Friday, May 29, 2009

The Veggie Queen Hears Jonah Raskin Speak on Farmers

For many years, I have wanted to meet Jonah Raskin who is a Sonoma County writer and professor at Sonoma State University. When I read that he would have a booksigning last night at a local Copperfield's bookstore, I knew that I had to go. Raskin has lived in Sonoma County for many years and he grew up near my hometown on Long Island. It turns out that his father, like mine, was an attorney. Unlike my parents, his moved to Occidental, here in Sonoma County, and started farming in retirement.
Raskin and I have a similar love of the land and writing but he took his passion and went out into the fields as fodder for his new book Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating, and Drinking Wine in California published by University of California Press.

I cannot tell you exactly why I didn't buy the book but I didn't so I will have to give you highlights of what Raskin had to say instead.

He made his war cry, Follow the vegetables. He worked at Oak Hill Farm in Glen Ellen, in Sonoma Valley for a year. He then followed chef John McReynolds' formerly of Cafe La Haye in Sonoma to see what he did with the vegetables. Raskin says that McReynolds is a spontaneous cook, which his editor did not believe. If you've seen me at work in person, you can likely tell that McReynold's and I have something in common in the spontaneity department. I often can't follow the recipe that I have right in front of me. That's not what cooking is about -- especially not with fresh vegetables.

Raskin implored everyone to grow, and buy, their vegetables organically even if they aren't certified.

While working at Oak Hill Farm where you'll find the Red Barn store, on spectacular piece of land, Raskin mentioned to owner Anne Teller that everything is connected. That's when he was told about "The Web of Life." I hope that you know about this concept and take it to heart. Everything you do has an effect on the world.

Raskin talked about his toiling in the field with the other farm workers and how he felt initiated into a tribe as they planted 6000 leeks in a day. He said that even though the work was physically hard, that it's harder to sit at a computer and work.

For you writers, rather than write the proposal for the book, Raskin wrote the entire book. He said that it would be easier. But he has quite a few other books under his belt and an editor who must like him. You likely know that I am into self-publishing so the proposal stage is something that I also skip.

The book contains a chapter on older farmers, one of whom is an amazing person that I see from time to time: Chester Aaron, author and garlic farmer. Chester is upwards of 85 and incredibly sharp. He's still farming and writing. I'd love to get my hands on some of Chester's amazing garlic -- he grows about 90 different kinds. Older farmers love what they do, maybe because they are in touch with the earth. Raskin says that they work until the end. What a nice thought.

If you are interested in farming, farmers, eating, drinking, and living, you might find this book a good read. With piles of books awaiting my attention, I couldn't bring myself to get one more on a subject about which I know a lot, and places that I have been for years. I applaud Raskin for taking on the subject and finding that it filled him up in a way that other things might not have.

Please, once again I implore you to pay homage to farmers. We need them for our sustenance.
The greens in the photo above (amazing Dinosaur or Lacinata kale) were grown by Raskin's friend Tom Pringle, who says that he's transforming from gardener to sharecropping farmer. I'll update you on that when I can.

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