I decided to start Cook the Farm because I realized that more and more of us have no idea how to connect the foods we eat with the acts of cooking and production behind them: working the soil, farming, processing the ingredients, etc. How can you happily eat a tomato if you have no idea how it is grown, harvested and canned? Too many of us see that magic word ‘organic’ and think that is all we need to know. But eating is an intimate ritual; it is the introduction of the world into our mouths and bodies. Are we giving this act enough value? Western trends say the “Mediterranean diet” is the healthiest way to eat. But my home of Sicily is just one island of the Mediterranean, and it alone holds countless local food cultures. I see hundreds of “Mediterranean diets,” and I think celebrating these culinary differences is crucial to how we relate across different cultures, habits and languages. Cook the Farm is interested in celebrating the diversity of culinary techniques and ingredients, as well as the social and agricultural traditions behind them. The Romans used to say, Mens sana in corpore sano, or, “There is no happiness without health.” And there is no health without awareness that we are all part of the unique system: bodies, minds, guts, and everything that we put into them, every single cell of the universe. We are responsible for this system—not just our own flesh and blood, but also the world we inhabit. Building awareness is at the center of Cook the Farm, a 10-week-long program for international students who are passionate about bridging the gaps between eating, cooking and farming.
How? Through lectures, tastings, and hands-on lessons both in the kitchen and on the land. Engage your brain, your hands, and your taste buds as we move from soil to stove to spoon.
Who? You do not need to be a professional chef, farmer, or food scholar. I planned this program for someone like myself, someone who might consider herself a bit of a cook, a bit of a scholar, a bit of a historian, a bit of a storyteller. Most importantly, you need to be motivated by curiosity, passion, and a sense of responsibility to the world. The program is designed for anyone who wants to reconnect the simple act of eating to the marvel that lies behind it.
What experience would you get from it? Unlike a traditional culinary school, you will not be tested on mastering such-and-such specific task. Instead, you will learn how to open your eyes to the complexity of our food systems. You may find yourself grappling with concepts of biodiversity and agricultural labor, or considering the prejudices and mythologies that underlie our beliefs about traditional cuisines. Before the course, you will be encouraged to read a selection of at least five assigned books, with an additional texts to explore while at the school. But the work will not just be mental. You will be expected to work in a vegetable garden. You will milk sheep and make your own ricotta. You will learn to forage edible greens. You will learn to bake Sicilian confections. You will taste a huge variety of various wines, cheeses, olive oils and nuts. You will engage with people who have devoted their entire life to preserving a variety of bean, or sustainable wheat farming.
How will you bring the lessons of the course into the world? We do not have to put up with the status quo of industrial food, but we do have to know what alternatives exist. Awareness will change your perspective on food, making the simple ‘act’ of eating a responsible and political choice. I believe that to tackle big problems, we have to start small. Cook the Farm will prepare you to do just that.