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Sheryl Vieira shares thoughts on the community, good deeds and important things, big AND small.

What personal passions have developed in your life that you never realized you were exposed to growing up? What is the one thing you wish you could teach the world to help make everyone feel better or help them overall? Which family recipes shared through the generations have become your very favorite to share with your friends and family members any chance you get? This month’s Real Talk is all about heritage and how it shapes each of us, whether we realize it or not. And sometimes, it’s the children teaching the parents!

Supporting Family Farmers and the Next Generation

The average age of today’s farmer is 58, and as the generations go on, they’re choosing not to stay in the farming industry to continue running their family’s farming business. The Next Generation Scholarship Fund was created to offset the declining number of farmers. The Fund invites the next generation to attend college to study agriculture, and to take farming to the next level with hopes of keeping family farms in business.

One local chef learned of this special project through Niman Ranch and wanted to get more involved. In order to do so, Chef Paul Mattison traveled to Iowa last summer to experience a different way of farming. The Niman Ranch’s family farmers and ranchers raise livestock traditionally, humanely and sustainably in order to deliver the finest tasting meats.

For over 30 years, Niman Ranch has been at the forefront of supporting sustainable agriculture, animal welfare and U.S. family farmers and ranchers. Chef Paul was moved — so much so that he now orders his meats from Niman for his restaurants. Additionally, he brought his newfound knowledge about Niman to share with Sarasota through a five-course wine dinner featuring wines from the Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma County, meats from Niman Ranch, and inspirational cuisine from his talented team at Mattison’s 41.

All four of Chef Paul’s longtime friend Chris Benziger’s estate vineyards are Demeter-certified Biodynamic, which aligned with what Chef Paul imagined for his special wine dinner. The Benziger Family Winery, recently nominated by Wine Enthusiast as one of the Best Winery Experiences in Sonoma, spans 85 acres and produces wines using a holistic farming philosophy called Biodynamics. Biodynamics is the highest level of ethical, organic farming, viewing the vineyard as a single organism. By eliminating synthetic chemicals, encouraging biodiversity, relying on natural predator-prey relationships, composting, covered crops, and the animals that live on their estates to keep their vineyards healthy and balanced, the best of what the land possesses is reflected in the characteristics of the wine.

Take an exceptional chef, throw in caring ranchers and award-winning winemakers, and you have an exceedingly delicious and informative evening. All proceeds from this special event helped ensure agricultural education for the next generation of farmers.

In attendance was Anthony Scheer, the scholarship’s first recipient. The Iowan started farming at age eight through Niman Ranch, and now, he and his father now have 50+ pigs between them. Also seen were Russ and Susan Smoke of Niman Ranch, Jason Sango, Andy and Valerie Dorr, Letia Short, Kristiana Serbin, Andrew Vac and Chef Steve Phelps.

Going Home When Home Isn’t Home Anymore

Most of the time, change is for the best; however, it seems to be especially difficult to accept when it relates to home. For the first time since I relocated to Sarasota twenty years ago from upstate New York, home just isn’t home anymore.

As with age, we must make life simpler, and with that comes complex decisions regarding home, health and wealth. We hope our parents are well enough to make these decisions on their own without significant help from family members. Alas, my mother and her husband ultimately decided to sell the lake house that served as the hub for our family gatherings for decades. Many memories have been made and shared there: engagements, baby announcements, job promotions, relocations, and yes, even a couple of divorces as they rippled through our family.

I delayed the trip home long enough, as I just didn’t want to face the fiddler. As reality hit home, I finally broke down and cried, reliving the special moments the home provided my family. It was a place I could hang my hat and be myself. No one needed anything from me, and my soul greatly appreciated the time, space and country quiet which allowed me to take a breather from the stresses of modern life. If I had to do anything at all, it was help weed the beautiful gardens, husk the corn, find and play the Nora Jones CD before dinner, open a bottle of wine and get some glasses down. Nothing was rushed, and I treasured the relaxed pace while at our lake house on Keuka.

Upon returning from a boat ride around the 22-mile Y-shaped lake, I slowly walked backwards up my parents long, steep driveway. I knew it was the last time I could soak up this incredible view, enjoy this beautiful, expansive, comfortable lake house and read a book in absolute quiet on the wrap-around porch facing the lake. I haven’t thought much about Keuka Lake and the home my parents sold until now. They’ve been in their new condo since December, and immediately came down to Sarasota for the season, returning to New York in April to finally get unpacked and settled into their new home. It’s darling, and much more conducive to their lifestyle and age. They’re enjoying it immensely, which makes it all so much easier to accept. We enjoyed wine tastings on a different lake called Canandaigua. We helped at a food pantry, camped and boated on Honeoye Lake, and fished in a refreshingly cold creek in Naples. I met my youngest sister’s boyfriend (soon to be fiancée) and his family from Syracuse and I read a book on my parent’s new sunporch. I am still helping with the weeds, opening the wine and husking the corn, but we’re looking for a different CD to play, making memories in their new home!

Steeped in Three Centuries of Rich Tradition

First contested in 1851, the America’s Cup is the oldest trophy in international sports and is yachting’s biggest prize. As the schooner America passed the Royal Yacht in first position, and saluted by dipping its ensign three times, Queen Victoria asked one of her attendants to tell her who was in second place. “Your Majesty, there is no second,” was the reply. The phrase, just four words, is still the best description of the America’s Cup and its representation of the singular pursuit of excellence.

Every four years, the best sailors in the world contend for the America’s Cup. This is the longest international sporting event in history, and surprisingly, not many people talk about it or follow it. I started following the sport four years ago with my dad, a sailor and former commodore of the Cortez Yacht Club on Anna Maria Island.

My dad has shared with me his passion for the water, boating, the sport of fishing. As far as I can remember, my father has always needed to be near water. Be it a lake or the Gulf of Mexico, he lives on or is near it. My dad and I, along with a couple of his friends, recently chartered a boat to do some tarpon fishing. I could see how much work it ended up being for my father and that his heart just wasn’t in it any longer, so I am thankful we have something else to bond over. The 35th America’s Cup just commenced and we watched every race together since the event began on May 28th. As I pondered the last day of racing (as Team USA lost), my mind drifted to my father, who is turning 75 this month. I reflected back on his sailing days and the significant technological changes in the boats since he started watching the races back in the early eighties, but I mostly wondered if he thought he might never see another America’s Cup again in his lifetime. I don’t ask, and only plant the seed of us going together to the next race in Auckland, New Zealand in 2021 in hopes of getting him excited about Team USA’s next opportunity to take the oldest sporting trophy back to America.

We tip our hearts and hats to all on the USA Oracle Team. Skipper Jimmy Spitall is a fine example of what a true leader is. Calm, kind, honorable, patient, skillful and always giving guidance and pats on the back, even when his team was behind. All were complete sportsmen no matter the outcome for them.

The Commotion Over the Ferment Lady

Jillian Ross, better known as the ferment lady, has been helping people build healthier immune systems for eight years now. On a personal quest to self-heal after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and head-to-toe psoriasis, she has been experimenting with the traditional fermentation of different foods and beverages.

The word ferment means ‘to cause a commotion or excitement.’ Fermentation is used for preservation of certain foods, as well as for producing alcoholic beverages like wine and beer. NOW we understand the excitement over the Ferment Lady.

Any group of living organisms as an agent, such as an enzyme, catalyzes fermentation. It turns juice or grain into alcohol. Lacto-fermentation is the traditional way food had been preserved for centuries. The foods preserved by lacto-fermentation contain a ton of probiotics, and are rich and healing for the digestive system.

After years of research, Jillian discovered The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Katz, her guru of all things fermented. Through his teachings, she was able to completely overhaul and restore her body to its optimal health, with zero medications. That is exciting!

Driven to teach and help others “love their guts,” Jillian shares her knowledge on the science and methods of how to properly ferment foods and beverages. She teaches students how to make kimchi, kombucha, kvass (nourishing tonic), milk/water kefir, ginger bugs (for various homemade probiotic sodas), various lacto-fermented pickles/vegetables and more.

Eager to find out more, I attended two of her classes at the Florida Maritime Museum. The first taught the basics of fermentation and the other was a lesson on how to make kombucha. As people heard that I was attending these classes, they would share things like “my grandmother used to do that” or “my mom loves to make sauerkraut.”

I have yet to experiment with the food fermentation process, but look forward to trying it in the near future. I did, however, recently complete my first batch of kombucha. The main ingredients are tea bags, mineral water, sugar and a culture, and it takes approximately 20 days for the entire process. A culture is a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), or a kombucha mother, which is a mix of cultures of bacteria and yeast present during the production of kombucha. Jillian suggests you talk to your SCOBY as you would your household plants. She also suggests naming them as you would your household plants. I named my SCOBY Oby One Canoby and it seems quite happy in its new digs. My digestive system also seems to be in better order.

The Ferment Lady offers classes at Four Pillars, JDubs Brewing Company, The Folk School at Florida Maritime Museum, and Wild Ginger Apothecary: Studio + Lounge. Recycling is a part of Jillian’s daily life and she cares deeply about the environment. She is eager to accept any glass jars and containers that are no longer needed. Please reach out to her to donate items via her Facebook page, the Ferment Lady.

Phelps Helps Sustain Seafood

Chef Steve Phelps and fishing? Yes. Chef Steve Phelps, owner of one of the most successful restaurants in our area, involved with increasing long-term economic benefits and ensuring a sustainable supply of seafood? Yes. Chef Steve Phelps, head chef at Indigenous in Sarasota meeting with senators, representatives and political aides in Washington, D.C.? Yes.

Chef and others were in Washington during the Capital Hill Ocean Week to discuss the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The 1976 federal law governs marine fisheries to increase long-term economic benefits, ensure a sustainable supply of seafood, and prevent overfishing; any modifications could undo four decades of challenging work and progress. The changes being discussed call to relax seasonal timelines and catch limits when environmental conditions and unforeseen or unusual occurrences could interfere with who brings back what to the docks. Chef Steve will know more later this summer when he heads back up to Washington, D.C. for a second round of discussions with influential law makers and breakers. We wish him a boatload of luck.

Our younger generation seems more demanding in how everything, including their environment, contributes to their life, whether positive or negative. Somehow, they seem to have seen and experienced it all, and seem to know something about everything. They ask the tough questions and if they don’t like the answer, they innovate. I only hope in their zest for life and quest to change that they don’t forget their rich family histories and how they ultimately shaped them into who they are today, and that they can always go home — no matter the address. It’s all about family and heritage.

Enjoy your summer travels with your family!

Read more of Sheryl’s RealTalk.

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