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OppyArts Spotlight: Gary Granata

By: Gary Granata and Conor Clark

CC: I quarantined in Tuscaloosa, Alabama volunteering at Granata Woods, a permaculture food forest created during the pandemic by Dr. Gary Granata. Gary is a farmer, community organizer, and food & good times historian. He taught me how growing and smoking your own paprika makes “the store bought stuff taste like red saw dust you put on deviled eggs.” 

I spent the day helping him place large logs on contour to create growing space on the land. The day was hot, the work was hard, the stories flowed and I sometimes had difficulty keeping pace with 60-year old Dr G. However, the work was graciously rewarded with items Dr. G had canned and also wild sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay Alaska, which will be featured in the upcoming Vanishing Foodways series on December 6th.   

I recently spoke with Gary to learn how things were progressing at Granata Woods.  

GG: I am preparing to launch my website garygranata.com that will allow me to share stories of food that I grow, cook, preserve, and travel the world to taste, explore and experience … that is, when we are allowed to move about the world. The website will feature my work from Granata Woods, Dr. G’s Kitchen, and Vanishing Foodways

Granata Woods is a permaculture food forest set on 20 wooded acres in Alabama that  is situated at the initial uplift of the Appalachian mountain chain. The name Granata Woods is an homage to my parents Angelo and Clara (Woods) Granata, who built their retirement home on this land. Dad was a modern sculptor and founding faculty member of the University of Alabama Art Department. Mom also worked at the University of Alabama and devoted much of her time to birds, nature, and preserving Hurricane Creek, the pristine watershed that drains Granata Woods. Dad’s artwork is housed at Granata Woods and I am in the process of installing his work throughout the land.  

I spent the pandemic planting native paw-paws, figs, blueberries, muscadines, elderberry, medicinal and culinary mushrooms along with heirloom vegetables, herbs, flowers and pollinators. Wood harvested from the land has been milled and will be used this fall and winter to build muscadine arbors, raised beds and deer fencing. I plan to preserve the wood using shou sugi ban, the ancient Japanese technique of charring and oiling wood. I will be making instructional videos of this technique and other methods used on the land.

As for Dr. G’s Kitchen, the kitchen is my sanctuary and muse where all of my knowledge, senses, skills and experiences interplay with foods that I either grow, or from farmers, fishers and artisans that I personally know and support. I know my food because I know the where, how and who of the food I eat and share with others. 

I will be producing videos, classes, demonstrations in the kitchen, as well as the land and the  artwork, all hosted on the GG website. Vanishing Foodways is an ongoing adventure to explore food systems along the Earth’s  river basins. The concept of Vanishing Foodways grew out of my life in New Orleans (1999-2018) and also my work with Slow Food as Chair of Slow Food New Orleans  (2012-2017). 

Vanishing Foodways began as a 25-person Louisiana-Vietnam delegation to Terra Madre Salone del Gusto (Mother Earth in the Salon of Taste) 2016, the biannual gathering of Global Slow Food Network of 160 countries that is held in Torino, Italy. The delegates from Vietnam that we funded to join us in Italy, in turn hosted me during two visits to Vietnam in 2017. 

Thus, I began traveling the world to gather and share stories of food systems along river basins, which is essential throughout the world as river basins connect the land with the oceans. Vanishing Foodways presentations begin with me asking the audience to identify their river basin … i.e. what is the source of the water you drink, and where does that water go when you flush the toilet? 

I was in the process of organizing a Vanishing Foodways delegation to Terra Madre Brazil and also to tour the Amazon Basin when COVID hit. Terra Madre 2020 in Torino was also cancelled. However, it is now a 6-month virtual event during which Vanishing  Foodways will host a monthly series of webinars entitled “Rivers Connect the World”. The first session will be stories from Mississippi River and Mekong River, scheduled for  October 25 at 11am EDT/10am CDT. The session is free but requires advance  registration. Use this link to register and join us for a Sunday morning river chat.  

Other sessions include The Amazon on November 22 (11am EST/10am CST) and Salmon Rivers on December 6 (11am EST/10am CST). The Danube and Po Rivers are being scheduled for January along with the Nile in February.  

Since the interview, Clara Granata passed away from complications due to COVID on October  15. She is now with the birds that she loved. 

When I die, Hallelujah by & by, I’ll fly away

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