Since it began in 1996 the Geoffrey Roberts Award has brought farmers’ markets to Australia; yielded a brand new Somerset cheese, Ogleshield; funded a medical research project into the effects of vineyard altitude on the longevity of wine drinkers; dramatically increased knowledge of indigenous American foodstuffs; and exposed a young Georgian wine producer to modern winemaking techniques in some of France’s top properties. Below are the winners to date.
2011 Award Winner
Winner of the 2011 was Sarah Robins of Sydney, Australia. In November 2011 she used her award to travel to the United States to research programs that assist low-income earners to access the farmers’ markets that proliferate there. (Our second-ever winner, Jane Adams, used her award to introduce the famers’ market concept to Australia where there are now hundreds of them.) Sarah visited numerous farmers’ markets in Washington DC, Charlottesville VA, New York City, New Orleans, San Francisco and nearby Oakland, meeting with market organisers, not-for-profit community organisations, health agencies, government representatives, academics and food producers.
Sarah reports that she gathered a wealth of information and an understanding of the commonalities – and differences – between the programs in various states. She noted significant differences between America and Australia, most pertinently the frequency of farmers’ markets, availability of funding and philanthropy, in addition to the wider emphasis on healthy eating that permeates the farmers’ market sector in the United States. She is currently writing a full report about her travels and suggestions for how such initiatives might be approached in Australia and looks forward to applying her knowledge to the local context. We hope that her recommendations might have an ever wider geographical application.
2010 Award Winners
The 2010 applications for the annual Geoffrey Roberts travel award were the strongest set for a long time and for the first time in six years the Award went to a winner in wine, Geoffrey’s original speciality, rather than food. Derek Mossman Knapp of Chile plans to spend his bursary encouraging artisan wine production from dry-farmed old vines in the undervalued Maule region in the wake of the earthquake there in early 2010, spending a year travelling through old vine country ‘in a beat up red truck that blends in’ in an attempt to publicise, and engender respect for the proper use of, the grapes produced by these historic vines.
‘I believe many who live with very little, and now have much less,’ he says, ‘would be better served to develop their fruit into a something the higher-end modern wine industry needs instead of a commodity where they will always be slowly losing out against the powers of the market economy. I will be looking for Carignan, and also Malbec and Cabernet Franc. I will also be looking for old-vine Pais/Mission worth grafting to noble varieties. I have seen this happen to more than one family with only a few hectares of Carignan and I think it could be coaxed into happening more often to benefit more families.’
At his own Garage Wine Co, part of the MOVI group of small Chilean wine producers, his aim is to ‘try and be an example for Maule growers of how they might, on a similarly small scale as ours, produce their own wines as their forefathers did before them’.
For a Jan 2011 report on his progress, see here.
Runner-up for the 2010 Geoffrey Roberts Award is American wine writer Alice Feiring (www.alicefeiring.com) who is hard at work on a book Naked Wine about her speciality, ‘natural wines’. According to this dancer-turned-wine-writer, whose first wine book had the provocative subtitle, How I Saved the World from Parkerisation, ‘Right now the world of wine is definitely at a crossroads, not just for organic or biodynamic viticulture but also for a more pure way of wine making. Why is wine so important? Because in its highest form, the creation of a fermented grape juice is where nature, art and man come together in a very special and magical place. We’ve been through its industrialisation and now we are on the brink of a return to the past, to wines that are artisanal and driven by passion.’
The judges also gave a special commendation to two eerily similar applicants. Mary Buschell of Michigan and Wendy Johnson of California both work with goats on a farm. Both applied for a Geoffrey Roberts Award to help them travel to north west Italy to research farmhouse techniques for making goat’s milk cheese. They have been put in contact with each other and with Patricia Michaelson, proprietor of La Fromagerie in London and author of the authoritative Cheese.
2009 Award Winners
The winner was a 26 year-old baker, Dilly Boase. She is absolutely crazy about bread and used her prize of £3,000 to travel round Italy learning all there is to know about baking in Italy. She was working at the artisanal Born and Bread bakery in south London but planned to spend a month in Italy visiting bakeries to record bread-making processes and the life surrounding the loaf. An artist by training, she fell in love with baking and began a course in Bread Technology at the National Bakery School but, disaffected by the technologies and additives involved, she abandoned it in favour of practical experience. She found Born and Bread by literally following her nose as she cycled past an industrial estate. ‘They couldn’t turn down someone so enthusiastic’, she says.
This was her dispatch from Puglia in late November 2009:
I arrived in Lecce on November 24th, and have been from there to Bari and Altamura, and now I have crossed Italy to Campania to go to Pompeii and Ischia. I hope that by the time I get to Rome (in a fortnight) I will be able to publish everything that I have seen and done so far: It has been truly wonderful to meet such dedicated bakers and I feel greatly inspired. My plan is now to cover Puglia, historic ovens in Campania, and the Tuscan coast before Christmas, and Valle D’Aosta and Sardinia after Christmas. I am in Naples tonight, where the doughy foods are producing rather doughy teenagers (vegetables have to be wrapped in dough before they are edible, or they must be deep fried, or wrapped in dough, then deep fried. Everything else comes in, on, or under dough, or one can just have dough, deep fried). There is lightning, thunder and torrential rain, and still there are scooters everywhere.
You can follow more of her travels, and admire her draughtsmanship, on http://well-bread.blogspot.com/With her increased knowledge she would like eventually to set up her own bakery with her brother, ‘a bakery linked to a cafe for students in Sheffield (start with the young..). For me, on the bakery side, this will be the chance to put into practice what I’ve observed. I intend to build a practical argument against the teachings of the National Bakery School, not because of a personal vendetta, but because we should have much better bread than is generally commercially available…. The bakery ’scene’ is very exciting at the moment, but I want it to be more than a fad. I’d like to spread awareness of the delights (and good sense) of good bread.’
The runner up Alison Thomson was to receive £1,000, enough to fund her air fare, to travel to Mauritania in West Africa. When she passed through the country on her motorbike ride from London to Timbuktu the previous year, she was struck by the poverty of this forgotten nation and wanted to return to research the potential of the country’s fishing industry for creating more wealth. She explained to judges of the Award, ‘Mauritania seems to have been forgotten by the world. The first democratically elected president in the country’s history was imprisoned after a coup last year. The capital, Nouakchott, is made up largely of shanties, street upon street of wooden huts, as thousands of people pour into the city away from the desert in the hope of creating some sort of life. I saw dozens of people praying on the street outside their huts – they had no mosque. On our visit to the Plage des Pecheurs (pictured), I was overwhelmed by a teeming mass of humanity, all desperate to eke a life from the sea. I would like to win this award for them – to raise awareness about their plight.’ The judges hoped that, as chief sub editor of one of the London Sunday Times’ magazine sections, Alison would be well placed to achieve this worthwhile objective. However, during 2009 the situation in Mauritania deteriorated to such an extent that foreigners were advised not to travel there so Alison had reluctantly to abandon the idea and return her travel bursary to the Trustees.
2008 Award winners
The judges were so impressed by two of the applicants in 2008 that they decided to choose two equal winners, Magdalena Eriksson and Nelle Gretzinger, both of New York City.
Not only do both winners live in the same city, they will both use their awards to carry out projects in developing countries within 20 degrees of the equator, and both will be developing businesses that will empower women in rural and impoverished locations.
Magdalena Eriksson , a biochemist and journalist native to Sweden, will develop products based on a conical, white-fleshed variety of pineapple grown in coastal Ghana, West Africa. In 2006, she visited the small, impoverished village of Ekumfi-Edumafa for the first time. The village council, assembled on the beach, invited her to become the queen mother of women and girls in the community. Eriksson’s parents, who for many years have been associated with Edumafa as developmental chief and queen mother, introduced her to the village. Accepting the position, Eriksson was subsequently installed (see above right) and granted the name Nana-Nyena II. Her goals for Edumafa include that all girls should complete nine years of school, to improve the health status of all villagers, and to create business opportunities for women. Pineapple is one of the few crops that thrive in the coastal biotope, but most of the traded fruit goes wholesale to juice making for a dismal profit. “I will help develop refined products of these delicious pineapples for people overseas to enjoy,” Eriksson says. “I want the women in my village to be the real winners of this award.” Magdalena has already moved to Ghana to carry our her project.
Quarter-way around the world from Ghana, in southern Belize, Nelle Gretzinger will be working to establish the commercial cultivation of a special indigenous vanilla bean. She currently owns a women’s clothing business in Brooklyn, Art to Wear, Inc., and will draw upon this experience to come up with vanilla-based products and the means to market them effectively. Vanilla grows wild in the rainforest in Belize but has never been grown there commercially. Of this Gretzinger says “The fact that it’s never been done before is both exhilarating and terrifying: exhilarating because my actions could help to shape a different kind of future for Belizeans and terrifying for exactly the same reason!” Gretzinger’s fascination with vanilla arose from a trip she took to Belize in November of 2006. The ancient Maya Indians of Belize utilized vanilla in the drink they called xocoatl, but Gretzinger could not locate any vanilla beans in the town market in Punta Gorda. Serendipitously, she was introduced to Dawn Dean, of Maya Mountain Research Farm, who happened to be cultivating 250 vanilla vines. It was not long after this fortuitous meeting that their collaboration took shape. Nelle is currently waiting for suitable plants to be propagated.
2007 Award winners
Florida geography teacher Richard Villadoniga used our $6,000 to finance a road trip across the United States with the aim of highlighting some of the country’s endangered foodstuffs and promoting greater awareness of them via local media opportunities. He has now incorporated what he learnt into a teaching module to make American children more aware of their food heritage. See Richard’s journey at www.eat-american.com
He says: ‘I must tell you that the Geoffrey Roberts Award has had a tremendous impact on my life! Ever since I received this honor, I have started a thriving Slow Food chapter in my home region of North Florida that is very active in preserving our local culinary heritage and “greening” our local farming habits. I have also been doing a fair amount of freelance writing despite these poor economic conditions. I thank you for giving me this opportunity.
‘I have started writing an oral history/cookbook with one of our region’s most beloved chefs, Johnny Barnes, who grew up in the area and has wonderful recollections of how people connected with the seasons and land and it nourished them. He’s a fascinating storyteller and transports you back to a simpler time. And he has great recipes.
2007 joint winner, thanks to Nazli’s decision that her new job prevented her from taking up her 2006 Award, was Jock Brandis on behalf ofwww.fullbellyproject.org which designs and supplies very simple, highly relevant machinery such as mechanical peanut shellers to impoverished communities in Africa, thereby helping them to increase their income substantially.
2006 – Nazli Parvizi from New York wanted to go to VietNam in March 2007 to foster sustainable farming and better cultural links between VietNamese American chefs and restaurateurs in the ancient capital of Hue in an effort to promote responsible tourism and development. Unfortunately however, her work as the youngest ever Executive Director of the New York Mayor’s Volunteer Center was so good that they offered her a promotion she couldn’t refuse and she was unable to make that trip to VietNam – which enabled us to make a second 2007 Award.
The runner-up was Nathalie Jordi, a Belgian-American cheese nut who is determined to help America’s new generation of farmhouse cheesemakers sell their wares more effectively. Believing they are too busy making cheese to put much effort into marketing and bureaucracy, she has been travelling around the US to this end. She is now a recognised writer on American farmhouse cheese and hopes to continue to promote it worldwide.
2005 – Mary Taylor, New Zealand food communicator, revisited three fishing communities in southern Sri Lanka , learning more about their needs and culture, before returning to New Zealand on a fund-raising mission. Her Project Oru 100 raised funds to build 100 outriggers ( orus, pictured), the boats on which the local communities here depended for their chief protein source and income until the tsunami of 26 December 2004 destroyed 80 per cent of them. These funds are administered by the MJF Foundation (www.mjffoundation.org), the charitable foundation established in 2003 for the disadvantaged in Sri Lanka by Merrill J Fernando of Dilmah Tea which has already achieved a great deal but still needs much more help before the needs of the communities devastated by the tsunami are met. Read Mary’s report.
The runner-up was Viv Menon , a young man whose Anglo-Indian family live near St-Emilion and who has just completed a Wine MBA at Circencester College . His aim is to have a positive influence on India ’s emerging wine culture and to this end the Geoffrey Roberts Trust covered his expenses for a trip to India in November 2005 to improve his understanding of the emerging Indian wine market.
2004 – Shalva Khetsuriani who traveled from his family’s Georgian wine operation and his wine consultancy work in Moscow on a hectic trip around some of the finest wine estates in France during vintage 2004. He has returned home determined to put some of the practices he saw into effect and to spread his newfound expertise among other Georgian and Russian wine professionals. Read Shalva’s report, verbatim as his interpreter supplied it. Unfortunately Georgian wine has suffered the massive setback of being prohibited from its most important export market Russia.
Runners-up were Alexandra Grigorieva, a Russian academic journalist who wanted to revive traditional recipes in France and Italy and UK-based Shirley Booth who wanted to go to Japan and research sake and food matches. Read her report.
2003 – Penny Boothman , Master of Wine student and wine writer who travelled extensively throughout Eastern Europe in the summer of 2003 and now shares the fruits of her studies of the little-known indigenous vine varieties of Eastern Europe at www.easternvines.info.
2002 – Professor Roger Corder , head of the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at the William Harvey Research Institute at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London , who went to Sardinia to research a cluster of centenarians and the wines they drink. He has discovered some fascinating correlations between vineyard altitude and the potential to reduce heart disease.
2001 - Dru Reschke of Coonawarra who visited California in his attempts to develop an ecologically-friendly winery effluent treatment, currently being trialled by Southcorp in Australia.
2000 - Ron Irvine of Washington state and Alan Foster of Oregon , artisanal cider makers who toured England and Normandy in September 2000 exchanging information on methods and techniques for improving cider and apple quality generally.
1999 - Kathryn Thal , South African-born restaurant manager-turned-wine buyer who toured Californian vineyards and is now setting up a program aimed at explaining and encouraging sustainable viticulture worldwide.
1998 – Caroline Smialek and Peter Kindel , America wannabe cheesemakers who visited European role models and then worked in New York restaurants, including cheese haven Artisanal. They subsequently moved to the oldest dairy farm in Vermont and have continued to make cheese, including inspiring Ogleshield during their time with Jamie Montgomery in Somerset.
1997 - Jane Adams , food and wine writer and publicist of Sydney , Australia , who toured the United States , finding out enough about farmers’ markets to import the concept into food-conscious Australia . Thanks partly to this trip, farmers’ markets are now a thriving established phenomenon throughout Australia .
1996 - Diana Campbell , a Canadian then working in the Scottish wine trade who wanted to study food and wine matching at the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley with the aim of increasing the confidence of Scotland ’s restaurateurs, chefs and wine waiters.