Yesterday was the local observance of Slow Food’s Terra Madre (Mother Earth) Day, sponsored and beautifully organized and presented in the kitchens and dining room of Schenectady County Community College chef and Saratoga chapter president Rocco Verrigni. I sat in on a mega panel discussion followed by a mega tasting of fare prepared by rising chefs; there were also student presentations and a screening of the short film “Green Beef”.
The panel discussion featured local farmers (from Saratoga Springs down to the area below the Mohawk River), chefs and restaurateurs discussing their “successes, issues and stories”. Successes for me included clues of how these folks are taking small steps to become commercially viable. Tod Murphy of Vermont’s Farmer’s Diner has the goal of serving local and naturally raised meals at prices farmers can actually afford; he does this by negotiating with farmers a scale larger than boutique/retail/farmers market enterprises and by staying away from steaks. Michael Kilpatrick, a local farmer, described his success in bringing year-round vegetable growing to Saratoga; he is just 23 and I am happy he will be around far longer than me.
Michael was one of several to describe an “issue”: it’s difficult to follow the national standards for “Certified Organic” so as a result none of them does it. Kilpatrick Family Farm can’t be organic because they use a sheeting product called Biotelo for their winter mulching and though biodegradable, it’s not organic-approved. Noah Sheetz, executive chef of the governor’s mansion in Albany, described another problem, which is the practicality of coordinating multiple purveyors for poultry, produce, dairy etc. plus having a backup when somebody’s delivery truck breaks down. Sysco, by offering one-stop shopping for quality products, has made it too easy for many kitchens; what’s needed is a Sysco for natural producers.
The food presentations ranged from a perfect half moon of roasted acorn squash to a groaning board of charcuterie prepared by the SCCC students in Garde Manger II, which has done nothing but make sausage all semester long. Chef Christopher Tanner showed off his curing closet for prosciutto and Westphalian ham, made by stripping the shelves from a wine cabinet and adding an off-the-shelf humidifier. Local students pay just $3533 for learning all this and virtually all of them are offered jobs in the industry at the end of their two-year program.
During the breaks there was plenty of time to talk with local farmers and make new friends along with lists of places to go and dine and find new food near Saratoga. The only bad news is that the season has ended for many of these folks (which is why they could take the day off) so I’ll have to wait for spring for many of my forays.
This post originally appeared on my marketing blog, Otis Regrets… or Not. If you want to read about marketing instead of eating, click here.