I was greeted at Birmingham airport by Jordan, then quickly whisked away to an educational farm downtown where I was set to give a talk. Like a flash, one minute I was on a plane, wishing I had more time in Texas, the next thing I know I'm riding shotgun in Duq's chevy pickup, the warm Alabama air filling the cabin of his truck. This trip has been pretty whirlwind, one day here, back on a plane, then off to the next place. I'm finding it all a bit of a blur really, but there are some moments that just stand out. They'll be with me for all my remaining years. I'm forming new friendships, new connections and often taking away so much inspiration.
The educational farm in downtown Birmingham (Jones Valley Teaching Farm) was nothing less than inspirational, albeit on a small scale in comparison to the greater population, it's still an important catalyst for changing the way we view food, its production, and how we consume it and cook with it. It's a platform for education in a practical sense that I've been seeing all over the place, in America and back home. The people and the community behind it are driven by a passion to inspire positive change. I spoke but for a short few minutes to a class of school girls, I hope they got something out of it other than just my funny Aussie accent and answers on koala and kangaroo. I'm sure they did, well maybe talking about drunk koalas are more interesting. I did find of interest one question "do yo'all have jobs down there?" It's obvious that some deep social economic problems exist all over America and the impact of the financial crisis is clear as a sunny Alabama day. What better way to survive during hard times than to participate with your community in learning to grow, to be self reliant, to work together? We have a choice here people. We can choose to bitch and moan or we can implement action.
Duquette and Morgan followed the trend of lovely hosts that I've experienced across the country. These guys are the people that answered the call when I asked on this blog, "who in America wants me to visit their state". So thanks Jordan for getting me to Alabama. His mates 'Duq' and Morgan opened up their home to me, they organised everything, events, thrift store shopping and late night cocktails. I'm so glad that my trip has been a mix of staying with real people and some time in small motels. Not once have I stayed in one of those high rise chain motels, and I reckon my experience of America is the better for it. I've experienced an America like I never imagined. One where the people are as important as the history, culture and traditions. They're real people, often facing the the same challenges we do. For example Duq, a talented musician is struggling to self finance his next album, and he's relying on an online community to get him there. New technology to solve problems using the age-old support of being a true community. I can respect that. The idea of wanting to be independent in order to maintain your integrity, to stay true to what you believe in. Thats a hard call to make in this day and age.
I had my first American Q&A at bookshop called Church Street Books in Birmingham, which was recorded so maybe we can hear it at some stage, but listening to my recorded voice is like grating your ear off with a cheese grater. Horrible stuff. But a big old bunch of people arrived, listened, asked questions, and hung about for a good chat. I've really found such value in that process. To be able to meet people who either read my blog or have a copy of my book is somewhat surreal. To think that we live in this quaint little house in the country of Victoria, and for me to be transported to the other side of the world to met people that are in some ways part of my live, albeit my online life. It's pretty special don't you think?
We had a great dinner, in fact an amazing dinner cooked by the team at Urban Standard, comprising of one of the best game ragus I've ever tasted. Partridge and quail made the most of the sauce, the birds shot by Morgan's dad. Amazing food. All the veggies came from the educational farm where earlier that day I'd talked to the bunch of school girls about being self sufficient and growing veg in the back yard. The dinner was a great example of what is possible with a little bit of community food connectivity and resourcefulness. Yes it was cooked by chefs in a commercial kitchen, but trust me, that means for nothing. And I'm not denigrating what good chefs like this do, I'm trying to say that this is possible for us at home. All it took was the chefs and event organises and urban farmers to come together to make it work. Thats something we can integrate into our lives. Meet with the people that raise your food at farmers' markets, raise your own veg/small stock and share idea's, culture, techniques and philosophy in regards to food. When you walk into the Piggly Wiggly you're not doing any of that. Your simply greasing the machine.
I thank the team from Alabama. I thank you for getting me to somewhere I never imagined I'd visit in my life. Somewhere that I've now got a very soft spot in my heart for. I can relate to Birmingham.
Next stop. Louisville, Kentucky home of swanky horse racing and bourbon!