Tag Archives: Mano Farm

my week in the bay, pt. 2

I failed to mention in my last post something that most of you probably know. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it: the Bay area is a foodie mecca. Not only is there delicious food around every corner, but Northern California seems to has its wits about them in terms of food justice awareness and action. Like everywhere, there are definitely improvements to be made, but other urban areas can learn a thing or two from the organizations that have established a presence in San Francisco and Berkeley.

One of these organizations is La Cocina, an incubator kitchen in the Mission District that offers subsidized commercial kitchen rentals and entrepreneurial education to individuals with the culinary skills but without the financial resources to build their own commercial kitchen, go to business school, or invest in a project without guaranteed success. I visited La Cocina during one of my days of SF exploring and got a tour of the vibrant kitchen happenings: chai tea concentrate was being bottled, salsa was bubbling away, and tamales were being formed and steamed at record pace. It was inspiring and made me very, very hungry.

Following my recovery from the sensory overload inevitable from a visit to La Cocina, I passed Mission Pie. I immediately entered, armed with hunger, a craving for eggs, and the good word from a friend. Breakfast was a slice of broccoli quiche and The Best Latte I’ve Ever Had. Pretty sure I still have a lingering crush on that barista based solely on how that latte made me feel.

With mental and physical fuel from my respective visits to La Cocina and Mission Pie, I walked over to Hayes Valley Farm to volunteer for a day and help ease some of my Mano Farm withdrawal. The only job they had for me was compost sifting, so I did that for enough hours to sufficiently dirty my hands and make connections with some international visitors to SF. (I have a place to stay in Montreal with an urban farmer! Holla!) Hayes Valley is closing soon, as their agreement with the city is nearing its conclusion and the former highway off-ramp is going to be the site of an assisted living facility (or something), so I was happy to be catch them before they closed. And afterwards, I went to a little French bistro with two women from Barcelona and had this delectable cauliflower tart and bean salad.

A little cured meat porn to cure your ails. Spotted at the Fatted Calf, an insanely upscale specialty food store and expert in cured pork products. I ordered four slices of two salamis for a grand total of $1.98, much to the chagrin of everyone involved in servicing this customer. Screw them. I ended up walking to Toronado, a beer bar specializing in sours, ordering a cheap beer, and hiding at one of the back tables to enjoy my pork and beer. Nutritionally void; emotionally fulfilling.

One of my last meals in San Francisco was brunch at Mama’s, a tourist trap in Little Italy. And tourist trap it deserves to be. Connor and I waited on line for an hour and a half, and discussed our plan of attack for 95% of that time. We wanted a little bit of everything, so we split our plates. One of us ordered  the French toast sampler plate, complete with banana bread French toast (a revelation), and the other ordered the standard egg-meat-potato-toast brunch  combination/hangover cure. Dee. Lish. Us.

Houses of pastel and fog seen from Alamo Square Park, where I was accosted by approximately five dogs, three hippies, and one shaman-in-training. The population of San Francisco is primarily made of up dogs, hippies, and shamans-in-training, so I wasn’t too surprised. My trip to the Bay left me yearning to return before I even left, not only because two of my best friends live there, but a one-week stint left so much of its cultural and culinary richness unexplored. I can’t wait to visit again.

my week in the bay, pt. 1 (in pictures, over a month later)

When I left Mano Farm, I hopped up north for about a week and a half before returning to NJ and ultimately making the move to Maine. My week in San Francisco and Berkeley was delicious and invigorating, and I was finally able to sit down and share it with all of you.

My first meal in SF: a wild boar sausage from Rosamunde with an Anchor Steam to wash it down. Also, pickles. My decision to go for the boar was undoubtedly influenced by Michael Pollan’s recount of hunting one down in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Mano Farm zucchini, tomatoes and onions travelled up the coast with me to provide this nommy breakfast, coupled with a poached egg and some toast, all consumed in the very lovely, very French apartment of my friend Rachel who had visited me in Ojai a few weeks before my northward trek.

Tomato, manchego, red onion, parsley pizza at Arizmendi, a collective bakery where they churn out tons of scones and breads and muffins and cookies, and focaccia (oh my) but only one pizza variety per day. When I went to the bathroom, I saw a huge garbage pail labeled “Compost” filled to the brim with fennel fronds for tomorrow’s ‘za. Also spotted were countless 50 pound bags of wheat grown and milled in Northern California and a very attractive staff.

My hands still encrusted with Ojai soil, here I am sharing a brew with my friend Connor on his balcony in Berkeley. I don’t remember what this particular beer was, just that we had it with hummus and tortilla chips and called it dinner.

Dinner with Kristina and Rachel was a group effort: Kristina provided the tortellini while Rachel and I threw together the sauce and salad. Topped with some goat’s milk parmesan from a farmer’s market and chased with Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Wild, dinner was a success.

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.

“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.