A Terroir-ist’s Manifesto

Terroir (French pronunciation: ​[tɛʁwaʁ] from terre, “land”) is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with the plant’s genetics, express in agricultural products such as wine, coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, heritage wheat, cannabis, and tea.

I begin today’s post with this Wikipedia interpretation so that no speedy reader inadvertently assumes that I’m commenting on terrorism.

Occasionally the tapestry of life weaves in coincidental ways and when it does, it can spark delight. Such was the case on Saturday.

My Food Hero and Poet - Gary Nabhan

My Food Hero and Poet – Gary Nabhan


It was inside my old boxy Volvo in 2001 where I first heard an interview with Gary Paul Nabhan. I didn’t realize from listening that he lived quite near me but I was mesmerized by his story of eating food found within a 100 mile radius of his home. While not the least bit enticed by his method of harvesting road kill, I became deeply interested in the concept of local foods and of foraging. I still have much to learn about the latter.

From that moment on, I’ve sought out Community Supported Agriculture, worked to encourage local farms and entrepreneurs, written this blog for individuals who are struggling with how to use their weekly CSA deliveries, learned to harvest my own mesquite trees for flour, joined the Board of the Desert Botanical Garden, funded school gardens in our state, and more but it all began by listening to Gary.

I’ve met him a couple of times. Once at the AZ Humanities Council and again when I spotted him at the Outstanding in the Field dinner. Both times he was pleasant but I felt something of a teenaged groupie snapping his photo and stumbling for words.

Then came a special offer; would I lead a workshop on The Power of Local Economies at a  conference called Going Native; Savoring the Southwest. Happily I agreed and then, learned that the keynote speaker would be the world reknowned writer, conservation scientist and pioneer of the local food movement, Gary Nabhan. I was one of 6 workshop leaders and Gary was center stage. Being named alongside him and eating lunch with him to share stories about the food movement created a perfect day.

This is the poem that he shared with the attendees:


A Terroir-ist’s Manifesto for Eating in Place:

by Gary Paul Nabhan

Know where your food has come from
through knowing those who produced it for you,
from farmer and forager, rancher or fisher
to earthworms building a deeper, richer soil,
to the heirloom vegetable, the nitrogen-fixing legume,
the pollinator, the heritage breed of livestock,
the sourdough culture rising in your flour.Know where your food has come from
by the very way that it tastes:
its freshness telling you
how many miles it may have traveled,
the hint of mint in the cheese
suggesting what the goat has eaten,
the terroir of the wine
reminding you of the lime
in the soil that you stand upon,
so that you can stand up for the land
that has offered it to you.Know where your food has come from
by ascertaining the health and the wealth
of those who picked and processed it,
by the fertility of the soil that is left
in the patches where it once grew,
by the traces of pesticides (or hopefully, lack of them)
found in the birds and the bees there.
Know whether the bays and shoals
where your shrimp and fish once swam
were left richer or poorer than before
you and your kin ate from them.Know where your food has come from
by the richness of stories told around the table
recalling all that was harvested nearby
during the years that came before you,
when your predecessors and your ancestors,
roamed the same woods and neighborhoods
where you and yours once roamed.
Know them by the songs sung to praise them,
by the handmade tools kept to harvest them,
by the rites and feasts held to celebrate them,
by the laughter let loose to show them our affection.Know where your foods have come from
by the patience displayed while putting them up,
while peeling, skinning, coring or gutting them,
while pit-roasting, poaching or fermenting them,
while canning, salting or smoking them,
while arranging them on the plate for our eyes to behold.
Know where your food has come from
by the s-s-s-s-slow s-s-s-s-s-savoring of each and every morsel,
by letting their fragrances lodge in our memories
reminding us of just exactly where we were the very day
that we became blessed by each of their distinctive flavors for the first time.When you know where your food comes from
you can give something back to those lands and to those waters,
that rural culture, that migrant harvester,
curer, smoker, poacher, roaster or vintner.
You can give something back to that soil,
something fecund and fleeting like compost
or something lasting and legal like protection.
We, as humans, have not been given
roots as obvious as those of trees.
The surest way we have to lodge ourselves
within this blessed earth is by knowing
where our food has come from.



It’s National Poetry Month. What’s your favorite food poem?

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  1. Ah – you must have been in heaven – local food AND poetry!

  2. Oh that Gary Nabhan! Last night I was searching for inspiration to write my new Ruchikala menu and then I wake up to this. You always have the best timing 🙂

  3. Mesquite trees for flour??? I knew you could use them for smoking, but tell me more about this flour…

    • Yes, the beans grind into an amazing flour. It’s gluten free and slightly sweet and makes amazing pancakes.

  4. I would definitely have signed up for YOUR workshop, Tammy! What a treat for those in attendance.

    Thanks for sharing his poem.

    • It’s easy to talk about things we’re passionate about! Loved doing it. I had a very engaged audience.

  5. Excellent! It’s absolutely possible to eat a 100-mile diet here, or even a one-mile diet. Us modern consumers though, after being raised on a dizzying abundance and variety of imported, inorganic, and genetically altered foods, would likely find it very difficult to adapt to such a diet. Especially if we had to grow or forage for that food ourselves, find our water within that same area, and cook it with homemade energy. I have such an enormous amount of respect for previous generations that did all these things!

    I’ve been browsing a copy of the recently released Dandelion Hunter http://www.rebeccalerner.com/ and would love to see a collaborative Phoenix-area version. In fact, every town should have this type of resource!

  6. Tammy . . .this was excellent. Congratulations for being asked to lead a workshop and getting to know your poet food hero better! Loved the poem!

    • I loved his poem too Debbie. It so speaks to the spiritual connection of our food to the earth.

  7. I am so in support of knowing where my food comes from. We can only get fresh vegetables from the local stores and markets. Our one store labels produce that is not from South Africa. I’m going to start campaigning to get them to label from where in South Africa the rest comes from. Thank you for inspiring me!

    • That would be terrific Tandy. There is much I don’t know about my food but I’m working to improve that.

  8. I so believe in knowing where your food has come from. It’s become harder and harder over the decades but I believe there’s a growing trend towards getting back to our grass roots and reclaiming that knowledge we’re entitled to xx

    • Yep, it seems a right, doesn’t it Charlie? I’m planning a wonderfully local weekend.

  9. Tammy,
    That was really wonderful to read. I can only imagine how cool it was to be UpThere alongside your food-poet hero.

  10. What a fabulous development, Tammy! Fantastic to be up there alongside someone you respect and admire so much. I would have been tongue-tied….

  11. How fun and what perfect timing with the poetry! If you venture into that roadkill be sure to let us all know 😉

  12. There’s a wine bar here named Terroir, I never knew what it meant before 🙂

  13. Just added you to my blogroll…took me awhile 🙂

  14. Wow Tammy, this is exciting and wonderful news! Very happy for you! 😀


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