Archive for April, 2009

More farm-fresh fun in North Carolina

April 30, 2009
Just follow this sign for the annual Piedmont Farm Tour

These signs dotted the countryside

While we don’t suggest that mere mortals try this, Wessel and I managed to visit 10 farms in five hours during the 14th Annual Piedmont Farm Tour in central North Carolina. That’s because we’re seasoned pros. When you’re researching a farm-travel guidebook, it’s all about chop-chopping (time, not vegetables). While I can’t stop and smell the radishes, I hope my research and Wessel’s photos will lead others to go on more leisurely farm visits. Here’s his collection from the Piedmont tour, with captions and everything.

Albino bunny was baffled by all the visitors

One of the angora rabbits at Avillion Farm

What I loved most about the farm tour, other than the awesome farms and the hordes of curious visitors, was that the route was laid out for me instead of me having to spend a day with Google maps to come up with my own. (Love Google maps, though!) If only every NC region had a farm tour and I could follow their routes! (Many more do now, including mountain regions and individual counties, such as Franklin and Jackson, to name a couple.)

Visitors tour at the Winery at Iron Gate Farm

Visitors tour vineyards at Iron Gate Farm

Like the gardens you’ll see in this yearly event, the Piedmont Farm Tour keeps growing and growing. Co-sponsored by Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Weaver Street Market  in Carrboro, the tour started in 1995 with less than a dozen farms. Now about 40 dot the self-guided route. This year some 3,000 families visited them. That’s a lot of farm fans. A few locations received 1,000 or so guests. Whoa!

The CFSA bills the weekend as “the nation’s largest farm tour,” and while there’s no national accounting of farm tours, their claim is quite credible. Tours include a mix of sustainable produce farms, those with humanely-raised animals, nurseries, vineyards, and educational agriculture projects. This year more than 150 volunteers helped the farmers, who stay busy chatting up visitors. While some of the farms on the tour are always open to the public, this is a chance to view others that typically aren’t. It’s also an excellent way to show kids where their food (and sometimes clothing) comes from, and if you pack a cooler, you can bring some home and cook it up for dinner.

Farmer Roland Walters models this year's farm tour T-shirt

Farmer Roland Walters sports tour T-shirt

Several farmers and volunteers were sporting this year’s awesome farm tour T-shirt, on a dark background emblazoned with bright orange carrots, 100% cotton. Not just any cotton, natch, but organic! Not just organic, but local (!), from TS Designs in Burlington. I haven’t told those guys how much I’ve taken a cotton to them, but they’ll absolutely be in the book. So will nine of the 10 farms I visited on Sunday. So will CFSA and Weaver Street Market, which is selling those awesome T-shirts for $18. As of April 28, they had plenty. Hey, could you reserve a medium for me?

Thanks from the bottom of our sustainable hearts to all the volunteers, farmers, organizers, and fans who made last weekend a smashing success!


The roads traveled are two-way streets

April 27, 2009

I wrote the essay below for a special travel section in the April issue of Ode MagazineIt’s on their website as well.  If you don’t know Ode, I suggest you check it out. It’s at a magazine stand near you. (Borders, Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, etc. Or better yet, buy a subscription and keep Ode alive.  Its tagline is: For Intelligent Optimists. Hey, that’s me! And I’m guessing you, too.

This farmer in Lombok, Indonesia plows with an ox-plow

Farmer on Lombok Island, Indonesia, plows his fields the traditional way

The Eiffel Tower. Big Ben. The Taj Mahal. Only 20 years ago, these were the notches on the traveler’s money belt, which, incidentally, was stuffed with travelers’ cheques. Today we’ve been there, done that. Affordable airfare and Western wealth (yes, we’re still comparatively wealthy even now, in the midst of the credit crunch) have brought travelers to every corner of the globe. We hop on transcontinental flights armed with our debit cards, functional in cash-dispensing machines from Dubai to Denali.

But simply seeing the sights is no longer enough. We want to stray from those beaten paths, dig deeper, get a read on how the locals live, work and play. This can include eating at a restaurant favored by residents instead of Westerners, participating in an outdoor adventure or visiting sites not found in most guidebooks. In industry jargon, it’s called “experiential travel”-travel we live through instead of look at-and it’s never been more popular. It’s popular because it’s typically cheaper than traditional travel; money is tight but we still want to go on vacation, some of us to faraway places. And it’s popular because we want to tread more lightly during our trips, in terms of our impact on the environment and on the people we visit. We want to give something back.

The desire to experience a different culture through activities and people goes deeper than adding another notch to the money belt, though that plays a role, too. It’s as basic as life. It’s our fellow human beings who transcend us. At the end of the day, we recall the burka-clad woman on the train reciting prayers as much as we do the centuries-old treasures in the museum.

A polar-bear-shaped license plate from Northwest Territories

Diane's much-coveted gift from locals in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, Canada

When I think back to one of my life’s highlights-seeing the northern lights in the Northwest Territories, Canada, during 2002-I also relive the hospitality of the citizens of tiny Fort Smith, who cooked for me, took me dog sledding and gave me a polar-bear-shaped license plate that hangs in my house today. The most lasting impression of my 11-week backpacking trip to Europe in 1982 is my still-enduring friendship with Federico, who lives in Vicenza, Italy. In my home state of North Carolina, as I travel to research a farm-travel guidebook, the farmers stand out as much as their bounties or the sweeping rural landscapes.

Diane (left) met Federico Lauro in the mid 1980s

Diane and Federico Lauro in Vicenza, Italy, in 1986. And, yes, they're still in touch.

My reaction is hardly unique. While I’ve done a fair amount of traveling of my own, I’ve also interviewed hundreds of people over the past eight years for a column I write for The Boston Globe called “Where They Went,”  about other people’s trips. Without fail, these travelers will recount adventures, sights, tastes, but almost always add: “The people were the best part. They were so nice, so warm, so welcoming.” Those people’s stories are the ones they recount to me again and again, especially if they were allowed a look inside a community or a family.

These days, even the most mainstream tour operators include experiential travel on an otherwise-standard tour. For example, in the 2009 Grand Circle Travel land and cruise tour “China and the Yangtze River,” participants will not only visit the Great Wall, Beijing and Hong Kong; they’ll tour a kindergarten or senior center and have a home-hosted lunch. “You’ll see local customs enacted first-hand as your gracious hosts prepare and serve a typical Chinese meal,” the itinerary reads. For the traveler wanting a less-staged version of hospitality and sightseeing, many cities have forms of community-based or locally led tourism, which originates with citizens instead of national or international tour operators.

A local guide prepares a meal for a 2-day hiking trek on Lombok

One of our local guides prepares an Indonesian meal during a hiking trek up Mount Rinjani (12,224 ft.) on Lombok.

Digging deeper also requires that we set aside our demands for a money-back-guaranteed quality and “safe” experience. That can be instructive in itself. I recall a community-based “ecotourism” hiking trek my husband and I chose on the island of Lombok in Indonesia. The guides lit our campfires with the help of splashes of gasoline from the jugs they carried and they littered along the way. I later reported these issues to the organizer, who lived in the capital of Mataram, miles and worlds away. He was extremely apologetic, as he’d been trying to get the villagers to understand tourism basics. On the other hand, I saw the real way of life there. It was worth the trade-off. And I was much happier to donate money to people in the village than to an international travel outfitter.

These school children on Lombok are excited to see two cycling tourists

Schoolchildren in a tiny village on Lombok are excited to see two cycling tourists

After hearing me speak about the virtues of getting off the tour bus, one African safari tour operator told me proudly how at the end of his luxury lodge-hopping trip in Tanzania, he takes his clients into the city of Arusha to visit poor neighborhoods and give trinkets to the local children. “Everyone came away deeply moved,” he said. “The crazy thing was, after seeing all that big game, what I heard from them was it was the most memorable part of the trip.” I suggested he consider moving the outing to the beginning of the tour, so it would be on their minds as they met Tanzanian workers along the way. “Oh no, that would be too much for them,” he said.

Perhaps our challenge as citizens of the world is to decide how much is enough-and then go soak it in. Even if the recession has wiped out a quarter or more of our wealth, we’re still rich by global standards. Experiencing how other people live, whether in Appalachia or Addis Ababa, will make us even richer. And likely them, too.

Football and flag waving at West Point

April 23, 2009

From Di’s eyes: I cycled around West Point a few years ago and found the campus to be a beautiful and peaceful place, belying what they teach there. Another terrific stop in the area is Storm King Art Center, a huge sculpture park in Mountainville, NY.   

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published March 1, 2009, in the Boston Globe)

Bill and Diane Reilly (left), and Rachel and Jim Farley in the Michie Stadium at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Bill and Diane Reilly (left), and Rachel and Jim Farley in the Michie Stadium at the US Military Academy at West Point.

WHO: Bill and Diane Reilly,  of Lynn, Mass., and Jim and Rachel Farley of Peabody, Mass.

WHERE: West Point, N.Y.

WHEN: Two days in October.

WHY: To visit the United States Military Academy  and attend a football game.

EAGLE-EYED: The couples, who have traveled together for two decades, had originally hoped to see Boston College  play Army. “Jim is an avid Boston College sports fan, so the original plan was that the next time BC played Army, we’d go there. But then Army dropped BC from its football schedule,” Bill Reilly said.

The traditional cadet review at West Point

The traditional cadet review at West Point

FOLIAGE CALLED: They decided to go anyway, and picked Columbus Day weekend for peak foliage in the Hudson River Valley. It happened that Army would face Eastern Michigan. “It was easy to get tickets online, but what was hard was finding a place to stay because it was homecoming weekend,” Reilly said. They found rooms in Newburgh, about 15 miles north of West Point.

FABULOUS FORMATION: They left home at 4:30 a.m. on game day, and reached the Academy some four hours later. They headed to the traditional cadet review. “They marched in front of a reviewing stand all in dress uniforms and carrying their weapons while the Army band  plays. There are two brigades, about 2,200 total in the formation. It was very moving to see.”

Member of the US Army Parachute Team carries the American flag

Member of the US Army Parachute Team carries the American flag

FLAGS IN FLIGHT: The highlight, Reilly said, was a jump by eight members of the US Army Parachute Team, known as the Golden Knights. “First there was a helicopter, just a speck in the sky, and then eight paratroopers jumped from the sky. They were corkscrewing, with smoke trails behind them. It’s pretty impressive. One of them was carrying the American flag, and it was blowing in the breeze, and another had an Army flag. It was very patriotic.”

LOOKING BACK: Before the game the couples toured the campus of granite buildings situated alongside the Hudson River and visited the West Point Museum, which specializes in military history. “I wish we’d had more time to look around there. I’m a history guy.”

Diane Reilly (left) and Rachel Farley look at memorial marker

Diane Reilly (left) and Rachel Farley look at memorial marker

STORIED STADIUM: Reilly said Jim Farley was especially thrilled to see a game at Army’s famed Michie Stadium. “Before the game about 1,000 cadets march into the field all dressed in white. They line up and then the national anthem is played and they all salute the flag. At the command to dismiss, they go to the seats together, but they stand during the whole game. Sometimes they’d throw some of the smaller cadets up in the air and catch them.”  The couples cheered for the host Black Knights, who won, 17-13.

‘One Square Inch’ speaks loud and clear

April 8, 2009
Gordon measures the sound level after an airplane flies over

Gordon Hempton measures airplane noise during a hike through the Hoh Rain Forest

It’s next to impossible to get away from the sounds of our human activities, most of them now mechanized. We hear way more than we used to. Airplanes, leaf blowers, air conditioners, car traffic, humming refrigerators, cell phones, televisions. Many if not most  people aren’t even aware of the audio assault they face every day.

One Square Inch book cover

One Square Inch book cover

Can you think of a time you were in a quiet, really quiet, spot? Was it memorable? One of the quietest places I’ve been was just outside of a small village in the mountains on Crete, in 1986. Even then, there was some airplane traffic, but not much. I vividly recall that spot and others in North America and beyond where natural sounds reign. I seek them out and savor them because they are so rare.

“Audio ecologist” Gordon Hempton, with journalist John Grossmann, has just published “One Square Inch: One Man’s Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World,” a powerful treatise on our country’s vanishing supply of silence. The book was prompted by Gordon’s “One Square Inch of Silence” project in the Hoh Rain Forest at Olympic National Park in northwest Washington state.

Gordon Hempton in his Volkwagen Bus

Gordon in his 1964 Volkswagen Bus

I wrote a profile about Gordon last year for the July/August 2008 issue of Ode Magazine. The entire issue was about silence. Wessel and I spent two days and a night with Gordon, camping at the Hoh in his 1964 Volkswagen Bus and later going to Rialto Beach, also part of the national park.

The Jar of Quiet Thoughts

The Jar of Quiet Thoughts

Gordon’s literal square inch of silence is a few feet off the Hoh River Trail. It’s marked with a small reddish rock and a “Jar of Quiet Thoughts” – visitors’ musings on what Gordon has declared to be “the quietest place in the United States.”

An inch of silence can travel far, Gordon says. “If noise can impact many square miles, then a natural place, if maintained in a noise-free condition, will also impact many square miles. When you defend one square inch, in today’s world you help manage, to some degree, thousands of miles.”

Part of the book is a presentation of the one-square-inch theory, especially in relation to the ever-weakening National Park Service regulations. Like, for instance, those blasted helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon.

In the other section, Gordon relays lovely tales from people he met during a cross-country drive in the summer of 2007 “to take the sonic pulse of America.” In the slow-moving van, Gordon drove from his home in Joyce, Wash., to Washington, DC, talking to experts and regular folks about silence along the way and meeting government officials and legislators along the way.

This row of trees in Hoh Rain Forest once strarted as seedlings on a nursing log

This row of trees in Hoh Rain Forest once started as seedlings on a nursing log

If you get the chance, check out Gordon at one of his upcoming readings, from April 14-26, in Seattle, Portland, Sebastopol, Calif., and, finally, to the noisiest place in the country, New York City.

If you’d rather hear natural sounds in the privacy of your own home, Gordon’s book comes packaged with an audio CD of recordings from his cross-country trip, along with gorgeous photos of his favorite landscapes along the way.