, 40-day journey across America's heartland, just to arrive so your children can be eaten."
But Adam and Eve hardly seemed concerned. They'd just discovered a tub of pig chow, and there was no misunderstanding their happy grunts. This was definitely going to be a lot of piggy all-right."
Finally we had a BBQ at Chris Carpenter's house. It was delicious and featured chicken. After weeks of pork, thank God for chicken. - Patrick
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It was strange being free of the pigs. Nonetheless, we made the trip successfully south to San Francisco where we would do a radio interview on A Metter of Taste with Rachel and David Cane on 960AM. The hosts generously interviewed the whole crew.
At 5pm we started the long journey north through the Redwoods to Portland. We began on highway 1, the slowest of all highways, then moved over to 101, which is faster and also boasts some great sites. Highway 5 is sad. David finally captured the sun set footage he had hoped to.
The drive from San Francisco to Portland is intense. The Red Woods are thick and heavy. They create a feeling of oppressiveness and force me to think about my own thoughts. And they go on forever. Hours on the road, as far as the eye can see, dominated by huge evergreen trunks. - Patrick
We committed to doing a radio show back down in San Fran, so we went south from Silverado and spent the afternoon at Ferry Plaza, a shopping pier that has launched a good number of establishments we work with like Prather Ranch and Cowgirl Creamery. I am happy to see radio staying strong as a form of entertainment. It reminded me that my favorite movie used to be Pump up the Volume, with Christian Slater, about keeping an underground radio station.
Tonight we stayed in a KOA, which was a little dingy but exciting because it was packed with vacationers on the road for the Fourth of July. America has some amusing signage on the roadsides that I don’t get to see in NY: LIVE! Six Legged Steer * DIRT CHEAP: cigarettes and beer * FOR SALE: Historical village * Adult super duper store* Pet memorial cemetery. - Sarah
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Pork in Portland
We slept in the van so we weren't at our freshest when we arrived to Nostrana Restaurant. We were also an hour late because we picked up my friend Dan in Eugene along the way. We got there and the place was packed.
Nostrana is a beautiful restaurant. And its owned by an old friend, Cathy Whims. It’s fun to be there and the bar and open-kitchen spark conversation. The speech that afternoon concentrated on the trip. The beginning of the journey seemed so long ago. Even Kansas City where we had been just a few days earlier had become a distant memory. Sarah and I basically just talked, reminisced and mused and what was amazing is that people were not bored out of their minds. It goes to show how interesting some of the characters we met are.
I thought Nostrana was delicious. They cooked a whole Wattle pig perfectly, the pizza was my third favorite in the land. But it's the atmosphere there, accompanied by a great bar, that sets it apart. Rather than try to close in on itself and be intimate, it opens up and its glass windows take you to new places. That's great for dinner is meant for ideas, for wit, for epiphany. - Patrick
Portland is a real nice town, like a city but the short buildings and big trees keep it quaint. I felt empty-handed and, in a way, a little disappointed because the pigs were not with us. We had arrived late, with very little sleep, no shower and low energy but by the time we spoke to the crowd we were high on life again. I like the circle of friends that crowd at Cathy Whim’s Nostrana. We went through every stop and story, but quickly… I can't imagine how it must have been received, having lived through it all it’s hard to remove myself.
Cathy’s business partner Mark, who designed the architecture of the restaurant and has run kitchens before, spoke about rendering the lard from the wattles and checking for the clarity of the melted fat. I learned what to look for and what you can find. - Sarah
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Reefnet Fishing off Lummi Island
We pulled the van and trailer on to the ferry in Bellingham, WA and waited for it to dock at Lummi Island. Lummi is on the San Rosario Strait, part of the San Juan Islands. Canada is visible and Alaska is a straight shot over the horizon. Riley Starks was there waiting at the dock for us. He is one of only about a dozen reef net fishermen left in the world and they are all located here on Lummi. The salmon season is really short, about a month long, and as of today it hadn't yet begun. But the gears, or fishing docks, were in the water. The gears are like members of the community, they have a heavy presence on the water and even though only so few men net fish out there, everyone follows and talks about the gears.
A dingy brought us out to the platforms. To keep the traditional ways of catching and killing the fish, there needs to be a complex system of pulling in, sizing and bleeding each one. It requires great patience and timing. The men tie ribbons to the nets to look like seagrass and to trick the fish to flow into the right spots. They spend all day on the gears, and Riley most of the time is up on a pole looking down into the waters. Today, he took Patrick and me up to the top of one while David and Anthony filmed from the top of the other pole. The strong winds pushed us back and forth.
The hundred-year storm struck in January and a massive amount of debris and wood piled high onto the shore. Underneath the junk pushed off from the sea, Riley - of all people - found a very old, traditional netting ring carved from stone, certain to have been used by the Lummi themselves when fishing was a daily part of life.
I like island life, you can't help but slow down and the brackish sea breeze opens your pores and enlivens the senses. We stayed the night in a new rented house with very nice amenities, including a hot tub which we sat in and listened to the fireworks bounce off the water. - Sarah
Our last official visit took place on the San Juan Islands, Lummi Island in particular. On Lummi Riley Starks, one of the last reef-net fishermen on the planet, took us on a tour of his boats. It was rewarding to end a pork themed trip on the open sea.
Lummi Island is located at the foot of a great reef that attracts thousands of salmon each year. Five reefnet boats, including that of Riley and his team, are positioned right in the salmon's path. During specified times of the year the fishermen are allowed to place nets in the water and scoop up the salmon as they swim by. When working, Riley sits high atop a pole looking out for the schools as they come racing through. If he doesn't catch sight of them in time, his crew will not be able to get the net into position.
Reefnetting is the oldest type of fishing known to man and was practiced by the Natives of the Puget Sound. A perfect tasting product results from this process for the fish die in the water and are not shocked which, like in meat, effects the taste.
Riley also owns a bed and breakfast where we feasted on live prawns, salmon from last year's catch and vegetables from a local farm. It was delicious and looking out at the sunset off the Pacific, it made you want to never leave. - Patrick
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Our film crew left today. Sarah and I raced back across the country. We would make it in three days. I loved the energy and spirit of Billings. And the part of Highway 90 that darts into Wyoming. And Wall-Drug, which advertises on highway signs all around the country.
The trip was a blur. It still is. The only thing that remains tangible is some 70 hours of DV movie tapes and the few thank you cards we send out each day. The main thing that sticks for now is that there are good people out there and the country is not as big as we think. - Patrick
Well, we're facing east again and heading home. Against some odds, we
managed to make all our appointments (minus the impromptu food cart in Los
Angeles), pay our visits, drive immense distances, sell food, trouble-shoot,
follow-up on mail orders, write, review footage and concoct new projects
based on our inspirations from the road.
I enjoyed touring farms, throwing parties and sitting down to feasts, but it
was most important to document these experiences on film. Like Alan Lomax
and Harry Smith who preserve musical traditions through recordings, we have
reported a glimpse of this country's unseen sides: the ideas, the farms, the
kitchens and the livelihoods that are slowly disappearing. The people we met
are happy but they know they are a fragile part of our food culture. We
will forever find ways to support and reward them for providing foods that
taste and feel good. - Sarah
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