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Douglas Gayeton of Petaluma has been rushing around the country for the past few months, promoting his new book, ?Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town? (Welcome Books, 2009), a collection of essays and sepia-toned images of the faces and foods of Pistoia, Italy.

On a rainy evening in November, the writer/photographer is happy to be back at his Petaluma farm, where he is reconnecting with his 3-year-old daughter, Tuilerie, and his wife, Laura Howard.

?I like getting up in the morning with our daughter,? he said. ?We go up to the chicken coop and get eggs.?

Since moving to Petaluma five years ago, the couple has reconnected to their agrarian roots, raising goats and launching their own boutique food business, Laloo?s Goat Milk Ice Cream.

Before they met in Italy, Gayeton and Howard had high-powered careers in the film business in L.A., where they spent most of their time in the synthetic world of freeways. Now, their morning commute consists of walking up the driveway from their home to their offices with a cup of coffee.

?For me, it was really important to do something other than be in an office all day,? Howard said. ?It?s so nice to come out and lift the hay for the horses and smell the air.?

Like many other foodies headed back to the land, the couple in their 40s have come full circle, returning to their grandparents? agrarian roots.

?I?m of a generation that has lost this cultural continuity,? Gayeton said. ?We?re trying to re-create it.?

A self-described Navy brat raised on the East Coast, Howard spent every summer at her grandparents? farm in West Virginia, bordered by woods and a stream. After graduating from Miami University with a degree in design and marketing, she worked as an advertising executive and a film producer in Hollywood.

Gayeton grew up in Lucas Valley in Marin County and spent every summer in Santander, Spain, a few miles from his mother?s ancestral home. He spent Sundays slurping pasta with his Italian grandparents, who owned a vineyard in Santa Rosa.

After getting a B.A. in literature and writing from UC San Diego, Gayeton launched his career as a documentary filmmaker and multimedia artist. Since the early ?90s, he has created work at the boundaries of traditional and converging media.

In the ?90s, Gayeton and his first wife began to split their time between Los Angeles and Pistoia, her hometown located between Lucca and Florence in Tuscany.

After the couple broke up, Gayeton stayed on in Pistoia, getting a job in a restaurant kitchen. Soon, he became close with Giuseppina the egg lady, Domenico and Sabatino the butchers, Stefano and Paolo the cheesemakers, and a host of other food artisans.

?I was an outsider, but once I began working in the town, it took on a different tone,? he said. ?So much of Italian culture revolves around food ... It became clear to me that I had a hole in my life.?

While living in Pistoia, Gayeton created a TV series about his life, ?Lost in Italy,? for the Fine Living Network. Then, in 2003, he was commissioned by PBS to document the Slow Food Movement in Italy.

Because the people of Pistoia embodied the movement?s principals ? preserving culinary traditions and creating communal culture around the table ? Gayeton turned his camera lens on the places and people around him, most of whom didn?t even know what Slow Food was.

?Many people have tried to explain Slow Food in written words, but few have managed to communicate the essence of this movement as successfully,? Alice Waters of Chez Panisse writes in the introduction to ?Slow.?

Although their paths had crossed in Los Angeles, Howard and Gayeton first met in 2003 in Tuscany, where Howard was producing an independent film. Gayeton was the writer on the project, and the pair fell in love.

?Douglas had built a house and had a rich life in Pistoia,? she said. ?It was great to meet all these people and learn Italian.?

Howard pushed Gayeton to turn the Slow Food documentary project into a book. Because his photographs were studies for a film, he had printed notes over the time-lapse images, which had been spliced together.

In turn, Gayeton pushed Howard to reinvent herself as a goat grower and ice cream producer.

?It was like jumping off a cliff,? she said. ?I?d been on a quest ... I went on a big yoga cleanse diet, with no dairy. So I had been making this goat?s milk ice cream.?

In 2004, the couple returned to the states and drove around Sonoma County, looking for a farm where they could raise goats and launch their business.

?We knew Redwood Hill Farm and Laura Chenel were here, but we really didn?t know much,? she said. ?So we just started knocking on people?s doors.?

By sheer luck, they found a small farm to rent. With the encouragement of other goat growers, they jumped into the goat ice cream business.

Inspired by the flavorful gelato of Italy, Howard developed unusual flavors like Black Mission Fig and Strawberry Darling, made with balsamic vinegar.

After demand for the ice cream grew on the East Coast, she put together a co-op of six family farms in Wisconsin and opened a second plant there.

These days, Laloo?s can be found nationwide in 1,400 stores, and the couple has hired a young salesforce of 30 ?Laloonatics? to help them market their product.

Two years ago, they also bought a small ?farmette? just west of Petaluma, where Howard keeps her horse, Joaquin, and a small herd of goats.

A staff of five work at the farm, but they are treated more like family than employees. Meanwhile, the couple?s daughter is growing up with a strong connection to the earth.

?When she was 2, she had a picture book, and the animals were Mo and Joaquin and Snowflake, her chicken,? Gayeton said. ?She is living a life that most kids only have in books.?

<em>You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.</em>

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