Farm to Table is such a lovely concept and conjures up all kinds of white picket fence and red barn images. Along the way to the table, however, the food has to stop at some sort of market to get there and that’s where things get complicated. Organic food is out there - and more of it could be out there - but getting it to market is not always easy. The farmers are busy growing the food and the outlets (restaurants, grocery stores, etc…) are busy running a profitable business. Farms want the highest price for their food and outlets are looking for the lowest price. Farmer’s Markets, Road Stands and CSA’s offer farmers a direct way to sell their food to consumers fetching a fair price. But to really get the local, organic food out there, we need more grocery stores, restaurants, schools and employer-owned cafeterias ordering up this fresh flavor. In the Boulder area alone there are 300,000 people but only a couple thousand of those probably attend farmer’s markets and have a CSA. Instead of farmers competing for those limited number of eaters, we need to get more conscious eaters. And the different food outlets need to make sourcing locally grown food a priority. And those outlets need to tell the stories of these local producers to ensure demand meets supply. The outlet may pay a slightly higher price for local organic but the margin is small because there are little transportation costs and local farmers have faster response times on orders and customer service.
Progress is being made however...the other day, the owner of a large natural food store in Boulder came out to the farm to speak to Rich (farm owner). At the time, we were out in the fields when we heard this hoot from the far end of the row where we were planting. Rich went down to meet the man. The wind muffled most of the conversation but over some hoeing later on, I asked Rich about the meeting...the food store has a vision to source most of its food locally but few farmers have stepped up to the plate because of how little they will make at market - it's almost not worth their time to produce if they can't get a good price. In order to get more farmers involved, however, the food store is willing to up front capitol for a year-round greenhouse where food can be produced for the store. Now that's taking initiative. We need more progressive and forward collaboration like this. If you go into most Whole Foods, the organic produce usually comes from large national suppliers. Meanwhile, organic producers are shlepping their goods around the corner at the farmer's market when they should be available at Whole Foods.
Perhaps my role in all of this will be to bridge this gap and help more farmers get their food to market creating a network of farmers and food outlets.
Not the most flattering picture of me but those babycakes sure look good! Across from our stand at the farmer's market tonight was a cupcake shop whose proceeds benefit the local homeless shelter. They package their mini cakes in egg crates. These were seriously some of the best, and cutest, cupcakes I have ever had rivaling my other favorites from Dish in Reno, NV. Today's flavors were Americana favs like blueberry chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. But I guess they are known for some interesting alternative ones like maple syrup and bacon or salsa with avacado cupcakes.
The Farm Bill which governs subsides and appropriations to farmers and food programs is about to expire this fall. Big Ag is lobbying fiercely in their own best interest while sustainable ag struggles to get the funding necessary to fight this important battle for our food. My sister sent me this great link from the Environmental Working Group which gives a quick snapshot of the Farm Bill and what’s at stake for the 2012 Farm Bill. Get the facts! .
In other news...
today was HOT! 95 degrees hot. We took a long lunch extending well past two hours waiting for the heat of the day to pass so we could continue planting peppers - We were actually mixing the rows of peppers with garden flowers so the pepper varieties would not cross-pollinate as these pepper plants are for seed - Maybe it was the heat, but the conversation strayed in some pretty random directions as we took refuge in the open-air barn kitchen. One particular topic that caught my attention was the practice of Breatharianism.
This is a belief that you only need water and sunlight to keep you alive. Yep, no food! It is a fully fledged practice. No surprise that some of the "End of Day" people practice this. There were mixed opinions amongst my compadres. Some felt we should not try to transcend the vessel we were given to experience life on earth. Others kept a more open-mind and suggested that each person's reality is different. Pretty amazing if people can and want to do this. But I have foodlust and Breatharianism is a total contradiction to that concept. Food not only sustains us but our communities. Breatharians need people who eat food to maintain society so they can keep doing what they are doing. Better we all work together in community and celebrate the rich abundance that the earth provides.
This weekend, fellow co-workers, Jared and Ben, took my open air classroom on the road to two, other organic farms. Both are located just a few miles from Abbondonza. Seeing the style, focus and size of other farms gave my whole project perspective. First stop...Oxford Farms
. They have a small CSA program, attend a couple farmer's markets per week but primarily focus on supplying food to local restaurants. We were greeted by the owner, John Brown, who is an authority on soil science. For an hour, we stood amongst rows of popping veggies talking about soil ecology and his biological farming practice. I could take a semester long course on the subject and not learn as much as I did in that one hour. Here are a few nuggets for you to chew on...1) Want to get the sugars up in your vegetables to make them sweeter? Pay attention to the calcium and magnesium balance in the soil. 2) Want soil that holds more nutrients and retains water better? Add more clay. 3) Your veggies are only as good as your soil. Not just for how they grow but for how they taste and how nutritious they are. You can farm organically but if you don't remineralize your soil you'll have less wholesome, blander tasting vegetables. 4) Take the last three fun facts and consider what is in your daily vitamins. Most of what we take vitamins for are what nutrient dense
farmers amend their soil with. Perhaps if we paid more attention to our soil which fed our vegetables, we wouldn't have to take vitamins. Hhmmm! I was in love with their processing center where vegetables come to get ready for market. Take the virtual tour of their streamlined process. Click here!Second visit...Ollin Farms.
They have a robust CSA program with over 140 shareholders, attend two farmer's markets each week but have also diversified by offering a variety of agritourism options including pick-your-own strawberries, road-side farm stand, summer veggie camp for kids and an outdoor banquet facility. But my favorite product offering is their family dinner. The typical cost of a barn dinner is over $100/person pricing most people out of consideration. Ollin's "family" dinners are just that, for the family and only cost $30/person. Pictured above in the red shirt is the farm manager, Chad, with two of his happy shareholders who do a work trade.My co-workers, Jared and Ben, are the ones wearing the fashionable fedora hat and the maroon shirt, respectfully. We caught Chad and team on break giving us a chance to learn more about what makes their farm one of the more profitable farms in the area...access to city water which enables them to plant earlier, be the first to market each season and as a result turn crops over faster. The winning feature of the day was their lettuce spinner. You've probably never considered doing this with your washing machine....Check it out, click here
If you let your plants go, they will bolt or flower. Here is what spinach looks like when it has bolted. Let it bloom and dry up and you'll get seeds.
Want a salad of mixed greens? Just plant a variety of greens really tight together in one bed. When ready, just go through with some scissors. Leave enough at the base so the lettuce can regrow and enjoy garden, fresh greens all summer.
Last night we went to see The Samples
at the downtown street fair in Louisville, CO. Their visceral sound brings you back to the moment you first heard them...driving west on I-70 in an open air Jeep Wrangler on a blue bird Colorado morning. The sounds of Sean Kelly's voice seemed to float through the air above the red rock of Glenwood Canyon. We were headed to Moab for the first time. I was only 23 years old. It would be interesting to be able to talk to that young girl. I look at all the awesome young people I am working with at Abbondonza, most are in their early 20's, and envy how early on they have made a decision to dedicate their lives to a more sustainable food future. I have no regrets mind you. I've worked and played in some pretty amazing places but if I had an extra 18 years on me, I could get that much more accomplished in this project to build a more resilient food economy. BTW the way, if you check out some of The Samples music, listen to: Feel Us Shaking, Indiana, Did You Ever Look So nice, to name a few.Thursday and Friday were all about planting. In market and CSA farming you do what's called "succession farming." It's when you plant rounds of plants so you can harvest
them at different times. This was the second succession of the season. We planted seven, 200 foot rows of lettuces with four varieties per row. That's a lot of greens...Radicchio, Red Fire, Oscarde, Endive, Optima Summer Crisp, etc... You get quite a system down making the process efficient and automated. You work in teams...two people drop the starters in the pre-spaced holes on either side of the row and a crew follows behind planting them in the ground with a trowel. The attached picture is of Hillary, one of the culinary students on the farm this week, who was getting to plant her first plant ever!! Such a cool experience for her and for us. Having the four CSR students made the planting feel like a Ford Motor assembly line. We were cranking through the trays of starters but talking and laughing as we moved down the row staying focused at the same time. Sometimes you have to pinch off the root bound bottom of the starter or prune the bad leaves., toss ones whose soil is dry and make sure to get the plant deep enough but not too deep. It's like putting a baby to bed. You lovingly place them in their nest and tuck them in. The conversations we have as team would be enough for one blog alone telling stories, sharing news and trying to solve the worlds problems. You not only learn a lot from each other but you really get a sense of community as we work together to bring food to the table.Here is a link to a video of Pete plowing the furrows of the tomato fields.We aren't planning to use the work horses for all the fields but we hope to integrate them as much as possible and it ties us back to the time honored tradition of working the land. As you will see, it is a lot of work.
Gives you a lot more respect for folks like Charles "Pa" Ingalls. Eventually, the plow driver will be able to drive and lead at the same time but since Pete is still in training, we have Becky guiding him.
The farm is starting to go off with produce. Not as much as it will in August but the fist harvests of the season are definitely exciting. Today is in preparation for the Wednesday Night Market. We picked six types of lettuce heads, krinkly kale, red stemmed chard, asian greens (bok choy), sugar snap peas, spinach and radishes. Radishes have to be the most photogenic vegetable. As you pick them, you assemble a bouquet like you would with flowers...big ones in the center and smaller ones around the edge. They are more than just a "sit there and look pretty food" though. As I always like to say, "when in doubt, roast it!" Just slice'em up and toss'em with olive oil then roast in the oven like you would beets or other rooted veggies. Season with salt & pepper and enjoy! Roasting makes them sweeter and mellows their intensity. The kale was beautiful to wash. When you dunked the bunches underwater, water droplets clung to the edges of the leaves and shimmered like mercury. As you pulled the bunches out of the water they sounded like pom-poms as you shook them off. Here is Ben and Jared packing a bin for market
. Go Team!This week we have four students from the Culinary School of the Rockies
volunteering with us. CSR has a "Farm to Table"
program to train chefs to source food organically, locally and in season. They have to do a three week farm rotation as part of their course work. Almost every day we have at least one volunteer who comes out for 4hrs. or so. We love our volunteers. And we always need more. There is Nicki, the yarn spinner, who comes on Monday, Malinda the ex-synchronized swimmer who comes on Tuesday and Elijah the 14yr. old hippie who comes on Wednesday and knows more about veggies than I do. Really impressive how much knowledge this kid has. It is especially fun to see the reaction of a first time volunteer when they work on the farm. Listen to me! I sound like I've been here for two years not two weeks. But you get assimilated quick, haha ;) Anyway...yesterday, we were preparing a bed for planting and pulling out the thistles. It's pretty time consuming and you have to wear gloves. Hilary, one of the CSR students, said, "I have so much more respect for produce now that I understand how much work goes into the production." I smiled and thought to myself, "exactly!" We got another one hooked!
Today was Shanan's birthday (center). Lucky girl was born on the Solstice! We took a long lunch and fired up the brick oven to make pizzas in celebration. In the picture to the left is my farm family. Clockwise starting from guy in the gray t-shirt (upper left): Jesse, Oliver, Jared, Rob, Ben, Austin, Me, Spencer, Shanan, Rich and Dylan. We somehow mustered enough energy to go back out in the fields after lunch to plant some baby lettuce. It was the perfect post feast exercise...social and routine. Rich, the owner, is always sharing educational nuggets or words of wisdom. We'll be walking the rows of vegetables and he'll survey the the crops making comments like a guide in a wildlife preserve, "Over there we have the melons. See how they're vines have grown two feet in a week. They're ready to push. We'll see melons soon." Or this afternoon, we are placing the lettuce starters in the ground and he starts talking about how much he loves planting for it's meditative, peaceful motion, "Planting is like walking with your hands!" At the end of the day, I stopped to visit with one of the new chicken
families on the farm. Here's the chicken cam
It's Monday and another HUGE day on the farm. Always something to learn!
The coolest thing by far was learning how to siphon. Maybe this was something you learned way back when but I never did. Today, we had to empty the tubs of water we use to wash the veggies. The tubs don't have drains so instead of emptying them out with buckets, we siphoned the water out. I was delighted with this new trick. If you are like me and not in the know, here is how it works...you take a hose that is not connected to a spicket but leads out to any area that can drain. Then you take a hose that is connected to a water source and submerge both hoses in the water. Turn on the water and blow the water into the drain hose. It creates a vacuum that pulls the water from the tub and out the drain hose. Magic! But the best part is not the siphoning, it's what happens before when you are preparing the veggies and greens. Today's processing was a private order for a local employer's organic cafeteria. Dunking the heads of lettuce and rinsing them lovingly in a cool bath is so soothing and therapuetic. I like thinking were they will go and the yummy dish they will be apart of.Today was also a rainy day so we found ourselves back
on The Greenhouse Project. We made a lot of progress. First loosening the firm ground underneath with ditches of water (see pictures below). Once absorbed, we shaped the mixture of sand, clay and compost into raised beds. Working the ingredients you could see the healthy soil developing in front of you. We first used pitchforks to chisle the soil, then added more compost sifting it through the top layer and finally raking the beds to even out the peaks and valleys. When you are doing this type of work, you are doing a lot of repetitive tasks. Tasks that you take joy in perfecting or just having fun with because they become rhythmic. So as we listened to some reggae funk music on the greenhouse's stereo, I can up with this dance routine
(click the link for the video). It added a little cardo workout to the movement. Maybe local Crossfit
gyms would be interested in coming out to the farm for a few rotations. Could be a good way to recruit some volunteers :)
There are lots of buzz words out there to catch consumers attention making them think they are making the right food choice...all natural, organic, sustainable, healthy, local, cage free, free range, GMO Free, minimally processed, no antibiotics used, grass fed, grass finished, hormone free, etc... There is a great article on HuffPost Green
which helps demystify many of these terms. Most are used to green wash a product making you think that you are being eco-conscious. Speaking of green, there's another overused word that has lost much of its true meaning. But for this discussion, we'll keep it too food labeling. Let's take a few...you can have local but it may not be organic, you can have grass fed but it may not be grass finished because most cattle producers have to sell their happy cows to feed lots because there aren't enough USDA approved slaughterhouses. Slapping GMO free or hormone free is a lame attempt to make a product look good. It doesn't say anything about the way in which the vegetable or animal was grown or raised. Were pesticides used? were they humanely treated? etc... My personal favorite is "minimally processed." Not sure if that one helps or hinders. I see that and all kinds of ugly images come to mind. Something tells me those two words are not meant to go together and the marketing team who came up with it should be fired. For the consumer though, it's a clue into how that food was produced. There are of course the easy targets like "all natural" and "healthy." If you fall for those, be warned...Remember the potato chips that admittedly caused gastrointestinal-itis? They called themselves "healthy." That's how easy it to throw otherwise harmless words around. But in my opinion, the most misunderstood terms are cage-free and free-range. Bad news...both are bad. Cage-free just means that instead of stuffing eight chickens into a cage they are left in a concert like mosh pit inside a indoor soccer ring. And free-range just means there needs to be access at some point to the outside in the animals life. In the case of chickens, they don't get access till they are like eight weeks old and even then it is just a small lot attached to the hen house. They don't have a concept for the outside by this point and thus never use it. If I see "pasture raised," I feel a lot better. It at least gives me a glimpse into the animal's life. Meat, dairy and eggs are typically pretty easy to source locally if you do some research. Dig little deeper and make sure you agree with the farm's practices and your golden. We all have our own perception of what "being healthy" means. Bottom line...with every food choice, ask yourself the question, "Where did this food come from?"
So there I was...at a stop light on Broadway Ave which cuts right through the heart of Boulder. I've got my left elbow out the truck window and tapping my right hand on the steering wheel as I listen to some groovy tunes on
local radio, KBCO
. I look to my left and take a double take. "Wait a second...I know those two. They're my farmers!!" Pasted to the outside of Alfafa's Market
, is a billboard sized photo of Abbondonza
owners, Rich Pecoraro and Shanan Olson. I was beaming with pride to know my farm, my farmers were being recognized so highly in their community. And it's true...there is a lot of respect for these two. They are the soul of the farmer's market and the growing community in Boulder. After missing the Wednesday market the week before last, a competing farm told Rich that the market is not the same without them and that it lacks a little energy and zing when Abbondonza is not present.
A big part of that respect is due to their knowledge about seeds...Over half of Abbondonza's business is dedicated to seed saving from locally adapted crops. Meaning, they test a variety of each vegetable they grow to determine which is best suited for the Front Range climate. The ones that thrive will later be given a whole crop. They'll let all the plants bolt (bloom) and go to seed. They package the seeds selling them to backyard and large-scale growers (you too can order them from their website
). They see it as more than just a business opportunity but something all farmers should be incorporating into their practice. It's a whole other story for conventional farmers who are hog-tied to ag giants like Monsanto and Cargill for seeds. But organic farms can build self-reliance and security if they too saved seeds. Rich has been at it for close to 35 years getting his start on organic farms in the late 70's and later learning about seeds when he worked for Seeds of Change in New Mexico. Homework assignment...Find out your farmer's story!p.s. Wondering what Abbondonza means? It means "abundance." But what makes that even cooler is, "Abbondonza" is Rich's grandmother's maiden name
Check it out..We made food! I was so excited for this morning's harvest in preparation for the Wednesday night Farmer's Market in downtown Boulder. It was Abbondonza's first time at market this year with fresh produce. Up till now, it has just been seeds, starters and eggs. The crew was fired up as we entered the fields to celebrate the first bounty of the season. Rich, the owner exalted, "It's Food Time!" I felt honored to be gathering today's veggies. Months of work culminating in a single pick, pluck and pinch. Occasional oohs and ahhs would arise from the crew as they discovered an exceptionally lovely head of Romaine Cosmo Lettuce, perfectly shaped Baby Choy or a golf ball-sized radish. In one of my favorite farm films, Friday's at the Farm
, the narrator describes picking radishes "like you are pulling teeth from the mouth of God." I love that image. Just as in every process on the farm, there is a lot of care that goes into the picking...you hand snap the spinach leaves, cut and trim the lettuce leaves and hand select the best radishes. For the spinach, it is about leaving the right leaves so it can regrow. There are soft, pale leaves at the base which protect the plant. Those you leave. And the real gnarly, crinkly leaves are actually young leaves so you leave those to mature picking only the ripe ones which are flatter but just as polished. Once collected, every piece is protected in the shade under damp cloths till it gets to go swimming in the rinsing pool. It's a full on spa treatment for vegetables getting them all spiffed up for their first date with their new owner, you!