It is Sunday in Valledolmo, and that means my first week is coming to a close, and I am entering into the second week of Cook The Farm. As I sit at my desk reading some of the preparatory readings for our upcoming week on Olive Oil and Fats I find myself straddling two worlds once again; last week it was US and Sicilia, and this week it is Wheat and Olives.
The past week on Wheat opened me up to so many new ideas, philosophies, history, traditions, techniques, and brought me back closer to home than I imagined…home meaning my past. In college I studied zoology and ecology and went on to research birds and animals in Africa and the States, and the relationship of the land, animals, and man; it was such an important period in my life for I feel that it shaped me to be the man I am today- understanding the relationships, the fraility and balance of it all.
Last week we dove head on into the Fertile Crescent, the cradle of civilization, a bridge between Europe and Africa and the East. It is a land of such history and diversity, that one could easily spend their entire life and beyond studying it. This is the Mesopotamia, the land between two rivers (the Euphrates and Tigris), the birthplace of agriculture c.10,000 BCE.
Such crops as wheat, barley, millet, emmer, sesame, olives, flax, peas, lentils, figs, apples, pomegranates, pistachio, date palms, melons, grapes, eggplants, onions, radishes, beans, lettuce…a land and people that brought to our world such abundance, agricultural techniques, foods, recipes, history, that have shaped us into who we are today.
I am still amazed that this past week I was able to participate in the making of fresh couscous. A simple dish that up till now I have only known from a box! It was earth shattering to be a part of this…such a simple grain, a simple dish, but yet so profound! It has fed the people of this region since before 200 BCE.
And today we walk into a store anywhere in the world and pick up a box of instant couscous and spend a few minutes at home prepping it and that is it. No awareness or wonderment as to where this came from, who was the first to discover couscous, how many women before me have spent hours around the stone mill prepping the wheat, sifting it, mixing it, and cooking it over the fire?
In retrospect we owe so much gratitude to the women and men of this region for they laid a path before them that led to the future that we experience today. Yes they were diverse, and diversity is good. And yet we find ourselves today afraid of the diversity coming from this region!
Why do we fear diversity? Why is it so scary? Diversity is: ‘condition of having or being composed of differing elements: variety, especially: the inclusion of different types of people in a group or organization; an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities’. That is it. When I look at my daughter’s kindergarten class in Milwaukee, I see diversity…and they don’t give a damn what color the skin of the person is across from them, they only see friend- yes different, but a friend that is part of her class.
In ecology, diversity is positively correlated to ecosystem stability. According to McCann (2000): evidence also indicates that diversity is not the driver of this relationship; rather, ecosystem stability depends on the ability for communities to contain species, or functional groups, which are capable of differential response.
That is what I love about nature- it knows how to live, what to do, how to interact, how to balance, how to respond. I fear that we are losing our ability to do this- just as it is easier to buy a box of couscous than to prepare it by hand. We are losing it at a great cost though, as is evident in the news today with our newly elected President.
We need not fear diversity. We need not fear change. We need not try to control it. We need only to watch, learn, adapt, and respond, allowing the beauty of diversity and stability to align themselves.
This morning I went for a nice stroll through the little town I am in and I stopped at a local coffee roaster, and spent a wonderful 2 hours or so hanging out having coffee, meeting the two brothers who run the place, talking about their coffee and their roasting, meeting their other brother and dad too while sitting on the bench out front soaking up the late morning sun, all the while reading the wonderful book Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller. It is a classic example of the diversity coming together and creating stability. Our worlds, in this case America and rural Sicilia, came together for these 2 magical hours and we both benefited from it. I will forever remember this morning and the shared experience we all had.
I am also contemplating the recent bouts of stomach issues some of us have been having in this first week here…it is a classic example of diversity coming together and seeking the best response to create stability, as we will be here for 9 more weeks. Yes we brought our gut flora and stability from America, Canada, or Australia, and here we are in mountainous rural Sicilia eating diverse foods and taking in the flora of a strange land. I can get mad about it and respond negatively, and allow my stomach flora to erupt in not so pleasant ways for these next weeks or I can choose to relax with it all, trust the process and let mother nature do her job.
So after this first week it appears I need to become a bridge, like the Fertile Crescent, and allow the diverse and complexities of other worlds to cross back and forth, thus creating a beautiful, fertile, and stable land that is ready for sowing.
So the first chapter of Cook The Farm is coming to a close (and be sure it will weave its’ way through the next 9 chapters as well) and I am preparing for what lays ahead this week- The Olive. I have no idea what will come, but I am sure it will be rich, deep, full of history, culture, life, etc. just like the olive itself.
I leave you with two quotes on the olive:
It is quite affecting to observe how much the olive tree is to the country people. Its fruit supplies them with food, medicine and light; its leaves, winter fodder for the goats and sheep; it is their shelter from the heat and its branches and roots supply them with firewood. The olive tree is the peasant’s all-in-all. Fredrika Bremer
The whole Mediterranean, the sculpture, the palm, the gold beads, the bearded heroes, the wine, the ideas, the ships, the moonlight, the winged gorgons, the bronze men, the philosophers -all of it seems to rise in the sour, pungent taste of these black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.