This past November, I was a lucky delegate from our Slow Food chapter to Terra Madre, a biennial gathering of 5,000 delegates from every corner of the globe to share their stories and learn from each other on behalf of the earth, farming, and biodiversity. It is a huge coming-together of people from everywhere who face similar challenges. The delegates are housed, either in hotels or in home-stays. A lovely family in Turin hosted one of our local delegates, and one night I was invited to dinner. There I met 2 delegates from Iran, a young man and an older woman, who have been working in an NGO doing environmental work in their country. The woman had been at it for 40 years. I asked her how it had been to do her work while the more radical Ahmadinejad was in power. She said it was in some ways easier because he was against GMO’s.
We told our stories over a wonderful dinner. I said that I have been working with our Slow Food chapter and a group of volunteers to help save apple orchards in our county. We focus on the Gravenstein apple because of it’s unique adaptation to our soil and climate and water resources, and because it is part of our local cultural heritage. I said that we lose a lot of apple acreage when people cut down their orchards and plant wine grapes, so we work to improve the demand for local apples, and by doing so help the farmers make a better living and hopefully keep growing apples. We also help create new markets and support the development of new apple products.
Then she told me her apples vs. grapes story – in reverse. In Iran they eat a lot of raisins. They have grape vines that are uniquely adapted to their climate, soil, and water resources – just like our apples. Many of their vineyards are ancient, like our apple trees. At some point, a representative from a multi-national corporation came and told their farmers that they could make more money planting…apples! They were told that there was a great foreign demand for “apple essence”, used as an additive and in scented products. So, they ripped out their ancient vineyards and planted apple trees. You can probably guess what happened. The trees did not survive because they were not adaptive to the climate, soil and water.
Terra Madre and the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity have hundreds of stories like this one. Farmers and small landowners in Africa and Latin America and everywhere else where the land is cheap and the governments are not strong are encouraged to grow products for the global market and in doing so they lose their indigenous foods, diet, and foodways. Attending Terra Madre and meeting people face to face like our Iranian friends, is how I remind myself to act locally and think globally.
Since I returned, I am back to work with other passionate apple folks on our plans for next season. I love that apples are seasonal and that in doing this work I am living seasonally too. We will put up our huge banners in Sebastopol in July that says, “The Gravensteins are Coming” to help other people remember to eat seasonally. We will march with our banner in the annual Apple Blossom Parade. How much more delicious is something that you actually have to wait for! I almost never eat an apple out of season now. Fresh ones are worth waiting for. We are working on updating our apple information for our new SFRR web site. There will be a Where to Find Local Apples section, a new UPick section, and a Products Made with Local Apples section.
We have ordered a new apple press for our free Community Apple Press, which will re-open in August, or as soon as the Gravs are ripe. We’re trying to figure out who will drive up to Oregon in their truck to pick it up when it’s ready. This year we plan to be open 3 days, instead of just the weekends, so we can accommodate more folks pressing their juice, and we can bring in school kids too. There will be a link to it on our website so people can sign up for time slots using our 2 presses.
And finally, after 15 years, I have moved off the Slow Food Russian River leadership team so I can devote more of my time to the apple project – and my grandchildren.
Paula Shatkin has been a Slow Food leader for 15 years. She started the Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Presidium – the only Slow Food Presidium in California and the most active Presidium project in the U.S. She is a geriatric social worker, most recently at Palm Drive Hospital, and currently runs a caregiver support group on behalf of the hospital district.