Lessons In Stones

His father was a farmer. As a boy he would rise early and go into the fields with his father to work. Clearing stones from the land was an important job in preparing the rocky soil for cultivation. His homeland was a volcanic island, so stones were plentiful. The job of clearing, of digging out the stones belonged to him. Being a boy he did not like this job very much, but he did it without complaint because it was a necessary job, a necessary part of providing food for his family. The rich life lessons young Salvador Sanchez learned removing stones from his family's land in the village of Visvique, on the Island of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, off the coast of North Africa, would serve him well and take him thousands of miles around the world.

Jean Duff, she's been called Duffy as long as she can remember, was born on an island, too, Long Island. Duffy grew up and became a medical technologist working in laboratories. The long difficult hours began to wear down this normally bright, happy woman; she needed a vacation. She decided to take a cruise to the Caribbean.

Sal traveled the world then settled in the States. He took a job working for a cruise line.

There on that ship in the middle of the clear blue Caribbean, fate brought together Salvador Sanchez and Jean Duff and as they say, the rest is mystery. Two years later they were married and settled on Long Island. Sal had been in the food business since he was seventeen so he and Duffy opened a restaurant. Soon they began a family.

When Duffy talks of motherhood, her easy smile beams. "With children," she explains, "your capacity to love expands." Sal and Duffy have five bright, adorable children, Jessica, Tabitha, Xena, Shiloh and Ewen.

I requested an interview and they invited me to their home. We sat at the kitchen table of their 19 Century farmhouse. I like kitchen tables, maybe because they remind me of farms and places where families gather together. There is a long hallway in their house. Neatly placed in an orderly fashion, a row of shoes lines one entire side of that hallway. Imagine a twelve foot long row of shoes. There are all sizes and types of shoes, even ice skates. That row of shoes was a visible representation of life in their home, it spoke volumes to me and I chuckled; inside I was secretly envious of the great joy and fulfillment that family brings to their hearts and their everyday lives.

We talk about important things like motherhood and careers and stay at home moms and the importance of being there to raise your children. As a young woman, Duffy wasn't sure she wanted to settle down or even have children, but that changed. "I can't imagine not having children. I wouldn't have missed it for the world." Her voice fills with pride, "They are the center of my universe, my children. They are all I want."

With the birth of their first child, Sal and Duffy realized a need to live in the country, a return to the soil. In the Canary Islands water is rare and cherished. Sal knew he needed enough land for a large garden but most importantly he needed running water, a stream. In 1988 they found such a place in Austerlitz. Sal ran a diner in Hillsdale for a while and worked for the White Hart in Lakeville, Connecticut. At home the family made hummus to sell wholesale. "My dream is for my kids to learn the ethics of work through me," Sal explains. They involved the kids in the work process, creating an assembly line around the kitchen table and produced three hundred pounds of hummus a week.

A few years ago Sal bought a building on Warren Street in Hudson. His intent was to run a wholesale business, selling hummus and other natural food products, but the equipment he needed was quite costly and not immediately within his financial reach. What could he do? "You don't need money," Sal tells me, "you need ideas." So Sal and Duffy took a chance on an idea and opened Earth Foods Restaurant. The chance paid off. Earth Foods has become successful, now serving in excess of 1000 meals a week. It means long hours, but Sal and Duffy and daughter Jessica are no strangers to hard work. The constant high quality of the good food served simply is the secret and a source of pride at Earth Foods. You can even purchase take-out containers of that fresh made hummus along with salsa, pesto, baba ganouj and even tasty black olives.

When I mention the importance of quality, Sal leans across the kitchen table, "Food is the source of life, what I enjoy is what I give. Food should be good for the soul and body." Sal sips his espresso, "Good food, work and family, it's a good cycle."

The first spring after Sal and Duffy moved to the country, Sal began preparing the land to plant his garden. Images from childhood filled his thoughts. There he was digging stones from his earth, preparing his garden. He discovered great joy in removing those stones. It was then he understood with new clarity the important lessons of his father those many years ago.

We'll talk next time, From The Road.

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