Thursday, July 14, 2016

Song of the South

Nothing needs to be hot right now. It's July.

Not showers or bath water, not food nor drink, certainly not clothing. It's time to embrace the heat. My method involves taking a walk along and knee-high dip in the river this morning and giving into my first heat nap this afternoon, both out of sheer necessity.

Sure those 96 degrees outside felt like 104 by 4:45, but it was a clear-skied, breezy 104. Honestly, it could be so much worse.

"Not sarcasm: I love this weather. #bringontheheat #you'll find me outside," a friend writes on Facebook. She was mocked and challenged, but I'm with her 100%.

So naturally, I did what any civilized Richmond woman living without air conditioning would do - and has done - since at least the 19th century: donned a thin cotton dress and grabbed a parasol to best deal with the heat outside.

My purpose was simply to stroll over to Rappahannock for oyster happy hour.

The dozen Old Saltes were chilled, the orgeat lemonade was possibly the most refreshing thing I ever put in my mouth and I could not have been happier to enjoy both in air conditioning that was doing its best to keep up, but mostly unsuccessfully.

Leaving the restaurant for the Valentine Museum, I passed one of Rappahannock's waiters standing on Fourth Street and joked about him being outside in the swelter.

"Like it wasn't sweltering inside, too?" he cracked, jerking his thumb at the dining room. True that.

Behind the Marriott's loading dock, a man in a black suit sat smoking a cigarette, pointing at my flowered umbrella as I walked by, saying, "That's a good idea." I wish I could say it was original.

At least I was walking East, so the worst of the sun was behind me.

The Valentine's auditorium was already filling up when I arrived hot and glistening, only to be reminded that of course the museum of the city of Richmond would be gracious enough to provide fans to its guests on such a sticky summer day.

After walking eight blocks, I was only sorry the fan didn't come with a bare-chested man to use it on me so I could just sit back and enjoy it. Addressing my own fanning needs instead, I spotted a Milky Way miniature at the feet of the woman next to me.

What, ho? There's chocolate?

On my way to score some of my own, I ran into a photographer friend and invited her to sit with me. Her backside barely landed when she spotted my candy stash and quietly asked, "Hmm, there's chocolate?''

You see, some messages get garbled as they're shared (like that childhood game "telephone") and other messages could be passed between dozens of women and the original message would stay true. Not to sound sexist, but we don't mess around when it comes to our chocolate.

But it wasn't chocolate we were there for, it was a screening of "Polyfaces," a documentary about Joel Salatin's game-changing Polyface farm, with a Q & A with Joel afterwards.

Between reading and having heard Joel talk before, I knew a fair amount about the unique farming methods and impressive results, but the Australian-made film showed how real people had become part of the movement by interning at Polyface to get grounded in farming basics or starting their own farms using his methods.

Hearing Michael Pollan of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" talk about asking Joel to ship him a chicken because he'd heard how fabulous they were and having Joel refuse, telling him to come to Virginia if he wanted to taste one of his birds, was a perfect example of how Joel marches to the beat of a different drummer.

His son picked up the tune, beginning by raising chickens as a boy and selling eggs to neighbors and progressed to then killing the old hens, cooking the meat and selling bags of chicken meat to neighbors for, what else, chicken pot pie.

The film wasn't shy about the rigors and realities of farm life - slaughter and processing animals, lots of cow pooping, farm dogs nursing - because one of the big differences in Joel's methods over mainstream U.S. farming is that his is more labor-intensive.

Somebody's got to move those cows, chickens and turkeys from field to field if you're replacing the use of chemical fertilizers with rich cow poop and yard bird scratching.

For those of us who recall the '70s, it was gratifying to see so many young couples excited to get back to the land and become part of a revolution in how we grow and consume our food. Watching a babe-in-arms eat through a fresh tomato like it was candy spoke to how we shape our children's palates and not in a good way.

I hadn't realized how fortunate we are to have access to Polyface eggs and meats since he only services an area three hours from the farm, but after watching the film, I'd have to say that his main role now is in teaching younger people his methods and inspiring new generations of conscientious farmers.

Who, coincidentally, look and sound a lot like the people being called hippies 40 years ago. Happy, groovy, nature-loving hippies. Not a thing wrong with that.

During the Q & A, things got feisty when someone asked about being told the farm now uses some GMOs and Joel wasted no time in disabusing us of that notion.

He raved about the contributions of the interns (even introducing three, two current and one former) and noted that they average one "all Polyface wedding a year," as in bride and groom were both employees or interns.

I've heard of people interning on farms and finding their soul mate that way, but I'm hardly the rise-at-dawn-and-do-chores type, so that was never really an option for me. So I may not be up to the rigors of farm life, but I can handle summer in the city like a boss.

"I'm fine with this weather," a guy tells me as I sashay by. "Think about February!"

Those of us who would prefer not to can be found outside. It's July. Sweltering, yes, but happy, too.  #nosarcasm

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