By: Maddie McPhail, junior agribusiness major with a minor in integrated marketing communications
This past fall, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Seville, Spain, through Cal Poly’s International Center. As an agribusiness student, I was anxious to see the cultural differences between the United States, Spain, and other countries regarding food and the lives of local producers. While abroad, I was lucky enough to visit two continents, seven countries, and over 20 different cities. The “farm to table” movement has always interested me, and I wanted to learn more about farming techniques, sourcing, and how farmers are able to successfully market their fresh products in an ever-growing world. As the production of fresh products requires an increased level of effort, money, time, and other resources, it has been a joy for me to see the world supporting local farmers so that they are able to grow their businesses.
My first stop was in Paris, France, in October. One of the best examples of farmers traveling to set up at a market was each Saturday in downtown Paris. There, I met Dimitri, of La Charette Gourmande. He told me he travels from the French Alps each week to sell his fresh cheese. Representatives from Auvergne Limousine, another local cheese company from Overnia, France, gave out samples of cheeses ranging from sharp cheddar to sheep’s milk cheese. Many of these stands selling fresh products advertised they did not use preservatives, a growing movement in France.
In Morocco, I learned that almost all food bought and sold comes from the markets located in the medinas of each city. I visited Tetuan, Chefchaouen, and Asilah, and found it interesting to experience local producers working with resources at a more extreme level of scarcity. The main products sold at these markets were variations of bread due to the affordability to grow wheat in the surrounding hills. I also noticed this trend in the meals we ate while in Morocco; each main course consisted of at least one large bread item. The current health codes in Africa are very different and less regulated than those of the United States, which was exemplified when I saw meat and poultry items in the markets without refrigeration or covering. Traveling to these markets made me feel fortunate to have the current agricultural policies in place in the United States.
Living in Seville and traveling to various Spanish cities, I noticed the health food movement growing in Spain, as more stores and restaurants opened that advertised “locally grown products” as well as products from local farmers markets. For example, Seville, Spain had a farmers market each Saturday and recently has been a host to the openings of restaurants such as “Con Tenedor,” which changes its menu each day based on the advice of its local producers. In addition, “Milk Away,” a restaurant located on my street in downtown Seville, opened just before I arrived, that advertised that it solely produced smoothies and salads from locally grown fruits and vegetables.
I also visited Mallorca, an island located off the Southern coast of Spain, and noticed a continuation of this trend. While there, I ate at a restaurant called “Tapas,” located on the East side of the island near the city of Arte. This restaurant recited the local origins of the ingredients on its menu, including various types of prosciutto and other types of meats, as well as grapes from their wine selection.
During one of my last weeks in Seville, I participated in a cooking class at “Habla World”. We created authentic dishes such as salmorejo and tortilla. The ingredients for the two dishes consisted of just eggs, garlic, salt, tomatoes, bread, olive oil, peppers, and onions. Though we used few ingredients, the recipes turned out extremely flavorful, and our cooking professor explained the tastes of the dishes can be achieved so simply due to the pureness of the ingredients. This is a belief held by many Spaniards, as cooking is such an integral part of their culture.
Italy was no exception to the localization of its food products. Upon my visit to Florence, there were several restaurants and gelaterias that listed the origin of their ingredients. The workers at Eduardo’s Gelato, located near the Duomo, advertised flavors such as “Just Almond” and explained to each customer they used pure, local ingredients. Cinque Terre, which consists of five ancient towns on the coast of Italy, had markets in each of the five towns that sold local products. In Riomaggiore, the largest of the five towns, lemon is the main product grown by local farmers. They sell handmade lemon food products as a local delicacy.
In Ireland, I was able to visit my first “Christmas Market”, a phenomenon found in many European countries during the holiday season. This particular Christmas market was located in the quaint town of Galway, Ireland, and had products such as cookies, chocolates, wines, breads, and more made from locally grown produce. One company, “The Happy Loaf” sold breads ranging from sourdough to pumpkin to zucchini with the motto was “Only the Good Stuff”, as Happy Loaf only uses certified organic ingredients.
On one of my last trips, I visited Berlin, Germany and Prague, Czech Republic. Each of the weekend farmers markets in these two cities also took place in the form of Christmas Markets due to the time of year. The Christmas Market I visited in Berlin had locally sourced sweet wine, as well as locally grown cheese and raised beef products. The Christmas Market in Prague boasted over 20 stands devoted to variations of their locally grown almonds, as well as others devoted to “turdelnik,” Prague’s specialty dessert that consists of a doughnut filled with fruit or chocolate. The turdelnik stands each had representatives advertising bread made from local wheat pastures as well as fruit from local farms.
Overall, my trip to Europe surpassed all of my preconceived expectations of the fresh food movement around the world. My visits to different countries and cultures inspired me to continue to support the local producers in my area, as it seems the movement is making a global impact. I thank Cal Poly for the ability to travel and adapt to new cultures and places. I am especially thankful to the Agricultural Business Department for giving me knowledge surrounding food products, sourcing, and local and mass production. Now that I am back at Cal Poly, I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings me and my fellow Mustangs!