Now for the best story of Summer 2010.  A couple of weeks ago, I went to Springfield, Missouri, the land of my high school and my Dad’s side of the family.  You may know it as the Queen City of the Ozarks.  Or the hometown of Brad Pitt.  Or perhaps the birthplace of the über-famous Bass Pro Shops.

Today the city has a new source of renown:  They just started a Slow Food chapter, called Slow Food Southwest Missouri.  I was thrilled to be a part of the chapter’s inaugural event on July 26th — and for reasons I did not anticipate.

As part of the trip, I wanted to learn about the local food scene in Springfield and connect with the people who are building it.  I sent an email to my friend and food activist, Melissa Millsap.  She’s the Wonder Woman behind Urban Roots Farm, as well as the edible garden program of the Springfield school system.  It also turns out that she’s on the council, if you will, of local superheroes in the movement for good, clean food.

For the event, it was decided that we’d host a farm-to-table dinner, along with a screening of Shelley Roger’s lively documentary, What’s Organic About Organic?.  Amanda Millsap Owen, owner of Home Grown Food, a sweet marketplace that sources all its products from nearby farms, offered the lot next to her store as the venue.  A local artist created a beautiful promotional poster and the ticket sales took off.  By the morning of the event, we had over 65 tickets sold.  We were thrilled.  (And little nervous — could we pull it off?)

On the day of the event, a team of guys put up a huge white tent.  They hung rows of lights and set up the audio visual system.  Another group set the tables.  It was hot and humid, but we were a steady machine.  A big thunderstorm rolled through around 5 o’clock, and we kept on.  The Do-It-Yourself talents of this crowd got it done.

People were due to arrive at 8 pm, and we were ready for them by 6:30 pm.  And then…

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Hours Into The Original Venue

The Lights Go Up!

We decided one side of the tent should be a little more taunt.  We pulled up one of the rope lines, adjusted it to a few feet away, and started to hammer in the new stake.

WE HIT A GAS LINE.

Suddenly the whole lot reeked of gas.  There was no avoiding it.  A call went out to City Utilities.  They came down and ordered us to leave the premises.  They said — under no uncertain terms — that we could not host our public event there.

I would have photos of this part, but at the time, it was too tense to whip out a camera. Homer says it best.

Amanda, and her husband Ryan, then made an amazing offer.  “We just moved into a house two blocks away, why don’t we hold it in our backyard?,” they suggested.  And with that, the crew picked up every table and chair and walked it all down the gravel alley way to their yard.  The guys set up the screen in its new place on the side of the garage.  We hung white lanterns on the clothes line to help people find their way.  What happened then was a beautiful dinner, followed by an inspiring film, all under the stars.

Thank you to everyone involved — it was an unforgettable night.  The only way I can describe it is to say, “it did my heart good.”  I could not wish for than this:  A breezy summer night, breaking bread with friends and family, and conversations fueled by the spirit to make our world better.  Thank you to everyone in the Slow Food SW Missouri chapter for making it possible.  Now to many more!

Up and Running at the New Venue!

The Crowd Gathers for the First Event of Slow Food SW Missouri

The Backyard is Set for Farm-to-Table Dinner

With a Toast to Our Local Farmers!

I LOVED This Menu -- Both Its Design & Content -- Thank you all!

Meet Vitaliano Saravia.  How do I know him?  He grew the cocoa beans in my chocolate bar.  At first glance, he seemed a little grouchy, but after trying the chocolate, I know he had my best interests at heart.
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Pleased to Meet You:  Vitaliano Saravia

Pleased to Meet You: Vitaliano Saravia

Our introduction came by way of the Country of Origin Label law (COOL).  Congress passed it last year in the wake of several public food scares, including e-coli outbreaks.  It requires food producers to be able to trace the sources of their products.  (There are loopholes, but let’s go with the basic premise for now.)

Some companies, like Askinosie Chocolate of Springfield, Missouri, know to use this rule to their advantage.  As my friend Alex Mandl says, consumers are “over processed and over marketed.”  So many messages come our way, who knows what to believe?  The origin of our food often seems remote and suspect.  Add in the rough news about our usual means — pesticides and Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFO’s), for example — and we demand to know more about what we’re eating.  Smart companies are starting to communicate the transparent path to their growers and process.

With an Askinosie chocolate bar, there’s a Choc-o-lot Number.  In this case, it’s #060909, and when I go to askinosie.com, I learn the step-by-step stages of how this chocolate bar came into being.  It began when they shipped Vitaliano’s beans to the factory in December 2008 and ended when the bar was shipped out on June 10th, 2009.  I bought it at Rubiner’s Cheesemongers in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on October 3rd.

Now I’m tempted to get that update to Vitaliano.  Perhaps he’ll see this post.