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NOFA Reflections

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thanks to our guest writer, MOLLY ROSE-WILLIAMS, for sharing these thoughts!

Last Saturday I spent the day immersed in farming workshops, lectures, and discussions, at the NOFA Conference in Burlington. To say the day was amazing would be an understatement—the collective wisdom of so many from the farming community produced a tangible and uniquely sustainable sense of inspiration that I have carried with me throughout the past week.

As someone with limited experience gardening, and no experience farming, NOFA served as the most wonderful crash-course in the logic of fresh, unprocessed nourishment. I attended three workshops: sourdough bread making, canning and food preservation, and intensive backyard gardening and extended season growing techniques. Eeach one of them felt like a doorway into a world that I had previously just looked at through the windows of cook-book pages or the lives of other people.

I learned, among other things, that carrots love tomatoes; asparagus loves parsley, basil makes peppers sweet and onions and snow peas are finicky bed-fellows while rice prefers to bed alone, unless you’ve got ducks. I learned that apples can replace pectin, and that bakers’ math can be misleading. What’s more, I am proud to report that since attending, I’ve also learned that although bakers’ math makes sense when written (just barely), putting it into practice is like herding cats—or tiny, microscopic colonies of yeast, as it were.

Yup. So inspired and filled with confidence after attending the sourdough workshop, I wasted no time in putting the lesson to the test. I tried two different recipes for my sourdough starter: one French (higher ratio of water to flour that produces a creamier, sweeter loaf) and one San Francisco (lower ratio of flour to water that produces a more sour loaf).

I should put into context how amazing it is that I have two sourdough starters sitting in my room right now. I made my first loaf of yeasted bread about a year ago, and thus far have led a charmed bread-making life—the dozen or so times I have made it since, luck has seemed to be on my side, and I have avoided even one black brick. But the more times the bread comes out edible, the higher my stakes get. I’ve wanted to try making sourdough for almost six months, but honestly, the fear of failing miserably has meant that until now, I haven’t gotten around to it. It wasn’t until NOFA that I finally came up with the courage to do so.

In her keynote lecture, Clara Coleman talked about emotional intelligence as what she sees to be the next step in the local food movement and growing the strength of the farming community. I think nurturing one’s emotional intelligence takes a different form in every person. As someone erring towards the side of perfectionism, there are few ideas as scary as learning from my mistakes—honestly, I’d rather just not make them in the first place. What’s more, there are few failures that smell so pungent as a poorly-tended sourdough starter. But this week, though it may sound silly, my decision to try out sourdough felt like one small fork full of organic material on my internal compost heap (her metaphor).

What’s more, I am even prouder to report that as of tonight, I will be throwing out both attempts at a sourdough starter (lest my room permanently smell of yeasty bacteria colonies), and am planning on starting the next one tomorrow.

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