Category Archives: WWOOF

mano y mano

The scene pictured above was taken by Quin my second or third week here. I’m trimming onions and Justin is organizing what is probably 80 or 90 pounds of zucchini. Since this harvest, the CSA pick has consistently been an unbelievable bounty. And now, a month and a half later, tomorrow will be the last Mano Farm harvest in which I will partake for the foreseeable future. When I was rearranging the fire pit yesterday in Quin’s sunflower circle, I felt so at peace with myself and my time with Quin and Justin at Mano, but I was also struck with the stark melancholy that happens whenever I have to transition away from something. Time truly goes too fast.

I rarely took photographs here. Today, while I was harvesting tomatoes (now pumping out about 70 pounds a week from a single bed) and ground cherries around sunset, I realized why. The beauty here is very difficult to capture in one image, at least the beauty how I experience it. I find myself really appreciating the transitions: from a bed of weeds to one with freshly transplanted seedlings; from a lifeless flat of seeds to the adorable effort of seedlings breaking through the surface; from the blazing heat of the late afternoon to the sudden coolness of dusk. These things could not even be properly conveyed with a video camera; indeed, I will need to rely on my mind’s eye to recall the magic and labor of the past eight weeks on this land.

I also realized that I barely posted any recipes this entire summer. Today, during the same harvest, I also realized why. We cook with what we have, and although I definitely consulted recipes for inspiration and at times for concrete directions, the food preparation relies entirely on the available ingredients. Ingredients come first, culinary desires second, substantially reversing the way food is consumed by the majority of the Western world, and often myself. Additionally, the food this summer was all phenomenal due to a combination of factors that render recipes moot: a visceral connection with the produce, unbeatable freshness, the cooking talents of Justin and Quin, and the best sauce–the hunger built up from hours of physical labor.

Saying my good-byes will not be easy.

straight veggin’

The farm has been in a state of food excess since the day I arrived. The beauty of farming at the height of the growing season is the incredibly bounty of food that the earth constantly provides, and we don’t want the labor that goes into growing and nurturing that food to go to waste by throwing perfectly good food into the compost pile. So, we have been doing a lot of eating, canning, freezing and selling of vegetables to maximize our labor. The second shift of food processing is equally as important these days.

A few hours after waking up this morning, I threw a bunch of potatoes, carrots, onions and basil into a crock pot with cannellini beans I reconstituted to go with last night’s Burgess buttercup squash curry. Dinner tonight will be brought to us by the magic of all day in a crock pot set to low.

Two days ago, we cleared all of the radishes out of a bed that had been planted with both carrots and radishes. Much to my amazement, radishes go from seed to plump and spicy vegetable in three weeks. Carrots take a lot longer, so when the radishes are removed from the bed, the carrots continue to grow.

After clearing all of the radishes, we selected the best specimens to replant into a different bed to grow out for seed, but about 150 radishes didn’t make the cut. I’ll make braised radishes for lunch, some radish relish to serve with tacos for tomorrow’s lunch (maybe), and a boatload of radish pickles from a recipe in Liana Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry. (This book has been a savior for us during the height of zucchini and apricot onslaught.)

Yesterday we planted the rest of the tomato seedlings that have been patiently waiting in the greenhouse for their time to enter the big, bad world. At the same time, I completed the first real tomato harvest of the season, a promising 14 lbs. of Costoluto Genovese and Thessaloniki varieties. There are so many green tomatoes on the vine waiting to ripen, so we are staring at the tip of the iceberg with a clear view of the what lies ahead. So exciting! So much canning awaits! Salsa, marinara, arrabiata–who knows?

“to boil”

Sandor Ellix Katz, author of Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, has been a culinary inspiration here on the farm (see: sauerkraut galore, kimchi even more galore), and I just started reading his other book, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements. He offers the connection between fermentation and fervor as motivation for his foray into the second book:

“Just as fermenting liquids exhibit a bubbling action similar to boiling, so do excited people, filled with passion and unrestrained. Revolutionary ideas, as they spread and mutate, ferment the culture. Agitation of fermenting liquids stimulates the process and quickens fermentation, as evidenced by increased bubbling action. Agitation similarly stimulates social ferment.”

I learned today that fervor and ferment are both derived from the latin fervere, or to boil. I was so overwhelmed by the amount of information Katz seamlessly, energetically fits into his writing that I only read about 10 pages before stopping and looking up everything he references. Let’s just say that today, Katz rose even higher on my list of “Top People I Would Like To Meet. Please. And Thank You.”

That brings me to a bit of food for thought about environmental thoughtlessness motivated by capitalist values, brought to us by ol’ Sandor himself:

“My friend, Les, who is a trucker, had a job driving between Idaho and Maine, back and forth, hauling frozen Idaho potato products to Maine and frozen Maine potato products to Idaho. Go figure. It must make business sense for whoever is paying to have it moved. I came across a news report that a Seattle-based salmon marketer is shipping Alaskan salmon and crab to China for labor-intensive processing, then shipping it back to the United States, a total of 8,000 miles. ‘Something that would cost us one dollar per pound labor here, they get it done for twenty cents in China,’ says Charles Bundrant, founder of Trident Seafoods. This is the logic of global capital and it is shortsighted because it ignores, or externalizes, the depletion of nonrenewable resources and the grave environmental costs of all these extraneous food miles.”

The same mindset that motivates salmon shipments to China and back initiates mass chemical spraying and GMO proliferation, all of which complicate and obstruct the actual nutrition of food. It also ignores the very same micro-ecosystems I mentioned in my previous post, and in most cases, prevents them from developing at all. When I was harvesting coriander seeds from a cilantro plant the other day, I was amazed at the amount of ladybugs on the plant. Quin and Justin told me that Coriandrum sativum does a fabulous job of attracting beneficial critters, like ladybugs, that then integrate into the farm ecosystem and work as natural pest control. If all the cilantro is sprayed with Roundup to prevent weeds and a mess of other things to prevent the various pests, where will all the ladybugs bone?

pest or food: a snail story

We are living in a state of food excess on the farm, so much so that anything not being intentionally grown is destined for the compost pile. I have pulled a countless amount of edible weeds from the ground, leaving them to wilt and die in the path. We have probably gotten rid of enough lamb’s quarters to have as a significant portion of every meal for the past four weeks. Yesterday, I was weeding a bed of beets and uprooted two of the largest tomatillo plants currently on the farm. They were removed because that bed was for beets, not tomatillos. All of this unwanted biomass ends up getting turned into compost, but I really wanted to do something about it, however small. So, I ate some snails.

My progress has been discussed a bit here and there on the blog, but a quick recap: After collecting all of the snails, I had them on a diet of lettuce for about four days. I then switched their food source to cilantro, rosemary, Mexican tarragon (another farm “weed”), and leaves from a lemon tree to finish off their flavor for several days. Then, I cleaned them all and put them in a wooden box with a bowl of water for three days, changing the water and cleaning the box each day. Finally, this past Friday we cooked them.

After boiling the snails for five minutes, I pulled the meat out of the shell (a crazy, crazy sight) and removed a cartilaginous part that felt even less fun to eat than the snail slimefest. I heated up the wok, tossed in a lot of farm-grown garlic, onion, and cilantro, and finally added the snail meat. Justin had made tortillas, and snail tacos were served with a squeeze of lime juice, some fresh onion, and more cilantro.

I deem this project a success. Despite the slime factor of the snail meat, the flavor of the meal was pretty delicious and the people who ate the tacos are still alive. Also, I killed about 80 snails in the process and their deaths went towards feeding me, three others, and eventually the farm dog.

A few days later, I was reading Gary Paul Nabhan’s Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, which is a pretty interesting counterpart to Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. While both are accounts of  local eating, Kingsolver moved her family away from Arizona for her project while Nabhan chose to embrace the local foods of his Arizona foodshed. If the O’odham Indians survived in and around Flagstaff, Arizona for centuries, Nabhan posits, surely the foodshed provides food worth understanding and integrating into one’s diet.

Anyway, he writes about the gathering and roasting some hornworms, and then seeing many of the worms in the beds of a small farm. He writes: “Should I think of them as part of the harvest or as a pest? I realized that most statistics defined agriculture’s productivity far too narrowly, merely measuring the yield of intentionally sown crops in a field, ignoring or even discouraging the rest of life that clusters there.” The farmers and I definitely recognize the tendency for more and more wildlife to find their way to the farm and become part of the micro-ecosystems of the individual beds, but efforts are still made to quell any population of weed or bug that is not being grown intentionally.

My snail experiment worked to alter slightly how I think about snails when I see them munching on the cabbage and beet greens–as an organism that is just trying to survive, and one that can provide sustenance as well.

chicken harvest

There was a period of about 18 months when I was a vegetarian, with some months stricter than others. There was an absolutely ridiculous time when I ate meat in general but the only pork I consumed was prosciutto imported from Italy, “because they know how to treat their pigs,” I reasoned. Now, I accept that I am going to eat meat because it is delicious and nutritious, but I try to be mindful about the source of my meat.

Mano Farm is on the same property as Funny Farms, a small farm that raises pastured chickens. Quin and Justin trade vegetables for a chicken every other week, and they are truly delicious. Seizing the opportunity of this proximity to a clean, sustainable, humane chicken farm, I asked one of the farm’s owners, Paul, if I could be involved with the harvest. On Wednesday morning, I walked down to the front of the property and began my education about chicken processing.

First, we went to the pasture where the chickens were roaming around these Chicken Tractors modeled after the Joel Salatin pastured chicken practices. (Salatin is featured in Food, Inc. and mentioned in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.) We put them in these crates to transfer to the area where the killing cones, scalder, and plucker were. After disinfecting the processing tables, knives and storage coolers, Paul started the exsanguination process.

The chickens are put head first into these cones, which have a bucket placed under them to catch the blood. I was startled at first by the amount that the chickens flopped around while bleeding out, but Paul told me that it was natural and I eventually got used to it. After they stopped moving completely, they were transferred into a scalder. The water was 140° F, hot enough to loosen the feathers from the chicken but not hot enough to start cooking the meat.

After scalding, the chickens went in the plucker (above). They spun around for about 45 seconds, and when they come out, they are nearly feather-free. At the processing table, my first job was to take out any feathers that remained in the birds, or any that were not fully removed. I felt like a chicken dermatologist ridding the skin of imperfections.

Watching the others do the more intense processing (i.e., chopping feet off, chopping heads off, gutting the birds) made me want to learn how to do it. I slowly graduated to feet removal, and I removed a few oil glands from the tail end of the bird. Apparently, leaving the oil gland on gives the chicken a funky flavor. Eventually, though, I went through the step-by-step process of removing the crop (a sac where chickens store food), loosening the trachea, cutting open the bottom, and coaxing the entire inner cavity out in one fell swoop. In the process, I learned everything I need to know about chicken anatomy. I ended up processing two chickens almost entirely by myself; I did everything except for the neck removal, which was a lot harder than I was expecting.

For lunch after this mind-blowing experience, I brought home a couple of chicken hearts, pan-seared them, and tossed them with kelp noodles, lettuce from the farm, sesame seeds, shredded carrot, and a sesame oil vinaigrette. Chicken heart is delicious, especially when it was beating just a few hours before you ate it.

Despite the fairly lax tone of this post, I am pretty sure I am still suffering from PCSD (post chicken stress disorder). It is good to know the process behind getting chicken from the farm to my belly, and it motivated me to learn how to prepare offal properly. Taking the guts out and putting them on the compost pile made me want to learn how to make sausage from fresh chicken intestine, using as much of the bird as possible. I hope that I am able to go through that process one day.

zucchini glut

I have become privy to a perennial woe of summer farming: way too much zucchini. In her chapter “Zucchini Wars,” Barbara Kingsolver describes that the only time people lock her doors in her Virginia neighborhood is during zucchini season to prevent any unwelcome “gifts” of other growers’ zucchini. Steve Sprinkel, an organic farmer, author, and friend of Quin and Justin, wrote about zucchini season in Edible Ojai, mentioning that around July, he’d be at the farmer’s market with a pile of zucchini “melting” on him: “Of course you have too much zucchini. I have too much myself. Why did I grow it? Why did I yield to the siren song of summer squash yet again? After all these years, I go Groundhog Day with the zucchini and always get the same results.”

The past three Sundays, I have harvested the zucchini for the CSA. Last week and the week before that, each share was offered 3-5 zucchini, depending on size, but this week, we asked people to take as many as humanly possible. I have a feeling that we will be giving that instruction for a few more weeks to come.

Inspired by the insane amount of zucchini we have to go through this week (three leftover from last Sunday and about 20 beauties about the size of a professional wrestlers forearm), I made zucchini latkes the other day. We were not yet in the overload of Sundays zucchini harvest so I mixed the latke batter with shredded parsnip, onion, apple, and carrot (freshly harvested, archetypal carrots, no less).

Harvest Latkes
Serves 3 hungry farmers, or 6 people

finished latkes (applesauce in the background)

3 cups shredded zucchini
2 cups shredded carrot
1 cup shredded parsnip
1/2 cup shredded onion
1/4 cup shredded apple
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons flax seeds, ground and soaked in 4 tablespoons water)
1 cup flour (any mixture of flours will suffice)
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Mix all of the ingredients together. If it is too watery, add more flour. Heat a skillet with some oil and shape the batter into latkes. Cook for four minutes on either side. Serve with homemade applesauce!

P.S. Zucchini processing to come: Hot-Cumin Zucchini Pickle, Zucchini Bread-and-Butter Pickle with Ginger, frozen shredded zucchini (for future zucchini bread), dehydrated zucchini (for soups and to use as chips), and zucchini in every meal.

P.P.S. When I was finishing clipping the roots and stalks off of onions for the CSA, some members were arriving to pick up their share. One member came with a friend, this lovely woman who ended up being from Sardinia, my #1 place-to-go on planet earth (yes, it beat out Iceland). She was mentioning this zucchini pizza she made, and I think I’m going to get that going at some point. Zucchini (have more than anyone needs), fresh tomato sauce (will make once tomatoes arrive), fresh mozzarella (will make once I get some raw milk), olive oil, and some fresh basil sprinkled on top after it bakes.

farm snapshot

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Just reading some Barbara Kingsolver after a not-so-long, but still tiring, day on the farm. I started this book two days ago, and I am already more than halfway through it. Kingsolver’s discussion of growing her own vegetables, raising her own fowl, making her own cheese (mozzarella!), and foraging for morels and blackberries has been a great complement to my current farming foray. It is also an inspiring read, getting me quite excited about the gardens and self-sufficient (pray tell) vegetable growing endeavors in my future.

Kingsolver’s daughter Camille is one of the book’s co-authors (Kingsolver’s husband Steven, an environmental studies professor, also contributes), providing commentary, seasonal meal plans, and recipes. With her inspiration, I made an “egg in a nest” this morning for breakfast: an egg poached in a bed of sauteed greens. With a sprinkle of salt, a couple grinds of pepper, and a hunk of Armenian flatbread, I had downed my morning fuel. Shout out to whomever was like, “Unfertilized chicken baby? Imma eat me summa dat.”

Other foods to note: candied kumquats, fresh tortillas with sauerkraut (tastes eerily like a hot dog with mustard and kraut, but maybe I just wanted it to), those pickled garlic scapes (still going strong), a gluten-free sourdough starter (almost ready!), and the best plums (and apricots) I have ever eaten.

Other foods-in-progress to note: Started the five day snail cleansing/finishing/flavoring today by throwing the 80 collected dudes in a bucket with cilantro, Mexican tarragon, leaves from a lemon tree, and rosemary. I hope they enjoy the herbs enough so that the flavors come through! Also picked some lemons today to begin the summer’s lemonadefest.