New Farm Added to the Lineup! #fulltablefarm

We are pleased to announce a new farm will be joining us for a fantastic farm dinner!  Mindy and Juston over at Full Table Farm in Yountville will be providing an array of farm goodies for one of our dinners.  We are very excited because of the quality products and the naturally grown, organic manner in which they produce it.

I first met Mindy briefly at the farmer’s market at the Oxbow last season.  Summer was winding down and I was looking for some veggies to sample.  I was drawn to Mindy’s booth because of the cool sign she had…  I just dig it for some reason.  What a bonus to find how wonderful the vegetables were!  They sell to several fine restaurants in the Valley and I can’t wait to have you try the goods.  Check them out on Facebook, www.fulltablefarm.com or, better yet, come meet and dine with them at their featured dinner this summer.  Full schedule to be released May 1st.

 

 

 

 

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A Portion of Our Proceeds… #connollyranch #dirttodine

It has long been my goal to provide a portion of our proceeds from our farm dinners to a local nonprofit organization.  I feel it’s simply not enough to be utilizing local food producers to purchase food from.  There is so much more that can be done.  Nonprofit organizations are the unsung heros that work in the silent background to help change antiquated laws or provide valuable community services.  There are many out there.  My challenge was finding one that was inline with my goals and philosophies of helping support local agriculture and raise awareness about the importance of local food systems.  While there are many out there, I have found one that is able to be involved with the dinners and actively participate in promoting the cause.

Our initial goal was to donate $500 per sold out event.  Well, now we feel that it can be much more.  While keeping our farm dinner prices the same as our initial budget, I think that we will be able to put over 10 times more money into the hands of nonprofits.  Funds that will go towards on-the-farm programs geared towards school aged children.  Programs that teach children hands on about how a farm operates including everything from animal raising to composting to cooking and eating.  I was very impressed.  You can check out a bit about what they do in the video below.  And follow this link to their website to learn more and become a friend.  Better still, come out to one of our farm dinners (scheduled to be released May 1st) to learn more about what they do first hand.

Homemade Farm Fresh Soda

Yep, a lot of us are addicted to soda.  4 out of 5 of us in this household are junkies.  And last I heard, soda doesn’t do a lot of good for our health.  With that being said, I want to serve soda at our farm dinners.  I am not one of the four addicted in our house, however I think a well crafted, Italian style soda, made right on the farm would be a welcome addition in the hot afternoons.  So, I’ve got this cool mid-century 10 gallon soda keg from Niagara Falls Pepsi-Co that I have thought about using for about 5 years now.  I bought it when I lived in Hawaii and It’s been collecting dust.  Well, today I disassembled it, changed all the crumbling o-rings, scrubbed it, sanitized it, and ran scalding hot water through it.  I wasn’t even sure if it would work, so I charged it with CO2 and looked for any leaks.  Stayed sealed tight and this is what I ended up with:

So, this is what I am going to do.  I am going to fill the tank with farm spring water and carbonate it.  We will have fresh fruit and berries (whatever’s in season) that we will turn into syrups.  As our guests are arriving, we will pour the syrups into glasses and top them off with freshly carbonated spring water.  Voila!  A round of homemade farm fresh sodas for everyone.  Or how about a peach and amaretto flavored soda?  A light blast of farm fresh cream?  This is gonna be awesome!

Straw Bale Garden In the Works

I first heard about this technique a couple of months ago.  The idea is that you can start the composting process in the bales by letting nitrogen (in my case, organic chicken manure) soak into them and allow them to “cook” over the space of a week.  (See previous post for details).  

Now that we have started our rainy season, I have purchased 4 bales of straw and have set them out into our mini farm.  My “farm hands” spread the manure over the tops and soaked them in real good.  We’ll continue the soaking process a couple of times a day unless it’s raining.  Hopefully these guys will start heating up real well and maybe we’ll see some mushrooms poking out.

After the bales cool down when the reaction subsides, the natural nitrogen in the straw will be available for whatever we want to plant.  We will be using them mostly for micro kale, micro cucumbers, pea tendrils, red vein sorrel, and nasturtiums for our Beyond the Kitchen farm dinners.  It’s gonna be great!

“The Cajun Microwave” (or… How to Cook a 100 Pound Pig in 4 Hours)

I met a gentleman by the name of Roberto Guerra today.  He stopped by campus to take a tour and was introduced to me.  If anyone knows anything about authentic Cuban food or cooking styles, you will know Roberto.  A very nice, unassuming man, you could tell he walked with a certain pride.  Rightfully so.  This man (or more specifically his father) created what we know today as “La Caja China”.  This is an above ground roaster capable of roasting a 100 pound pig (or something like 16 chickens, 6 turkeys, whole goats, whole lambs, bushels of vegetables, schools of fish, herds of elephants (well, maybe not…).  You get the idea.  

4 hours.  No wonder why it’s affectionately known as the “Cajun microwave”.  It’s fueled by whatever combustible you can think of, typically charcoal or wood.  The box is made from wood and lined with aluminum.  The food is placed between 2 grills and lowered into the box.  The lid is placed on top and the wood is laid on top of the lid.  It’s lit and allowed to cook, radiating heat from the top down.  What’s so cool about this?  You can then grill whatever on the top.  

Now, I am really into some of the more modern, progressive cooking techniques that are out there.  This, however falls into more of the primitive category of cooking methods.  In general, while modern cooking styles require a great understanding of food science, it really is simple in the actual execution.  Primitive cooking requires working with live, unpredictable heating sources, often times outside environments, and unpredictable weather.  You really have to be on top of your game to come out with great results and feel primitive cooking like this requires much respect.

What’s also cool about this cooking style is that it’s got history.  Taken directly from Roberto’s website:

“Legend has it that Chinese workers brought this method of cooking with them when they came to Cuba to work on the railroads in the 1850’s, thus the name ‘Caja China’ which means Chinese Box. Others claim that similar boxes are used throughout the Caribbean for roasting but no one knows for sure why they are called Chinese. The origin of the name may remain a mystery. But the facts are undeniably mouth-watering. The Guerra family brought the secret of making these extra-ordinary roasting boxes from Cuba to Miami.”

Nice.  And these boxes have been picking up in popularity.  What’s more, they are perfect for our farm dinners we will me starting later this year.  Roberto is working on a pro series roasting box for The Institute that we will be able to use.  On top of that, being that his largest current model only holds up to 100 pounds, he is going to be making a larger prototype box that should be able to fit a 200 pound pig in for us that we will be using at perhaps our premier farm dinner.  Double nice.  Although I don’t know Roberto THAT well yet, I’m quickly becoming a big fan.  Check him out here.

Disturbing Account at a Failed Attempt at Farming

Wow, I was really taken back by this post I read on Homegrown.org.  The article is here.  It describes  the account of a couple who wanted “to answer a single question: can young Americans make a career of farming?”  Well, the short of it was, no.  According to them. But it was strictly from their point of view, virtually condemning ANY young farmer wanting to start out.  The author goes on to say “Young people cannot reasonably have careers in farming in America.”  

Well, that pissed me off.  Here is a comment I left.

“Wow…I feel bad for your failed “experiment” however this is written from a very one sided point of view. While I have not tried to be a farmer and make a living, I HAVE been an intern/cook making less than minimum wage and worked my way up through 22 years to were I am now. Calling it quits after only 3 years? Work is hard. Money is not always great. Passion is why we do it. Working hard for that sense of accomplishment, knowing that you’re doing good.

You start off by saying “I began Dissertation to Dirt hoping to answer a single question: can young Americans make a career of farming?” Good question. It is no doubt that many have looked to your work to answer this very same question. I know many farmers that started as you had and, while not millionaires, are now living humble lives doing what they feel is right.

You go on to declare “Young people cannot reasonably have careers in farming in America.” Seriously? I can name half a dozen young farmers in my area right now that are doing it. Passionate about it. Loving it. Again, not because the money is good, (it is not), but because they know they are a part of something bigger. The reshaping of our broken food system.

I’ll be honest, I was upset when I finished reading this. A colleague forwarded it to me. I’ve never felt like a preacher, but it’s clear by the comments this post has received that your “verdict” has negatively impacted several aspiring farmers. Please revisit your synopsis of this “experiment” of yours and find some positive examples of other young farmers that ARE making it and share with your followers. I doubt I’ll see this comment posted. While I do wish you well, There are a lot of positive examples out there.”

Had to share…

The Slaughtering of Animals

I had the opportunity to join a small farm as the called in a small, mobile slaughter truck that came in and slaughtered a cow and a Mulefoot hog.  It was a calm and quick .22 shot to the head.  The use of a mobile unit coming to the farm is preferred because the pigs live a happy, healthy life on the farm and to truck them away would add undue stress.  They were then processed in the space of about 30-40 minutes a piece.  It was amazing to watch, but unnerving at the same time.  I appreciate animals for food so much more now.  What was even more amazing was listening to the slaughterer and the farmer discuss the current affairs of big agribusiness and factory farms and how sad the condition of our food supply system is in.  My new favorite quote is the farmer saying “Pigs in factory farms are merely holograms of the real thing.”   The following pictures are a bit graphic.

 

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