Diane Del Signore is poking around amid the 100 berry bushes and 25 fruit trees in her backyard orchard, looking for eggs. The six chickens that cluck, peck and scratch up little mounds of soil in this, their daytime hangout, routinely lay in the most unlikely spots. “They each produce an egg about every 29 hours, so we get four or five a day, but you have to search for them,” she says as she bends to retrieve one from its hiding place in the undergrowth.
After collecting the eggs, Del Signore heads for her vegetable garden. For dinner, she picks individual leaves from her thriving lettuces for a salad for four, some plump red tomatoes, a fat summer squash she’s been watching grow larger by the day and a bulb of garlic to go in with the rubbery blue-green kale her husband will toss in the wok as his contribution to the meal. Whenever they’re planning to eat in, Del Signore chooses what is ripe, ready, tempting and growing in the four raised beds that she seeds with seasonal delights. When daughters Adrienne, 14, and Maddy, 11, have friends to visit, Del Signore sends them all out to harvest what they fancy. “What’s interesting is, the children might start off by saying they don’t eat something like kale. But you get them involved, picking and cooking it, and they can’t get enough,” she says. “It’s when kids don’t know about food, what things are and how to prepare them, that they end up eating the plastic stuff.”
When you hear there is a herd of goats in Del Signore’s life and that she is a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, member, you might imagine she and her family live on a farm, or at least off in some rural area.
In fact, the stylishly dressed Stanford MBA and marketing consultant, married to a Charles Schwab senior vice president—the man she calls “the farmhand” and relies on to do the heavier labor, such as reinforcing the chicken coop against a marauding skunk—resides in a regular house with a landscaped yard that fits discreetly into its upscale residential neighborhood in the Oakland Hills. Her lifestyle choices and penchant for food that is fresh, local, supports the environment, promotes good health and is eaten around the table in the company of family and friends are the upshot of her Italian-American roots.
“I grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania. My father is half Italian. Weekends in our home focused on food. My dad was a forager. On a Saturday morning he’d average 10 markets and farm stalls—different ones for meat, fish, what he regarded as the best apples and so forth. He would set off early to do the rounds. Often I’d go with him. When we got home, there’d be lots of cooking, talking and eating. Food and conviviality were strong family values.”
Five years ago she learned about the International Slow Food Movement from its vice president, Alice Waters. Del Signore had gone to hear Waters, the longtime guru of fresh, local, seasonal and sustainable, talk about the Edible Schoolyard program she began in Berkeley in 1995. Its core focus, akin to that of her Chez Panisse Foundation, established in 1996, is taking practices and values embodied by Slow Food into Berkeley schools.
When Del Signore learned about the Slow Food movement with its snail emblem symbolizing slow and calm, “I thought, that’s how I was brought up; it’s how we live; it’s my food philosophy—food that tastes good, that’s healthy, that you sit down as a family to share, and that supports and respects farmers and the environment.” She already belonged to a CSA, where consumers buy a share in a farm’s production and, in return, receive weekly boxes of organic, seasonal produce. She joined the Slow Food East Bay chapter, one of about 150 dotted around the United States.