Of the Earth: Growing stories in the fields

The Recorder, December 4, 2018, by Wesley Blixt

Who knew that tales from the near reaches of the food system could be so funny and so moving, or that local folks who have spent so much time honing their skills on tractors, in kitchens, at tables and in classrooms could also be so skilled in spinning stories, on stage, no less?

If anything, “Field Notes: An Afternoon of Storytelling with CISA,” presented Nov. 18 at Northampton’s Academy of Music, was a confirmation that our stories run deep, like an aquifer, nourishing the community and being nourished by them.

Photo by Jason Threlfall

CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) modeled the fundraising event on the “StorySLAMs” popularized by the “The Moth” and the Moth Radio Hour, in which 10 people compete in telling true stores without notes. Field Notes was moderated by WRSI host and food-systems champion Christopher “Monte” Belmonte, and there were no winners, apart from the sold-out audience, and no losers. Just great stories and more than a few laughs.

These included:

  • Laurie Cuevas’ blood-curdling cattle call, inherited from her father on the family farm in Cheshire and now earning a reprise on Sunderland’s Thomas Farm, which she runs with her husband, Jim Thomas.
  • The “unconventional” toileting and composting habits described by Alden Booth of The People’s Pint.
  • Ed Malinowski’s delightfully cruel way of dealing with pumpkin thieves in North Hatfield.
  • Nan Parati’s trials and tribulations as an outsider and southerner taking over — not to mention changing — Elmer’s Store in Ashfield.
  • Kasey Corsello’s long way home to Corsello’s Butcheria in Easthampton after first settling in Rome.
  • And the role of native peaches in Sandy D’Amato’s journey home to the Good Stock Farm cooking school in Hatfield as a James Beard Award-winning chef cooking for both the Dalai Lama and Julia Child’s 80th birthday (and writing for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as a food columnist).

There were more poignant moments, too, as Rebecca Martin of Northampton and Isis Feliciano of Holyoke explored the underbelly of the food system. Martin described what it was like to feel like an “outsider” trying to provide for her children with SNAP benefits, and Feliciano described trying to make ends meet as a teacher working for AmeriCorps.

And then there was David Wissemann who, in some ways, is the face of the next generation of Pioneer Valley farming. Representing the 10th generation to work the Warner Farm in Sunderland, Wissemann said he was “never told (he) had to come back” to the farm after college and traveling out west. Like a good number of his peers in the Pioneer Valley who had other great opportunities and skills, he came back to rediscover something profoundly compelling and nourishing in farming, and an opportunity to become part of an ongoing narrative connected to land.

“You’ll never get rich, but you’ll have some great stories to tell,” Wissemann said. We’ll leave it up to you to ask about the woodchuck that pretty much burned down the farm.

Speaking of Sunderland’s Thomas Farm, here’s a great omelet recipe built around its goat cheese.

Goat Cheese Omelet


4 eggs

4 T half and half (or buttermilk)

4 oz. goat cheese (Thomas Farm’s goat cheese is especially rich)

1 heaping cup of kale, Swiss chard or spinach

1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes

3 T chopped scallion and/or red onion

1 T finely chopped garlic

2 T olive oil

1 tsp. butter

Sautee the greens in oil with garlic. (Include a little onion, if you like.)

Vigorously whip the eggs with cream. Melt the butter in a frying pan and heat it just shy of browning. Pour the eggs into the hot pan, reducing the heat.

As the eggs solidify, spread the greens evenly over the surface. Add goat cheese evenly in slices.

When the eggs are firm, turn the omelet in half. Serve it topped with tomatoes, scallion and onions. (Add sour cream or plain yogurt, as desired, and serve with big chunks of toasted peasant bread.) Makes two to three servings.

The Cutting Board

At Field Notes, I ran into the ever-generous seed guru Danny Botkin of Laughing Dog Farm in Gill, and (as usual) he was bearing the fruits of a recent discovery. This time around it was, of all things, turmeric — that mainstay of Indian and Middle Eastern cooking that has gained a reputation as a powerful anti-inflammatory. Botkin gave me a piece of the just-harvested root, which looks a lot like its close relative, ginger.

“Five years ago, I wouldn’t have known what it looked like, let alone that you could grow it in these parts,” he said.

Me neither. Wonders never cease around Danny Botkin.

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at