Tuesday, 21 July 2009
I'm giving workshops to students interested in sustainable food production. For me that means taking what grows on the farm and making the very most out of it, preserving abundance and appreciating just how much beauty and joy and taste and energy a (fruit) tree creates.
For the student it means spending a day on the farm, in the kitchen and orchards watching, experiencing and learning how to do the things I learned from my grandmothers and from my own trials and errors. The students are all North American or European college students or freshly graduated who are down in Costa Rica to learn more about sustainable development or environmental issues or organic farming. They are fun to work with, armed with notebooks and pens, bright eyed and eager, and surprised and grateful at discovering how easy things can actually be.
We start with harvesting whatever is available in the orchards, it might be charichuelo, carambola, araza, cas, nutmeg - depends. While we gather I talk about the farm, cacao production, what happened when the cacao blight hit, monocultures, big plantations. We walk through rainforest back to the kitchen: perfect opportunity to talk about biodiversity, permaculture and tropical farming. We stop to look for edible mushrooms or pick some edible leaves.
Back in the kitchen we make sourdough bread and talk about making the culture. I have them take care of any sprouts that might be growing: both are such easy excellent ways to begin bringing consciousness into one's eating and living, as well as slowing down one's pace by engaging with one's food. I start soybeans for tempeh while they prepare the fruit we harvested.
It's good to see processes through in their entirety so after the fruit is washed and trimmed we make fruit leather and jam, or blend it to make frozen yogurt, or use it in cookies. Or usually all of the above. It helps when students can see different ways to use the fruit and sample the simplicity of each, basically it's just variation on the theme of banana for example, or pineapple. What I want them to experience is that there is absolutely enough and that with a little imagination and creativity, life can be very simple.
We drink kombucha and talk about cultures, ferments and microbes. So many North Americans are raised being afraid of 'dirt' that they don't know just how good it can be! I talk them around my microbe wall, electromicroscope images of lactobacillus, aspergillus, mycelium, rhizopus - all incredibly beautiful and bursting with energy.
Lunch is our sourdough bread with homemade hummus, tempeh or Miguel's cheese, served with whatever we found on our walk, and fruit. After lunch the tempeh is ready to incubate and there's jam to be bottled, dried fruit to be packaged, and sprouts to be watered again. And cookies to look forward to.
The students have an experience of every part of production, from harvest through preparation, drying, baking or preserving, to packaging and labeling. This is a working farm and we sell what we produce. Sustainable means taking heed of livelihood as well as the environment, and I believe it is important to show that one can live well by living simply with one's environment and making the best of what one can find.
Usually by the time afternoon coffee and cookies rolls around the students are so immersed in jams and jars, molds and yeasts, that I'm the only one eating. My small library of books is well thumbed and recipes and addresses are scribbled down on floury pages, while the talk is all about sustainable agriculture and the future of food.
Tomorrow I have two young women coming, one from France working on her masters in Sustainable Development and the other from the States who's thesis is on Food Security. We'll be making bread, tempeh, carambola chutney, lovi-lovi and carambola jam, cas fruit leather, dried bananas and candied ginger. Oh and cookies.