Photo by Steve Donovan
Food Artisan Immersion Program Bridges Food Cultivation and Community
From getting your feet in the soil to learning how to manage a “reign of tomatoes”, the Food Artisan Immersion Program (FAIP) offers a full-spectrum experience in food systems. Living and working on the Taliesin estate, students cultivate not only food, but also a deeper understanding of food systems and their role in local communities, environments, and sustainability efforts. In a time where communities are as important as ever, the FAIP furthers cooperation and understanding in the food cultivation process while building and incorporating local communities. This is what four participants had to say about their experiences in the FAIP and how they grew their knowledge and skills along the way.
Working in the garden may have given me my greatest revelation so far. I’ve been on the receiving end of memos and CSA newsletters from farmers about the endless harvest of a specific vegetable, that we would just have to deal with it because that is what’s being produced, that a farm is not a grocery store where you can pick and choose from a wide selection of ripe vegetables and fruits. So of course I knew that’s how gardening and farming works, but I’d never fully experienced the responsibility that comes with it when it’s my garden. Now I have. I am learning about how and when to harvest, the many different ways you can preserve produce, and the delight of eating sun-warmed vegetables fresh from the plant. I have a greater understanding and respect for farmers. I have a strong desire to never live without my own garden again (and to buy a huge chest freezer to store produce in for the winter).
The importance of the Farm Bill is being reinforced through our speakers and I have no doubt that I will learn heaps from reading A Citizen’s Guide.
Right now this seems like a huge gap in my knowledge of food systems.
I’ve learned a lot of kitchen vocabulary and interesting facts about food and food production from working at Riverview Terrace Cafe and from being surrounded by wonderful, knowledgeable people and speakers.
I will say though, it is much harder to list concrete facts I’ve learned than to talk about mindset changes and personal growth and what I’ve learned by doing rather than hearing.
(“This isn’t much, but it’s true.”)
Through my time in the Food Artisan Immersion Program, I’ve come to learn that anyone can be an active member in the food system. At FAIP, many of the folks with whom we interact are either conscious and sustainable producers of food, or awakened chefs that transform the region’s finest produce into artful plates and bowls. Though farmers and chefs have a responsibility to produce food and create dishes with intention and compassion, it is important to know that they are not the only people who comprise the food system. You don’t need to own land, you don’t need 20 years of restaurant experience, you don’t need to shop at farmers markets or Willy Street Co-op
. What you need is a respect for food, an acknowledgment that eating is a sacred act.
Coming from living in the city all my life, it’s now apparent how much of a disconnect there is between food sources and the food that ends up on our plates. Supporting the journey a plant makes before we eat it has been a rollercoaster of learning, joy and hard work.
It’s been a challenging few months; I’ve been stressed out by bumper crops but finding ways to process and preserve them has been like discovering a whole new world for me. The tyrannical reign of tomatoes has not only led to wonderful sauce and salsa, but also to finding ways to just let the fresh tomatoes shine. We’ve used milder flavors to complement their natural deliciousness and it’s mind-blowing to discover that it tastes more exciting than classic, punchier combinations.
Learning how to grow a tomato in the first place has helped me to see that we can’t take our food for granted. So much time and work goes into protecting the plant and supporting it to grow. Volunteering and working at organic farms has also shown me that it doesn’t get any easier even when there are more scale and equipment to deal with a crop. I won’t be able to look at a pack of tomatoes on a supermarket shelf in the same way again. Somebody somewhere has put a lot of energy into that and used a lot of resources to grow and get it to us. We cannot afford to be ignorant about where it came from.
I feel I’ve learned to think about and respect food in a different manner, and have had amazing experiences with flavor along the way.
From my time living and learning at Taliesin as a Food Artisan Immersion Program participant, I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities to experience and interact with my local food system in new ways. Spending time in the garden, I’ve gotten my hands and feet in the soil and discovered the countless wild edible plants that surround me every day that I’ve never recognized. In the kitchen, we’ve taken our cultivated produce and transformed it into beautiful restaurant dishes. Over the internet, we’ve even held virtual tasting sessions with our executive chef Odessa Piper
, and have been able to pick her brain to develop our own solo cooking projects.
While life on the preservation is always beautiful, it has been such a unique experience this year, given the chaotic and ever-changing times we are in. Connecting with our regional alliances has really shown me how powerful a community can be, in the best and worst of times. Recently we’ve been able to dig deep into how our food is produced locally, from being able to milk and process goat cheese at Dreamfarm
, to hand pulling our own noodles with the help of Elemeno
. When life is as uncertain as the year 2020 has been, knowing where your next meal is coming from becomes even more important. With businesses across the world being forced to adapt during the pandemic, we’ve found new pathways of directing our harvest to the community. We are now happily donating our produce from the Taliesin Kitchen Garden and the River Valley High School
Garden to the Arena Food Pantry, since the temporary closing of our Café this August. I’m so grateful for the time I’ve been able to spend growing, foraging, cooking, and eating food along the Wisconsin River over the past few months, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store!