Stone Soup Cafe

My Summer internship at Stone Soup Cafe has been going really well. For those of you who don’t know, Stone Soup Cafe is a community cafe in Greenfield, MA that functions on a pay-what-you-can model, inviting anyone who can afford to make a donation for their meal to do so, and those who cannot afford to are still able to eat. We all eat a as local-as-possible meal that is lovingly prepared by volunteers…together as people.

The meal is made possible by local volunteers, farms, and various vendors who donate their time, efforts, produce, products and love. We thrive as a community without barriers created by economic differences. No one goes hungry. There’s usually live music, as well as an assortment of wellness offerings throughout the year from places like Greenfield Community Acupuncture. Delicious produce and other products are provided by places like Just RootsAtlas FarmFranklin County Community CooperativeKatalyst KombuchaFoster’s Market, and The Barn.

Lovingly prepared, local and organic when possible. Photo: Shannon Dry

I’ve met a lot of amazing people and continue to feel part of a community of incredible people here in Greenfield and Franklin county. It feels great to be a part of an organization that is not only doing wonderful things to fight hunger in our community, but also encouraging and setting examples for communities across the U.S.

Radishes donated by Just Roots in Greenfield. Photo: Shannon Dry

I’ve had the pleasure of doing various activities for the cafe, including working in the kitchen on Saturdays and prepping for the meal throughout the week. I meet weekly with the cafe’s coordinator, Ari Pliskin, to discuss internship goals and projects. I’ve enjoyed writing blog posts, a weekly e-newsletter, and assisting with outreach. I’ve even gotten to experience a leadership role in the kitchen as head chef, which was an awesome experience and something that I never thought that I’d have the courage to do. Stone Soup Cafe is a wonderful, encouraging, and loving environment that I hope all of you will have the pleasure of being a part of in any way that you can. As a volunteer, the next Stone Soup intern, or as a cafe patron at a weekly meal…your presence matters.

 

Counter-Culture: Transformation Through Fermentation

I have been trying to write this post for weeks, which is why I saved it for my last post. There is so, so much to be said about fermentation- the history of it, the benefits and risks, the extremely varied creations and recipes, and the list goes on and on- how could I pack all that in to a short blog post? I can’t! But that’s ok, because some lovely people have researched and experimented and put all of their findings into some of the best books I have ever laid my hands on. Please find them listed in the resources at the bottom of this post.

What I can tell you is that fermentation gives us wonderfully yeasty breads, cheeses, yogurt, tofu, meats, and a wide variety of wine and beer. It can make foods more digestible, allow better access to nutrients and, as in the case of taro, can even neutralize toxicity. But there was a time (before microscopes existed) when people believed that the mold appearing on their meat, bread or fruit was a product of “spontaneous generation,” unexpected spoilage caused by mischievous gods, magic or demons.

In 1858, German scientist Rudolf Virchow luanched a great controversy by arguing that 1. Every cell comes from a preexisting cell and 2. There is no spontaneous generation of cells. In response, the Paris Academy of Sciences offered a prize to anyone who could prove or disprove spontaneous generation. Two short years later, French scientist Louis Pasteur disproved “spontaneous generation” by sealing boiled (and thereby sterilized) water in a swan-necked flask, discovering the liquid inside remained sterile indefinitely, as long as it was kept sealed off from microorganisms from the air. Solid proof that the catalysts for fermentation don’t just spontaneously appear out of the ether. Through these studies, pasteurization was born. Heating foods to a certain temperature kills off any bacteria that may cause harm, true, but any beneficial bacteria is destroyed in the process too. Overly pasteurized food is consumable, but is it good for us? Or does it allow for a huge flaw in our food system? For example: as long as we can pasteurize all the dangerous bacteria away, what does it matter that our dairy cattle are fed inappropriate food that leads to infected digestive tracts and pus in their milk (which is now seriously lacking in the good bacteria now, too)?

It is important to know that not all microbes are beneficial- some make food unhealthy or unappetizing (although what is“delicious” vs “unappetizing” is highly subjective) – but when you provide the microbes you want with the right environment they flourish, and you reap the benefits. Educate yourself by finding a knowledgeable mentor, crack open a book, or head to a workshop (like the unbelievable workshops I’m attending this summer; one here at GCC and one in Tennessee (again, check out the links below)!

In my kitchen right now, in various stages of ferment, I have bright pink sauerkraut (made with purple cabbage!), ginger beer, ginger-rhubarb shrub (a fizzy colonial-era fruit juice concoction), Lemon Balm T’ej (an Ethiopian style honey wine), easter egg radishes, kimchi and an enzyme cleaner made from citrus peels. I will soon have strawberry wine, a folk- recipe root-beer, sumac and citrus sodas, pickled veggies and who knows what else. With the right resources and an open mind, you can do the same. It’s easier to jump in to the (relatively) unknown with a friend, though, so gather up some willing companions, grab one of the books listed below, and get to it! By creating nutritious, flavorful food in your own kitchen, you are freeing yourself from the capitalist food system we are all a part of, even if only a little bit. And by sharing this knowledge with anyone who will listen, you are transforming your kitchen in to a petri dish where you and your neighbors act as the catalysts that begin a revolution, and transform your world along with your food.

If you’re ready to start a Counter- Culture movement, check out these resources:“Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” By Sandor Katz – For the beginner or experienced.
“Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation” By Stephen Harrod Buhner
“The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World” By Sandor Katz – Less how-to and more history and troubleshooting
www.wildfermentation.com – Website of Author and Fermentation Expert Sandor Ellix Katz
www.thefarm.org – The Eco-Village in Tennessee where I’ll be taking a Permaculture and Fermentation workshop with Sandor Katz and Albert Bates
http://www.gcc.mass.edu/farmandfoodsystems/classes/ – Preservation and Fermentation right here at GCC!
www.greenriverambrosia.com – Mead and Kombucha from Greenfield!
www.realpickles.com – fermented veggies from Greenfield!

Springtime in the Valley (a mini-post).

What I meant to be a post on ‘Spring Cleaning,’ has morphed into something else altogether…

I have the great fortune to be writing this at one of my many weekly visits to the Farmers Market. It is a chilly June afternoon, one more gray, drizzly day in a line of many others. Even though the thunderstorms still threaten to let loose I am surrounded by old and new friends, and their children and companions. I am visited over and and over again by the tiny little daughter of a friend, her face streaked with the first strawberry juice of the season. Friends chat each other up and ask for advice from the farmers. We sit, or stroll around in this little cove, held by the new greenery and by the gentle, endless fiddle music. Later on, the hoard of children here will all stand together and sing folk songs, and help each other with the words- without fussing- you can’t tell me that’s not an amazing feat. But it happens, I’ve seen it!

The amazing thing about going to the market is that no matter what is happening outside of this moment- what struggles we are enduring at work or home or school- we are all, undeniably, lifted out of the gloom and made to feel a bit better. The Farmers Market is another form of “Food as Medicine” made real. It’s a tangible, touchable, and magical thing. The very act of visiting the market is nourishing and healing and extends in little tendrils out in to the rest of your life if you let it. You can try a new vegetable or plant start, learn or pass on a new recipe, run in to someone you’ve been missing, play with the neighborhood kids, start a relationship with your farmers or just sit and watch it all, as I am doing today, and know that just by being here, you are healing, even if you didn’t realize you needed it.

** the images at the top of this post are both advertising the Tuesday Market behind Thornes Marketplace, and were done by local artists.