Friday, October 17, 2003

Andy Griffin:
Terroir is a French conceit. You know, the French...those odious frog-eaters who brought us the Freedom fry, the Freedom kiss, and the Freedom Poodle, and who incidentally helped pay in guns and gold for our revolutionary freedoms. The French imagine that a well made wine can mingle the light and climate of a vineyard with the sweetness and flavor of its earth. A sip of such a wine can be an exquisite experience of the soul of a place, of it's "terroir." The headiness of an excellent wine is only partly a consequence of alcohol - the rest of the buzz is the delight we feel at an artful agriculture so in tune with its land that a season's harvest can be bottled and stored away for years against that special day and meal when the sparkle, glow, and perfume of times past can be shared again among friends.

I'm not a sophisticated winophile but I like the concept of terroir. The dirt farmer in me that believes terroir could apply as easily to chiles as to grapes and be as meaningful to the whole meal as to the drink. Consider the alternative.

I listen every morning to National Public Radio, or N.P.R., "listener-supported radio." At the top of the hour NPR typically airs short commercials from their corporate "listeners." These NPR advertisements are a genre unto themselves and are as interesting as the news they pay for. Take for example the weird corporate koans from ADM, or Archer Daniels Midland. "The shape of the future," ADM promises. What? "If you ask nature the right questions she will answer." Huh? ADM is a colossal agri-biz company. Given their political prominence I'm glad they can speak to nature and interpret her oracular pronouncements about the future. But I talk to nature too and I hear something different about what ought to come.

In one ad from past months an ADM mouthpiece asks us to "imagine the world as one big agricultural field where crops are grown where they grow best." I try and imagine this "shape" of the future. Actually, ADM's vision of a worldwide agriculture almost seems like our present - except for the fact that crops are not now "grown where they grow best," but rather where they can be produced the cheapest. "Best" and "cheapest" are not necessarily synonyms. In a world where A cheap price is contingent on cheap oil to transport product from cheap labor zones to affluent markets. It seems prudent for us to try and save some local agricultural industries from extinction while we can. Do we want all of our crops to go the way of plums, apricots, and garlic? Do we want all our crop lands to follow the fate of the San Fernando and Santa Clara Valleys while we import the garlic, apricots and plums they once produced from overseas? Against the vagaries and excesses of globalism it seems natural that we small local farmers take it upon ourselves to educate the public about the values and flavors to be to be experienced by consuming locally grown, sustainably produced, seasonally appropriate fruits and vegetables. I think of this provincial pro-local attitude as "domestic terroirism." Anybody promoting, advocating, or otherwise enhancing the bonds between their community and their local landscape by celebrating their local earth, their local flavor, is a domestic terroirist. Acts that educate the public about the seasons we are passing through are terroirist acts.

The fun thing is we can all be terroirists. Check the photo gallery link below to see what one local school teacher did with her class this week to help her students appreciate the beauty and bounty of fall on the central coast.

� 2003 Andy Griffin

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