Encountering Food Systems, from Berlin to Kentucky

Lynn Peemoeller and Eric Ellingsen ceremoniously kiss the pig at their 2010 Shakertown wedding

Lynn Peemoeller and Eric Ellingsen ceremoniously kiss the pig at their 2010 Shakertown wedding

In frozen winter, Savoring Kentucky continues to receive a warm, sweet rain of fine, unexpected gifts. I am delighted to share today's gift, a guest blog post written by international food systems planner and activist Lynn Peemoeller. Lynn, a Brooklyn native,  now lives in Berlin, Germany. She found Savoring Kentucky as she researched places in Kentucky for her wedding to Lexington native Eric Ellingsen. Read on to learn which perfect venue Lynn and Eric selected, what they and their guests ate, how Lynn is assessing Germany's local foods in winter, art-food connections, and more. I am so grateful to Lynn for her work, and for sharing this fine story with Savoring Kentucky readers.

Encountering Food Systems, from Berlin to Kentucky By Lynn Peemoeller

'Kiss the pig head!' the guests cheered as the BBQ master held a charred head out to us on a platter lined with flowers. We had just made the grand entrance to our wedding reception, giddy and dazed after the ceremony. Some people have formal wedding dinners and posed photos by the cake. We opted for a good old-fashioned Kentucky picnic of pork, catfish, fried chicken and chess pie out in the peaceful rolling hills of Shaker Village this summer.

It is a long way to Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill Kentucky from where we live in Berlin, Germany.  We moved to Berlin from Chicago over a year ago so my husband Eric Ellingsen could direct the Institut für Raumexperimente (a joint project of the Artist Olafur Eliasson and the University of the Arts) and I could expand my work in international food systems planning and urban agriculture.

Food systems planning is a multi-disciplinary field that addresses the complexity of our food system from the farm to the fork, the garbage dump and everything in between. In the past my work has involved farmers markets, urban agriculture, teaching architecture and landscape architecture students, and recently top-down policy work and advocacy at the National, State and City level and simultaneous bottom-up civic engagement and education. Getting better food in schools for children is an example of a national public policy campaign that has had a lot of success in the US this past year.  As more and more people understand the link between what we eat and the world around us it's exciting to see how much momentum this movement is generating in communities all over the United States.

So while things are chugging away in the US, moving to Germany has been an industrial-scale learning curve for me, and not just the language, but also especially learning the historic, economic and cultural forces that have shaped the current food system in Europe. Although many perceive Germany as environmentally progressive, I see the connection between food, agriculture, and the environment as a deep, long and winding history. Much of this country was trampled by war and socialist control for a good part of the 20th century.  Food was not abundant, but rather a viable currency on the black market, or an object to be coveted, especially in former East Germany where people stood in line for hours just to get a bunch of bananas. During the 70's & 80's West Germany developed its industrial agricultural sector and after unification, East Germany was close behind. Today, supported by EU regulations, German farmland looks similar to American farmland and many of the same challenges that US small-scale family farms have to survive, exist here too.

As you might imagine in Europe, outdoor markets are popular and they setup camp all over the city, year-round. In our neighborhood, Prenzlauerberg, there are markets 4 out of 7 days a week. The vendors sell everything from vegetables and fruit to avocados and oranges to pantyhose and wine by the glass. It's possible that some of the same lemons at Berlin farmers markets are the same exact ones that end up in Chicago or Kentucky supermarkets, all coming from the same field in _________.

Farming is a tough business, and apparently even more so in the short cool season and sandy soils of Eastern Germany and the window for growing vegetables is rather short. So at the markets you find an enthusiastic celebration for what grows well locally; spring asparagus, summer strawberries, and in the fall, turnips, potatoes, cabbages, kales, pumpkins and apples. But other vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, berries, etc. are harder to grow. Corn on the cob is nearly impossible to find. There just isn't a lot of food being produced in this region and so in order to make ends meet farmers often supplement their stands with purchased produce. It was surprising for this once-was farmer's market manager to see the casual acceptance of so much non-local food at the markets and it makes me wonder what barriers we need to overcome in order to boost both supply and demand for more locally grown produce.

It was with increased longing for fresh corn, tomatoes, and a general abundance of hand grown vegetables last summer that the wedding in Shaker Village was especially fun and anticipated. My husband grew up in Lexington, and I in Brooklyn, but I am exuberant to embrace my new connection to Kentucky and southern foodways.

We wanted to treat our guests to an authentic experience, which we found in the simple elegance of the historically preserved Shaker Village. We worked long distance with David Larson, a James Beard recognized chef and his staff there to source as much locally grown produce as possible from their own garden and from local farmers.

Chefs prepare for Lynn Peemoeller and Eric Ellingsen's 2010 Shakertown wedding

Chefs prepare for Lynn Peemoeller and Eric Ellingsen's 2010 Shakertown wedding

Talk about international food systems planning! Even cream was carefully procured from Claiborne Farm, fatefully whipped into billowing spoonfuls dalloped over cobblers and pies. From the first meal on the Dixie Queen pre-wedding boat ride down the Kentucky river, I had a hallelujah moment with a ripe peach, and from there everything unfolded beautifully, accented with so much Kentucky flavor, from our heartfelt minister, Rev. Emily B. Richards, a native Kentuckian (now living in Philadelphia), to the Dunn's BBQ sauce and down to the most stunning bouquet a bride could dream of, made by local flower farmer Gae Granville Hoffman.

The getting married part was pretty good too.

Now we are back in the slick grayness of Berlin winter, enjoying the slow fade of the wedding memory and the freshness of our lives together. As my learning curve begins to twists back into sight, my work in food systems here is evolving creatively to utilize the energy and networks of the Berlin as I explore points of equilibrium between past present and future.

Projects I'm working on now utilize alternative urban spaces to grow food, like grocery carts as mobile gardens, and converting public parks into bean patches.

A grocery cart hosts potato plants

A grocery cart hosts potato plants

An increasing study of food and art has influenced a series of experimental meals that bring people together to stimulate the senses and explore political, historic, literary, creative and environmental themes through food. I am currently inspired by the Nouveau Réalist work of artist Daniel Spoerri who I was able to research in Austria this year.  And I continue to evolve grass roots food systems activism through future-visioning workshops, which help to exercise the imagination to develop a collective vision of the future we want for our food system. I believe that if every person has access to experience a deeper connection with what we eat and the environment around us, then these projects can be a portal into the intricate understanding of our food system and the role that each of us plays within it.

This is happening, here in Berlin and all over the world. Even in Kentucky, where you can find so many ways to engage in food systems when you start to think about where your food is coming from. Perhaps it begins with something as simple as a joyful celebration of a marriage that brings people together, while the seductive smoking of a roasting pig, the splatter and crackle of catfish frying in a cast iron skillet, the translucent shimmer of freshly sliced tomatoes, and the oozing custard of Lemon pie makes mouths water in anticipation of a belly full of good, old fashioned Kentucky cooking.

A plate of the wedding food at Shakertown for Lynn Peemoeller and Eric Ellingsen's wedding

A plate of the wedding food at Shakertown for Lynn Peemoeller and Eric Ellingsen's wedding

The Wedding Menu Pimento Cheese Canapés Buttermilk Biscuits with Country Ham Baby Beans, Squash and Cherry Tomatoes with Green Goddess Dip Benedictine on Cucumber Rounds

Pig Roast & BBQ sauce Fried Catfish with Watermelon Rind Tartar Sauce Platters of Assorted Home Grown Heirloom Tomatoes with Fresh Herbs Sweet Potato, Sweet Corn and Cucumber Salad Minted Green Beans Cole Slaw Grilled Eggplant, Peppers and Onions with Garlic, herbs and Goat Cheese Shaker Yeast Buns Corn Sticks

Shaker Lemon Pie Blackberry Cobbler Chocolate bourbon cupcakes with caramel icing Claiborne Farm cream

Beer, Wine, John Collins cocktail Pappy Van Winkle 10 year Woodford Reserve

Morning After Brunch Fried Chicken with Gravy Spinach Quiche Kentucky Cheese Grits Zucchini and Fresh Tomato Salad Platters of Fresh Melon Buttermilk Biscuits and Pumpkin Muffins Local Jam and Pleasant Hill Maple Syrup Iced Tea and Lemonade

Dixie Queen Boat Ride Fresh summer gazpacho with crouton Route11 Potato Chips Beer Cheese with Pretzels and Celery Fresh Nectarines and Peaches Brownies Bottled Water, Ale 81

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Photo Credits: Mark Dodson, Mark Dodson, Lynn Peemoeller, Mark Dodson: Thank you!