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LiveBlogging From Edible Institute 2011 (Highlights from DAY 2)

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Good morning and welcome to day 2 of Edible Institute 2011. I'm you're host, Kurt Michael Friese, publisher of Edible Iowa River Valley. You are invited to follow me on Twitter (@KurtMFriese), visit my restaurant, check out my blog, and preorder my new book Chasing Chiles. please remember this a liveblog so forgive the typos that happen on the fly...

The liveblog for day 1 - where Joan Gussow did the keynote - is here. Hashtag for the event is #ei2011.

Before we get going, I'd like to give a great big shoutout to Steve and Krista at Edible Santa Barbara, who set this weekend up here and also to Bruce Cole at Edible San Francisco - the instigator of the Institute. Thanks to you all.

Also, a word from our sponsors - a extra shoutout to the folks that helped make this thing happen:

St. Germaine

Green Project Consultants

and Verterra.

Coming up, a talk with Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo. But first, we have "High-quality, artisanal products and their role in the local food world." Represented on the panel will be:

The aforementioned St-Germain Liqueur (Robert Cooper, distiller at Cooper Spirits)
Clif Family Farm and Winery (Lindsey Graham)
VerTerra Dinnerware (Josh Parker, COO)

Moderator: Tracey Ryder

Parker points out that the gala dinner we enjoyed last night at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum with all the wonderful, local artisinal food would have been a lot different if served on plastic plates. Instead it was on his really cool dinnerware, made from fallen leaves and water (no really, that's it). They're pretty, they're sturdy, and they're compostable.

Now Lindsey is giving us a history of Clif Winery, and yes it is the same folks who put Clif Bars in co-ops and Whole Foods in your area. They now have a farm in addition to their vineyards, with olive trees and vegetable gardens and bees and such. Surprisingly unusual in Napa County. They've begun a seed saving project as well.

Cooper has some nice things to say about Edible Communities' integrity (aw shucks), and is now talking about his own history as a 3rd generation distiller and about how he developed St. Germaine. By the way, if you haven't tasted it you really must avail yourself. It's a 40 proof liqueur from hand-picked Alpine elderflowers. Delightful stuff.

So Cooper discovered the elderflower flavor at a London bar, where the bartender had just made his own. When it was described he thought "Wow, this might be like Campari that tastes good!" He fell in love with it and though everyone thought he was crazy he began making it (OK, well, it took a few years to find sources and such). It took several tries, but he eventually got it really really right. His father didn't think it would work so he went and built a separate company himself. Dad was wrong. Obviously he loves it now.

They are beginning to cultivate their own flowers (so far they're all hand harvested in the wild.

Edible Can-Can Classic cocktail competition is coming - a nationwide cocktail creation event with an emphasis on having bartenders create their own new cocktails from local flavors. Sounds cool, so stay tuned.

One questioner asked Cooper if he thought the artisan cocktail movement was a fad (short answer: no). And another questioner wanted to know if Clif Family Farms had a production kitchen for their added-value products (same short answer - they contract that out)

Now a questioner is asking about Verterra's publicity methods. He's saying it helps to have "such a dynamically terrific product"

Virginia Willis asks Parker how much do you give away? He says it's a tricky balancing act, and is talking now about branding in general. He likes "narrowcasting" as opposed to broadcasting.

Where do you get the leaves? Areca Palm, in India, is raised for the beetle nut, and leaves were being burned. Low energy uses, compost the waste, each shipment from India to their warehouse in New Jersey uses equivalent of an 18-wheeler from NYC to Boston. Costs are less than bamboo but still more than paper or plastic.

One trillion with a T pieces of disposables are used every year. Verterra makes about a million a year.

And that's a wrap for that panel, back in 15 minutes with Steve Sando

And we're back. Rancho Gordo founder Steve Sando will share his journey from frustrated home cook to "agri-preneur", running a company dedicated to presenting indigenous New World food to his fellow Americans. With a focus on beans, from growing to marketing, in both the US and in Mexico, Sando will show off his collection and share the story of the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project, which is encouraging Mexican farmers to grow their own heritage beans (and corn) for Rancho Gordo instead of bland hybrids for an elusive and mostly disappointing international market.

He's starting with a bit of history, and talking about the influence of Native Seeds/SEARCH and my friend and Chasing Chiles coauthor Gary Nabhan.

His advice to agri-preneurs "Have a really good script, study it well and then throw it away"

Powerpoint time with scenes from his bean farm. he says beans are incredibly easy to grow, the hassle comes at harvest. He grows some amaranth too. Trial gardens are 2.5 acres and production is 170 acres

Some of his farmers are trained at UC Davis and they do something called bean day, about seed saving primarily, and after 4 years of doing this Steve asked them about the effects on flavor and they "we're like deer in headlights." They'd never bothered to taste them - it was all about yield.

Everything at his farms is done by hand except the very end of harvest, the last 10% or so, when a "Rube Goldberg machine" comes and harvests the last of the beans and turn the plants back into the soil.

He's now talking about the negative effects of NAFTA and Chinese produce on the Mexican growers and heirloom products.

Sando uses an example of a couple of sacks of a special oregano that he bought from a Mexican farm (and he made their year) to illustrate the point that it's shameful how little it would take to help these people and "They're our neighbors and we aren't being very good neighbors"

He points out that Cannelini beans aren't Italian they're Mexican. So are French flageolet. "Without new world culture the rest of the world wouldn't be what it is"

Piloncillo is a sugar that his Mexican farmer friends grow that sees none of the sulphur that regular sugar sees - 4 doses during processing. And apparently diabetics tolerate this sugar.

Now some photos of some tasty looking dishes made with his beans, now some photos of various heirloom beans

Bruce Cole asks about his quinoa, which Sando says is grown by a "Cooperative of Bolivian ag widows." My wife Kim just pointed out to me that she loves being in a room where everybody knows what quinoa is (it's a very delicious and healthy South American grain, btw, and it's pronounced "KEEN-wah" - just in case you're not like the folks in the room. Go try it, it's fantastic)

Back to beans and Gary's fave, the blue-speckled tepary - the only one that is native to what is now the US southwest. It's also a Slow Food Ark USA registered food (thanks to Gary of course).

He mentions that he likes the flavor of epizote, but he doesn't believe it helps with the gas issues.

He's wrapping up, but go check out his online store and follow him @RanchoGordo

*******************

Back from lunch

And now's the time when we split up into different workshops, and the one I've chosen is about fine tuning food blogs. So it seems I have the semi-ironic task of blogging about a seminar on blogging.

Class is being led by Dianne Jacob, who you might remember from yesterday. She's written a fantastic resource for folks who like to write about what they eat called Will Write for Food

The 2 questions she wants to answer today are: Why should anyone care that you have a blog? And how do you make yours stand out?

Make sure you understand why you want to write a blog, and make sure that the reason is NEVER "in order to make money"

Among the ways to stand out: humor, self-deprecation, confession, guilt. Your job is to elicit emotion.

She cites as an example a David Liebowitz blog about meringues

She cited Pioneer Woman as a great example of self deprecation. Other examples too about evoking emotional response, such as simplyrecipes, 101cookbooks, smittenkitchen and orangette

A trick for discovering and defining your literary voice is to try to copy the style of someone you admire and then do it in an exaggerated way.

Become part of a community - read other blogs and comment on them, but not "looks delicious" Be thoughtful and provoking to build interest in your own blog.

Push vs. pull technology - push the info out there using feedburner or other RSS system.

Watch your layout. Well shot dominant images are important

Get in with the aggregators (I use foodbuzz.com)

To get more comments, start an argument, or have a hissyfit, interview someone famous if you can.

Check out Dianne's post about "Is food blogging too much work?"

Lots of good foodbloggers are here in the room, including my friend Jill Richardson over at LaVidaLocavore and the wonderful Barry Estabrook from PoliticsOfThePlate.

Here are some others:

http://www.riogozofarm.blogspot.com
http://www.thefoodsavant.blogspot.com
http://www.venturafoodhappenings.com
http://www.caorganicfoodie.blogspot.com
http://www.hungrypassport.com
http://www.oneblockdiet.com
http://www.ditchthebox.com
http://www.allanabytes.wordpress.com

************************************

And here comes more stuff about writing with the great Molly Watson

Molly notes that most food writers come from food or from writing and then combine the one with the other. She points out that you need to actually love both. And note carefully that it's more about writing than it is about food.

"I wanna write things that I wanna read"

Pay attention to the difference between a topic and a story. Edible Schoolyard, for example, is not a story. The story is the people behind it.

She asks whether the crowd prefers print or electronic, but it's a trick question because they're the same thing.

Watson doesn't have a book, and doesn't plan on one as yet. She insists that it must be either lucrative or fulfilling or she won't write it.

Pitch letters are job interviews, Watson says. And she's had more luck with longer pitch letter. And do the research, do the legwork and let it show that you did in your query.

An audience member asks how you can protect your idea from having an editor swipe it after you pitch it. Short answer: you can't. But again, most ideas aren't as original as you think, and remember the difference between a story and a topic.

Give preference to objective adjectives, and less to things like "yummy" and "delicious" and other subjective descriptors. << yeah, I'm guilty on this one sometimes.

Try to describe using all five senses.

Read a lot. Yes this point really is that simple and is that important. And not just food writing

She says her own writing is not advocacy or opinion. That said make sure you're not preaching to the choir - get your stuff in front of people who disagree with you or don't know about your topic. And I'll say it again - read a lot.

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