Tag Archives: ancient grains

‘Before It’s too late’

My inspiration currently is food, I’m getting really excited about the connection between old vegetables, cereal and legumes and a way of life that is being forgotten. Like you probably already know we do a lot of work in Italy with sustainable tourism. My current hero though is an American chef called, sean brock.

Hence the title (I stole it from him) – he revived the culinary traditions of the American south from the ground up, that is what I find exciting claiming them back before it disappearnd it’s too late. He didn’t just recreate the recipes which he had loved growing up, he went as far as getting people to grow old grains that were extinct, like Carolina rice, in a search after the real taste. I sometimes play with the idea of running a restaurant like that or having a company called “Real Tastes”, finding the real foods that aren’t grown anymore, growing them and making food for people from them. If you end up at my kitchen table that’s the game I play almost every day, and I think everyone should.

My Current hero (with vegetable tattoos)

What excites me about all of this is creating a way to take people into another layer, into an experience. Into the well being of the past, into the rich taste of real stripey tomatoes, black chickpeas. I mean, seriously wherever you live there have been veg, cereal pulse, cheeses, all grown or made in certain ways for hundreds of years, and it’s worth reaching for that taste, finding that old way of being, and weaving it into your life.

What I like about Sean Brook’s work is that he went after taste the wholesome way, and that inspires me. We have been working with cultivating some old Italian Varieties for the Heartland Association, mainly wheat, with the queen grain in my view being Solina, the soft and warm mountain grain of Abruzzo. You wait until you taste a homemade pasta made with this grain (don’t freak out if you can’t find any, just send us an email and we can get some sent to you).

Ancient Italian grain
Solina Harvest
Solina and Spinach pasta

I love taking our volunteers and getting them to help plant the fields, grow grain, harvest it by hand with us, plant herbs and gardens, and I love teaching them about conscious cooking, and the art of Alchemy in food.

Carrying apple cuttings from the red mother tree to be grafted unto our apples.

I am not joking you, eating from your garden is one thing, but eating ancient grains that have been grown in the mountains of central Italy for thousands of years, and getting people to learn how to cook them with magic, eating them with veg and pulses that too have molded to the people and the land over a millennia and simply sitting in front of the fire and letting all of that go in…. it’s like what the locals say about olive oil, “it’s not food, its medicine”. The olives are not only not sprayed, for the better part they have not even been picked for years, seeing no man, but the air and water are pure, and so you end up with – sun, stone. solitude, and silence, as is the olive tree lore.

Olive harvest with an Abruzzan Shepherd of the mountains.

The thing that inspires me, in all of that, is creating an experience. I am working on a new model for sustainable tourism, and developing a new type of campsite experience, and I want to make the Alchemy of conscious cooking one of its main pillars.

Along with all of that, I believe its time we take Glamping, as it’s called, into another direction, I don’t appreciate that it has become this Instagram sort of experience, I want it to be real, I want to combine 4 elements in the campsites we work to create. We already covered food, the second is obviously, open unspoiled nature, the third is the structures themselves, and I have always preferred the tribal ones, although I have seen some amazing spaces that inspire me in other directions. You can inspire people in so many ways by taking them into a setting. I loved staying at the Albergo Diffuso (scattered hotel, as in, it’s not just one building but half of the old village) of Sextantio in North of Abruzzo, it’s like living in an untouched medieval hilltown – the whole feel is 15th century, the houses are untouched and all done in an old way, the restaurant is in a castle cellar, it allows one to drift into another place, to dream..

The old rooms of Sextanio inspire a dreamlike atmosphere

The fourth pillar is inner work. My volunteers make me laugh a lot (even if I make them cry in return) but together we have made experiments in group conscious work, I am their guinea pig and they are mine, and for a spell, we experiment together in another way of being. The setting is wild Abruzzo and you can feel the old Samnite pastoral nomads walking their sheep in the air, and so we too let go and find different ways. I let them explore consciousness and they let me take them to places they haven’t been before, and we keep the process open and shared. We also run events that take people into this process on a deeper layer, and so this fourth element is the one I deem most important. A lot of it is allowing people to share more, and putting things in the centre, but the connection to weather and body and how everything communicates with itself is also important. One of the things that happen when we host for example is that it always rains when new people come, it’s like a rule, we will be enjoying months of Italian sunshine and…. boom, a newcomer and a storm. Explain it to a 21-year-old?!, but the thing is that some of them get it, so much so they kind of control the weather afterwards, so if you end up seeing some really strange weather, it isn’t climate change, it’s one of our volunteers on a wild day, Ok I’m just joking.

Group work in the Sun

I’ve seen our workers become telepathic, and all it took is putting them into the group making process, living in nature, and sharing life together in a tribal setting, they wake up at 4 am in different tents going through the same thing, later they go back living in separate countries and the same thing happens, its like for a spell they are still connected, yet after a while the spell (usually) fades.

Fire time magic and the power of being

I would like to develop this whole system into the campsites we design and work with, that’s what excites me, a framework and experience from the ground up. Lucy is also a fountain of ideas, she has endless experience types, and how to tailor them around a business plan and she makes me really laugh at some of the ideas of what she would like to see in a campsite/retreat experience.

So this is our current focus – we have started designing a whole new type of experience, and its code is going back to wholesome, to the food grown in a locality, to its history and tradition. The magic of being together in nature. I feel quite amazed that somehow all I need to do is choose a new direction and life finds me the people to work with, and suddenly there is this flow of people asking for our help to design their campsites. And here was me thinking we went against the “Glamping” stream, in that we always push for sustainability and back to earth practices. I thought most people just want to turn their campsite into a money-making machine, but I was wrong, and people find us exactly for that, so in order to help, I thought I would write the basics down, good ideas should be shared openly. I can’t say it will be a good idea for everyone but it inspires me, before it’s too late.

Ancient Seed in neo-integration

There is a small slow revolution happening in Central Italy, you haven’t heard of it because it isnt spoken of loudly, but its happening …….

In Italy all the subjects of Glamping and organic farming and slow nature walks are less developed, but where they do take place the approach is very different, its deeper, its like people have gone all the way back to an old life that still lingers in small village communities, villages that still hold their cultural identity and history, something which is becoming hard to find now in the countryside in the UK, not to say our villages arent special they are, its the link with the past that is lost.

Because of our work in sustainable tourism in the central Italian region of Abruzzo, we have little by little, been exposed to a host of small eco projects,  always started by young people that have gone back to the land, and started farming the old way, usually with a twist, there is a wealth of ancient grain, cereal, fruit and vegetable varieties that are being harvested and preserved by these  projects, from tomatoes to cucumbers, apples, melons, but above all in Italy, its the ancient wheat, the secret indigent in speciality pasta, some of which is almost gulten free, and if you have heard of people with wheat intolerance going to Italy and eating pasta and noticing that for some strange reason they can digest it….. well there is a reason.

We have made some efforts with the Heartland Association, to get all those projects unified and create some sort of net, a net that can share and offer some sort of alternative, obviously our main focus is sustainable tourism, but its there in Central Italy that a small revolution is taking place, its not Glamping, its going back to the nature of two generations ago, and its there where the old and the new are coming together in a way we believe is more wholesome, no longer camping in nature is just a chic experience, its a whole way of travel into the past, into meaning and health, into foods we forgot existed. 

Having this window opened to us through our work in tent making, we felt that we need to help share it with others, especially now, as the UK is looking to be disconnecting itself from the Mainland of Europe, there is an option we must not neglect, and possibly one worth considering before (and if) the gates are closing, is that on the mainland and especially in the southern and central countries of Europe one, one can still reach back in time and develop a new way to socially innovate in marginalised rural areas. 

I dont want to put people back home off, there is much scope of this in the UK too, and actually we who have been responsible for the glamping industry taking such an important place in countryside development, should have been a little more responsible, so yes often things did go hand in hand and organic farming and country life did get enmeshed with the this new way of camping.

But im afraid the biggest problem is that in the UK, rural identity has been mainly lost, and so the old way of farming, the culture of place can no longer be integrated as equal parts with camping in nature, and so we focus more and more on new ways and new styles to spoil ourselves in the outdoors, which is nice of course, but to me seems a little lacking. 

This blog post is already quite long, but we havent even reached its main topic, and that is Ancient grains, hope you manage to keep on, we are almost there.

The vision we are trying to develop is where sustainable tourism is based on taking people into rural areas, developing a system of slow ventures into wildest nature, inner work, personal transformation, and all taking place in the framework of small scale organic farming based on local culture and most importantly local food, its food that can heal, its been cultivated by nature for us in an unbroken chain of the love of man and his surroundings, the toil of his soil and the mountains, the wealth of health these older food verities offer us is a link, and together with the cultural aspect of living in nature, one thats still holds in Italy undisturbed, you can reach back in time to pre-Roman inhabitants of the land, and thats the experience we want to develop, to take us all back into that primal connection that was lost.

So…. on our site in Abruzzo, we have been cultivating ancient grains, other have gone into this in more detail so here is a link to read further, most of these grain verities have been grown in the mountain regions of Abruzzo for over 1000 years, Solina (grano tenero) and Senatore Cappeli (grano duro) and others, those are wheats that have not been modified so heavily, and of course spelt the mother of wheat, it seems like what is the big deal, but you wait until you eat a plate of fresh Solina pasta, when you eat organic spelt whole grain cooked like rice, when your body accepts the right levels of gluten, and isnt poisoned by herbicide, its amazing to see our small whet field shining like gold next to the modern wheat fields of the neighbours, one of which we knew was sprayed with herbicides and is literally brown, and that should tell the whole story. 

So this year having grown all of those from seed on our site, Its amazing to observe this integration with the old and the new, and I feel sorry that we have lost the chance to have the same in the glamping industry in the UK, the Vision we should offer to clients coming to nature is of slow walks, of local foods, but more than all we should be able to bring back the foods that have kept us healthy, and the culture that has made us rich, those should be key elements I think in going on holiday in a sustainable tourism destination, I feel that as we are developing the concept from the ground up in Italy, we have a chance to make it slightly different, and I hope it will be more integrated.