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Archive for the ‘farming’ Category

The National Chefs Collaborative Summit took place in Seattle this week, and I’ve enjoyed many thought provoking tidbits posted on Twitter by participants.  On Monday during Ruth Reichl’s keynote address, New York Times writer Kim Severson broadcast a statistic that certainly got my attention, and was re-tweeted by 25 others:

Kim Severson ‏‪@kimseverson

Stunning stat: ‪@ruthreichl says only 2% of Americans have been to a farm. ‪#natlsum12

I did some very quick and unscientific fact-checking which was inconclusive about how many Americans have in fact visited a farm.  The 2% number is frequently sited as the percentage of Americans who live on a farm. But I’m not going to get hung up on the validity of that number; that’s not what motivated me to write today.

My first (and online) reaction to this small percentage of American farm visitors was this: it’s definitely not for lack of interest.  We field farm tour requests on a daily basis.  And when our city customers come to the town of Vashon and visit our butcher shop and restaurant, they frequently remark –usually with a detectable note a disappointment– that they were expecting the enterprise to be located within our actual farm.

The fact is we offer tours on a very limited basis; about four times a year, and this schedule falls woefully short of the demand.  If we could fling open the gates to every request, we’d be doing so every weekend, to dozens of farm-curious folk.  And it’s this very non-existent openness that our customers expect.  Isn’t that what healthy, small-scale farming is supposed to be about: transparency?  But it’s more complicated than that.  As I explain to many, we have electric fencing.  We have a bull.  Neither should be experienced on a self-guided “tour” of the farm.   Which means farm visits require a docent of sorts, and therefore one of our already-stretched-thin employees must stop milking the cows, feeding the pigs, moving the chicken tractors, etc. to serve as farm guide.  We’re not there, yet.

For now, the limited and scheduled “farm events” must suffice.  In fact, we are holding such an event next week and 36 guests will join us for a full tour during the afternoon milking, plus barrel sampling and cheese tasting from the cellar, followed by a harvest feast at the restaurant.  The event sold out quickly, affirming what I already know.  People are hungry for more than the food.

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Image courtesy of Charity Lynne Burggraaf

My friend Gene shared this phrase with me, “mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful”, from E. E. Cummings’ poem about spring, [in-Just].  It’s hard to scowl while uttering these words.  So despite our very, very wet March, when it comes to my attitude about the recent weather patterns, I’m turning over a new tree.  After all, Spring Solstice is this weekend.

Technically, Spring Solstice occurs on March 20 or 21, when our sun crosses the celestial equator from south to north; day and night are balanced to nearly 12 hours each all over the world, and the earth’s axis of rotation is perpendicular to the line connecting the centers of the earth and sun.  But this date alone is not my only clue that our “mud luscious” spring is upon us.  The Pacific tree frogs are also singing; an annual rite that makes me smile in bed as I listen to their seasonal cacophony.  The wild daffodils have appeared; lining the northwest perimeter of our pasture; glimmers of hope on the horizon.   And best of all, the first batch of spring chicken is on the menu.

In honor of the Solstice, this weekend our tasting menu features roasted ‘poussin’, as the farm crew has initiated our 2011 poultry season with the first poulet rouge of the year.  In addition to our small plates and entrée menu, Friday and Saturday night we are delighted to serve the following:

First of Spring Salad Greens

Sunny side up farm egg and white wine vinaigrette

 

Farm Ricotta Gnudi with Yellowfoot Mushrooms

Sauteed with foraged stinging nettle puree

 

Grilled Veal Cutlet

With wild miner’s lettuce, lemon and thyme

 

Crème Fraiche Sherbet

Made with cultured farm cream, sprinkled with sea salt

 

Roasted Poussin

With spring chicken liver and potato puree and young rapini

 

Pink Lady Apple and Hazelnut Tart

Served with Moscato d’Asti sabayon

We will most likely be tip-toeing through the mud-lusciousness and puddle-wonderful for a few more weeks.   Nonetheless the flavors of Spring Equinox are upon us; a cause for celebration.

Join us;

206.567.4628

 

 

Image courtesy of Charity Lynne Burggraaf

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Photo courtesy of Charity Lynne Burggraaf

At Sea Breeze Farm, lengthening of the days and the slightly warmer weather of February and March cause the grasses in our pastures to come out of dormancy, and allow our milk cows to eat less hay, and graze on pure, green grass.  Not only is the flavor and quality of the milk improved immensely, the cow’s production goes way up, and affords us the opportunity to make more delicious dairy-based products. Getting to produce these things for a dinner celebration lets us know that spring is close at hand.  This weekend, each item on our prix fixe menu will feature hand made dairy products that are produced with the utmost care and respect for beauty of the milk.  Join us for:

 

FIRST COURSE

prosciutto with fresh mozzarella and butter crackers

 

SECOND COURSE

ricotta gnudi with wild mushroom and shallot butter

 

INTERMEZZO

lemon/rosemary semifreddo

 

ENTREE

pork shoulder braised in buttermilk,

savoy cabbage and creme fraiche whipped potatoes

 

DESSERT

fresh bay leaf ice cream

shortbread tart with cream caramel

 

Friday and Saturday dinner service begins at 5:30pm.

Our a la carte menu  will also be available.

 

To make your reservation:

call us at 206.567.4628

 

Join us in tasting and celebrating the coming of Spring!

 

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This morning I couldn’t stop thinking about the sense of smell.  We watched a movie last night, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006) that was a mediocre adaptation of an incredible book originally published in 1985 by the German author Peter Suskind.   The book’s descriptions of scents –from 18th Century Paris no less—have stayed with me for over a decade, and despite the lackluster reviews, I just had to see how the story was depicted in the film.

I tend to short-change scent, as a sense, so this morning I tried to rectify that.  While walking up Western Avenue in downtown Seattle, I endeavored to mimic the main character of Perfume and quite literally ‘follow my nose.’  I forced myself to linger on each scent, good and bad, and as if meditating, gently return my consciousness to the project at hand, when I found my thoughts –and other senses—taking over.

The creosote planks of the pier; the fuel-laced, hot Earthy air discharged by a leaf blower; the awakening inhabitants of the Victor Steinbrueck Park in Pike Place Market.  I tried, in the olfactory sense, to acknowledge each; some obviously more pleasant than others.  Which led me to mentally ruminate –and temporarily forget about smelling—on what we think smells “good” and what scents are conversely labeled “bad.”  I definitely have some experience in this regard.

After all, there are many strong smells on the farm.  I suspect most visitors notice them immediately when they arrive.  I confess I have probably become immune to all but the strongest.  But cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, dogs and humans all omit distinct smells, as does the grass, grain, and food scraps they consume, to say nothing of the waste they create.  But there are wonderful smells, too.  Bacon smoking.  Dew-drenched fresh pasture.  Skins and stems of stomped grapes, to say nothing of oak barrels, and fermenting juice.

These smells are absent in the city.  The degree to which this is so thorough surprised me.  This morning during my experiment, I saw a Charlie’s Produce delivery sitting curbside in front of Cutter’s Restaurant.  Approaching the dozens of vegetables crates, I expected the scents of their contents to reach my nose.  The boxes were hardly impermeable; I could see the produce.  I drew in; nothing.  I slowed as I walked past, focusing on what I thought I should smell, my imagination trying to help my nose along.  Didn’t happen.  Nada.  My nose moved on to the Mid-Westerners asking directions to the fish market.

The farm smells of life.  Of beginning, of nurturing, of thriving, of dying, of decomposing.  Plants, animals, people.   And life is not always tidy.

Granted, I know people who are terribly burdened by keenly sensitive noses.  In Perfume, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, born without a scent of his own, certainly met –and led others to—a very ugly demise as a result.  But I suspect for the rest of us, we underutilize and fail to recognize this aspect of interaction.  Of life.

What do you smell, right this minute?

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I started writing about this a few days ago and found it too depressing to finish, so I put the idea aside.  But the topic keeps creeping into my consciousness, and frankly anything else I could say this week would feel false without first exploring this subject.

Last week I read and posted on Facebook an article published by GRIST about the increase of raids on farms and private food clubs.  Here is a link to the complete article.   Essentially there are farms in several states experiencing severe crack-downs regarding the sale and distribution of raw food through informal, communal channels.  Several friends and customers commented on the piece.  They echoed most of my own feelings:  shock, outrage, incredulous.  However I don’t believe any of these lovely folks are farmers themselves, so I was perhaps alone in imagining my own doorstep graced with armed visitors, attempting to confiscate our computers, products, etc.  Don’t even get me started on the description of the mother with young children being held at gunpoint for several hours.   (KOMO, KIRO, KING; are you listening???)

In the last ten years, we have jumped through literally hundreds of hoops to avoid such a fate.  We are a Washington State Department of Agriculture licenced facility for chicken slaughter.  We are a Washington State Department of Agriculture licensed facility for egg washing. (Yes, there is a license for this.)  We are a Washington State certified Raw Milk Dairy.  We are licensed to sell our products at three Seattle farmers markets, for each of which the King County Department of Health requires a separate permit and fee.  We are a licensed and certified winery (in accordance with the TTB/Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms),  food establishment with beer & wine license (licensed and inspected by the King County Health Department) and butcher shop (inspected by the Washington State Department of Agriculture).  We employ ten of the hardest working, most incredibly talented and persevering  individuals in Washington State, for which we must tango with Washington Labor & Industries Department, not to mention the good old federal government.

All of the above is a lot of headache for a very small yet complex operation.  And there isn’t a week that goes by when we don’t wonder if it’s really worth it.   Do you know why we do it?  It’s certainly not because we see legitimacy as a road to riches.   Because we believe in it.  We believe it is all possible.  That raising healthy animals humanely, in a manner that is in true stewardship to the land, maintaining the integrity of what we produce, and delivering those products to customers that understand and value and appreciate the difference, is a viable business model. That what is good and right can be held up to the light of day.  That this type of farming can be done legitimately, without being a Rockefeller.  That there is an alternative to the corporate monster that has become our food chain.  That our health and the Earth are more important than corporate interests.  That our lives depend on it.

So we’ve jumped through the hoops.  And we continue to do so.  And we believe in the power of collaboration.  We believe in the individuals we have come to know within the regulatory entities, whom through their own experiences of health and food and agriculture see a better future together.  In fact, I wish we could discuss all of these challenges in our kitchen, over a delicious meal of farm raised chicken; pork loin braised in milk and herbs; heavenly smoked bacon.  Let’s figure out a solution to the cut & wrap ban.  But please; leave the police escorts behind.

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One of the great things about having a farm is meeting other people who desire the same.  We are often graced with visitors that have the gleam in their eye, who almost always ask first, “So, did you grow up on a farm, doing all this?” (The short answer is no.  For the answer to the follow-up question, see Claire: The Urban Chicken Experiment.)

It wasn’t that long ago when George and I were making the Saturday day trips to Vashon Island ourselves, delighting in going from farm to farm, marveling at the honor system of making your own change in the self-serve farm stands, drunk on the heavenly produce and bucolic scenery.  Some farms even invited the visitor to help themselves in the garden and harvest their own.  I was hooked.  On visiting farms, at least.

One Saturday, the Vashon Island Growers Association sponsored a Farm Tour weekend.  Even though we had been conducting our own weekly farm tours, this trip we would actually meet some of the folks that were so conspicuously absent from their Point of Sale.

I giggle remembering the visit to Island Meadow Farm.  At that time, the farm was owned and operated by Bob Gregson, and it was a vision in both beauty and organization.  The kiwi arbors, the curving beds of salad greens; everything looked whipped into shape and under control (something our farm never seems to be!).

“So you think you might want to do this? Become farmers?” Bob asked.  I looked behind me to see who he was addressing, expecting someone wide-eyed with enthusiasm.  Nobody was behind me.  But George was next to me, with exactly that expression.

Do we want to become farmers?  Honestly, that had never really occurred to me.  I loved Vashon Island, I loved visiting other people’s farms.  But could I create this?  Could I live this?  The feeling was reminiscent of when you settle into a roller coaster seat, just moments before the ride begins and the safety bar clicks into place, locking you in for the duration.  Wait!  We’re really doing this?!

Yet anyone that is married can attest that binding your life to another’s means that you will go on rides and down paths you never imagined or even intended.  And not every path is a beautiful garden trail complete with trellises and aromatic herbs.  Nor is it always a death-defying “amusement” ride.  Starting a farm on Vashon Island –fueled by George’s passion and vision, bolstered by optimism and a good measure of guts– has been an experience more rich, at times terrifying yet more life affirming, thrilling and satisfying than any course I would have charted for myself.  And now, when I see that gleam in the eyes of others, visitors or employees envisioning a farm business for themselves, I take stock.  Of what we have created, how far we have come from that day at Island Meadow.  Will this person before me do the same?  Why not?  What do you have to lose?

Lucca at Sea Breeze Farm

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Photo by Alex Earle

We have a baby to name.

A new calf, spry and healthy; a female that will eventually have a calf of her own and give countless gallons of milk in the years to come.  Born to first-time mama Pearl, who was also born on our farm a few years back, making her baby a third-generation addition to the bovine Sea Breeze Family.

The naming of a new cow is an honor, and it is the farm crew who ultimately enjoy the naming rights.  As they should; often they are the midwives of these new babes, witnessing and assisting with their arrivals, at times just hours before heading to the farmers’ market.  (Yes, our crew that serves you at the market booth are the same folks that work and run the farm.  Ask them about it.)  The names are also crucial for general livestock management; we do not pierce our cows’ ears with number tags, so their names are every bit as important and necessary as any human’s that is associated with the farm.

Lucy was our first cow –she was named by her previous owner– and remains the matriarch of the herd, always insisting on being milked first; a solo Holstein in a sea of Jerseys and Milking Shorthorns.  Then came Guadalupe (“Lupita”), then Teeny (our biggest cow), then Chocolate Soup.  Our daughter was three at the time, and Chocolate Soup was an accurately descriptive name of her rich coloring.  Chocolate Snow soon followed, also accurately descriptive of the cow’s mottled appearance, though considerably less appetizing.

Photo by Alex Earle

Names were given to subsequent calves in conjunction with the events of their births.  Magdalena (“Maggie”) was born Easter Sunday.  Cypress was named after the century-old tree that was taken down on her birth day.  Luna was born under a dramatic eclipse.  Strawberry born the weekend of her namesake’s festival.  Hussein came into this world the day The President was inaugurated.

At some point we turned to Country Western singers for naming inspiration.  Into our life marched Hank, Emmy Lou, & Dusty.  And now Pearl’s baby will most likely be dubbed Lucinda, Loretta or June.  George liked Dolly–we’re hoping for a big udder– but as a friend aptly pointed out, the calf is clearly a brunette.

Yet in all honesty, sometimes a carefully crafted given name simply gives way to a sticky nickname, as it is with humans from time to time.  Lucinda/Loretta/June might just be “Noodle” for the rest of her natural-born life on Sea Breeze Farm.  And so it goes.

Photo by Alex Earle

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