2015 is the International Year of the Soil. And as the creator of The Feiring Line newsletter, I was asked to help celebrate the soils of the world at the Ballymaloe House Literary Food and Wine Festival.
The festival started with an idea from Darina Allen and from there took off. Where many festivals are full of glitz, this one is filled with heart. It matters.
Above? That's the coffee wizard Tim Wendleboe in such awe of Darina, the air almost lit up.
I think I was involved with four workshops? A few of them were my ideas, including "What is terroir and can you taste it in the glass?"
I got my wines together.
Gorgeous ones. Chenin from Anjou Noir and also a lovely ditty from Georgia. But I was dismayed. The wines that I presented were not just natural but organic. On the other hand, all of my wine-writing colleagues brought conventional wines from conventional soils and winemaking.
Why is there always this split between food and wine? Why do we insist food be local and organic but wine can be a confected from lifeless soils? Why for that matter do chefs, who care about their ingredient, allow wines that are processed and irrigated and poorly farmed on their list? I find it a wild paradox. With that in mind I raced to what would prove to be a thrilling presentation over in the big house.
What's happening in our soil panel discussion was the last event of Saturday and in that eager crowd there was not one Roundup Ready person.
Initially, I had been asked to sit on the panel, but when I saw the experts assembled, such as Patrick Holden and Roger Phillips, I begged off. So instead I sat in the audience itching to ask when was the chef and the consumer going to understand that wine is food and farming matters there as well? I was eager to share the wisdom of the best grape farmers I know and share their obsessive dedication. I wanted to show them that there were people in viticulture who shared the same beliefs. I wanted to ask how many people in that room choose wine on price rather than on naturalness? I wanted to know if this disconnect was there for the consumer or just the wine writer and chef.
I said to myself; that's the last time I decline an invitation for feeling unqualified. The motto for the future? Courage.
But being in the audience was worthwhile. It was there I heard for the first time the profound notion that soil is the earth's gut. "The key concept that has changed my thinking on farming," Patrick Holden said, "is to understand that the soil surrounding a plant’s root zone is effectively its digestive system, or ‘stomach’."
The idea is that we should be concerned about our gut health, with probiotics etc., just as we should be concerned about keeping all of that life and diversity in the soil.
The soils is our earth's digestive track.
Of course it is.
At the end of the talk questions were taken. The most memorable came from a young and local farmer who talked of his devotion to the soil and his responsibility to steward it into health. His statement was sincere, impassioned, committed--and powerful. The meaning that he drew from working the earth, was almost filled with a religious devotion and moved half of the packed audience to tears. Sitting in that room, it was impossible to feel cynical about the world --at least in that moment I had faith in goodness. This could have been the biggest bomb of a bore for the weekend, but in the end the panel was charged with emotional talk brimming with intellectual and emotional fervor. It made me even prouder to have been included in that heartfelt literary festival.
That's co-chair Rory O'Connell. Next to him on the left is Roger (in brilliant crimson) and I believe Roger's wife--whooping it up in the evening.
Open to consumers, if you want a food festival of a wholly different kind, one with soul, head to Cork, May 20-22, 2016.