Artisan Producers, Chefs, Cooking, Craftsmanship, Farming, Field Notes

Dan Barber’s Row 7 Seed Co.

Dan Barber

Dan Barber is more than a chef or restaurateur, he’s even more than an author. With the launch this year of the new Row 7 Seed Co., a collaboration with seedsman Matthew Goldfarb and plant breeder Michael Mazourek, Barber is now also a botanical innovator, aiming to input deliciousness into plants from the seed forward.

It’s a radical idea that’s already working. Witness the success of the Honeynut, a squash Mazourek — an associate professor at Cornell — developed some eight years ago at Barber’s request.

Boasting a higher nutritional quality and greater sweet profile than the Butternut, the Honeynut’s pure deliciousness prompted star chefs and even such outlets as Vogue magazine to support it. The exposure made this squash a culinary hit and today it’s readily available at Whole Foods Markets and other ordinary outlets.

Developed to entice a child, the Badger Flame beet has none of the earthiness of traditional beets, but is sweet enough to be eaten raw.

Barber comes to our Modern Grange on Oct. 10, 2018, to introduce Row 7 Seed Co. in an event dedicated to good farming, good cooking, and good eating with a who’s-who roster of West Coast chefs.

We expect that one of the first questions he’ll address is this basic: What’s so radical about breeding for flavor? And here’s what we reckon will be one of his answers: Flavor is typically last on the list when large seed companies are involved.

Rather, large corporations breed for portability, chemical symbiosis (as with those seeds made to interact with Monsanto’s Roundup), uniformity of size and shape, and the varied notions of attractiveness that arise when one considers such as a tomato.

Durability and disease resistance are bred into Row 7’s seeds so that they don’t need to interact well with Roundup or other chemical inputs; they’ll be robust enough to resist pests and other dangers all on their own.

Ultimately, the delectability of the produce and its nutritional value are the first concerns. Unlike other breeders, Row 7 has pledged not to patent their line of seeds, encouraging users to acclimate to their particular spot in the world. They’re even working to make the leaves and stems of their squash delicious and edible.

And of course, the seeds are non-GMO, organic, produced without chemicals, and grown in the USA. When you’re going to do something good, why not do it all the way?

That’s the idea with Row 7. To do something good — all the way. Its initial seed slate includes the Badger Flame, a sweet orange beet that can be eaten raw; the Habanada, a habañero pepper with all of its floral notes retained without the heat; a potato that tastes as if already buttered; a cucumber with the yummy bitter edge that’s been bred out of most stock; and a squash that changes color on the vine to indicate ripeness.

At our own HomeFarm, we’re supporting Barber’s efforts by growing his Habanada and Badger Flame varieties for our produce shelves. We grew Row 7’s new line of peas last spring. Our friends at SingleThread Farms are growing some, too.

One of the genius beliefs that the folks at Row 7 hold is that chefs can actually influence supermarket choices by popularizing produce through their own artistry and evangelism. Actually: it’s all genius.

Dan Barber hosts a sold-out Row 7 Seed Co. dinner with us on Oct. 10. 

Artisan Producers, Farming, Field Notes, Foodshed, Meet the Makers

Honoré Farm and Mill Gives Us Back Our Daily Bread

Fifteen years ago, Episcopal vicar Elizabeth DeRuff was presiding over the eucharist at a retreat center in Healdsburg when a congregant declined to take communion. This wasn’t unusual, but the woman’s reasoning was, at least for the time: she was allergic to wheat and certain that eating the Bread of Heaven would make her sick.

Cut to 2010. The number of people avoiding gluten is trending upwards (it will go on to triple over the next 8 years). It’s a post–South Beach Diet world. Bread is now seen as a guilty pleasure at best. But that moment at the altar is still firmly lodged in Elizabeth’s mind. As she puts it now, “what does it say about our food and farming systems if someone can be allergic to the food that is the very symbol of all food?”

That year while working on an agricultural service project, Elizabeth met a farmer who was growing heirloom wheat—wheat which, seemingly by magic, even gluten-sensitive people could eat with abandon. The problem for most people wasn’t actually wheat or gluten but rather industrial processing, which strips grains of their nutrients and divorces bread from traditional sourdough fermentation, which makes wheat more digestible. The problem was equally compelling to her from a theological point of view: the supply chain behind most communion loaves hardly reflects care for creation. Thus began Elizabeth’s 8-year deep dive into the science and spirituality of wheat, and thus began Honoré Farm and Mill.

Honoré is a nonprofit that integrates spiritual care, climate action, and heirloom grain stewardship. In practice, their work is multifaceted: Honoré grows, mills, and sells Red Fife and Sonora wheat (and incredible shortbread cookies, which we sell at SHED), hosts sourdough classes and educational workshops, and runs a flour and communion wafer CSA for churches. In 2016 they crowdfunded a mobile stone mill to travel to schools, churches, synagogues, and markets.

The mobile mill was Honoré’s answer to what Elizabeth sees as the biggest barrier to thriving grain economies: lack of infrastructure. There used to be more than 20,000 stone mills around the country, but now that industrial agriculture is the status quo there are just a small handful (we’re lucky to lay claim to one at SHED). In fact, when Elizabeth first started working on heirloom grain issues she had to drive to Ukiah to find fresh flour. Most people don’t think of flour as perishable, but the difference between fresh-milled and conventional flour in terms of both flavor and nutrition is astonishing. To a grain-lover like Elizabeth, “it was like if you had to drive 200 miles whenever you wanted a good cup of coffee.”

Thankfully, Honore’s community saw the value in getting a little closer to their daily bread. Their kickstarter campaign reached 125% funding, and the mobile mill was able to take its first major trip in June, to the Episcopal General Convention in Austin. It’s also the centerpiece of Honoré’s “Wheat Wednesdays” educational program at underserved local schools. Their next project is a conference in May of 2019, which will gather farmers, millers, bakers, and church members together to build community through workshops, panels, and a planting day. (In a bit of spiritual kismet, the Growers Guild Conference will be held at the very retreat center where that fateful 2003 communion took place.) They’re also searching for land to create a home base for Honoré, which has been loosely based in and around Marin County thus far. Elizabeth envisions an educational farm for land-based healing ministry—simply touching organic matter is good for us, Elizabeth points out.

Spirituality and nutrition are singularly slippery topics that can be difficult to discuss. Trying to relate one to the other is an even more esoteric challenge. But listening to Elizabeth, it feels like the most natural thing in the world. She says the reception to Honoré’s work has been overwhelmingly positive (though she’ll admit a Dow Chemical executive’s wife walked out on one of her climate-focused sermons once). Not only that, but people seem to be more and more interested as time goes on: their booth at the general convention three years ago garnered mostly blank stares, but this year they were deluged with interest.

“I haven’t met very many farmers who don’t think farming is a very spiritual practice,” Elizabeth says. “And spiritually it’s so rich to be able to inhabit the life of scripture for a moment while you’re threshing or harvesting.”

Cooking, Farming, Field Notes, Foodshed, Healdsburg, HomeFarm

Food is Too Good to Waste

Currently, about 40% of the food we produce is wasted, representing a carbon footprint larger than any individual country except China and the United States. It’s also a moral failing—in the United States alone, 1 in 8 people are food insecure.

The EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy ranks methods of dealing with food waste from the most preferable to the least. Many people think of composting as the be-all end-all of responsible waste management, but it’s actually all the way at the bottom of the pyramid, just above the landfill. Don’t get us wrong, we’re big believers in compost—one of our owners is a self-proclaimed dirt doctor!—but effective reduction of food waste starts long before your cores and peels hit the compost bin.

The top of the pyramid is source reduction, which simply means generating less food waste to begin with. The more mindful we are about using every ingredient to its fullest, the less food waste we’ll have to manage further down the line. It’s a philosophy essential to our culinary identity at SHED. Our different departments work together to ensure that nothing goes to waste, much like a permaculture farm would. When we have surplus dairy in the coffee bar, pantry products we need to move, or extra ripe and ready produce, our cafe chefs can transform them into new dishes.

Our menus are full of underappreciated ingredients, from croutons made of bread heels to apricot kernel ice cream. And when we can’t use all of a seasonal ingredient, we ferment or preserve it. It not only lends flavor to our dishes, it extends fresh ingredients’ shelf lives to ensure they don’t end up in the trash. And our eye toward preservation goes beyond pickles; culinary powders and shrubs also keep produce out of the landfill. Our passion for preserving extends to helping others learn the art. From canning classes to full-on food waste dinners, education is a top priority. Going low-waste in our own kitchen is good, but encouraging those in our own community and beyond to do the same can be game-changing.

But despite our best efforts, sometimes we end up with food waste. We over-prepare or end up with trimmings that just can’t be used. The next three tiers on the food recovery hierarchy are all ways to make the most of leftover food. If we can’t eliminate food waste, we should try to feed hungry people, feed animals, or find industrial uses for food waste. As our leftover-loving employees and our well-fed chickens can attest, we’ve got the first two covered. We also work with an oil management service that turns all those fried chicken Fridays into energy-rich biofuel.

The bottom tier of the food recovery hierarchy is the landfill. The landfill should only ever be a last resort. With so many alternatives to choose from, there’s no reason we should be throwing food away. Yet this is where 90% of food waste ends up. We’re proud of the work we have done to be part of the solution, but we know we can always do more. So we’re asking for inspiration from the place we so often find it: our community. We want to hear your ideas of how we can do more, because every meal we can keep out of the landfill is one more we can enjoy together. We welcome your comments and insights below!

Farming, Field Notes, Grow Your Own, HomeFarm

How to Make a Flower Crown

There’s no better accessory for late summer weddings, garden parties, or weeknights (why not?) than a flower crown. Whether it’s a simple band of greenery or a riotous floral bouquet, donning the season’s bounty always puts us in a festive mood. We asked our floral specialist Alison Fields to teach us how to make the flower crown of our dreams, and it turns out it’s surprisingly simple. You’re just a trip to the craft store and a walk through the garden away from getting your midsummer night’s dream on.


YOU WILL NEED:
Bark covered wire
Floral tape
Wire cutters
Scissors
Fabric ribbon
An assortment of cut flowers, greenery, branches, berries, etc.,


Step 1:
Cut a section of bark covered wire equal to the circumference of your head. Create a loop at each end of the wire and twist to secure. Trim sharp edges of wire, if necessary.

 


Step 2:
Trim the first few flowers or pieces of greenery you would like to attach to the crown, leaving a 1-2” stem. Cut a length of floral tape that will be easy to work with, approximately 2 feet long.

 


Step 3:
Stretch and warm up the floral tape in your fingers slightly to prepare it to adhere. Starting at one of the loop ends, hold the greenery to the bark wire with the stem end facing away from the loop. Wrap the floral tape around the stem several times. Wrap as snugly as possible—the tape will stick to itself to hold the greenery in place.

 


Step 4:
Attach more flowers and greenery to the crown, overlapping leaves over the wrapped stems to hide them. Continue building the crown in the same way, working from one end of the crown to the other. When you run out of floral tape, wrap it around itself to adhere and start a new length of tape in the same way.

 


Step 5:
When you reach the end of the crown, attach a few flowers or leaves facing the other direction to hide the wrapped stem. Trim any protruding stems or wire pieces and adjust flowers as needed.

 


Step 6:
Cut a piece of ribbon to desired length. Thread ribbon through both loop ends of the crown and place gently on your head. Tighten until crown fits comfortably, then tie ribbon in a bow.

 


Step 7:
Wear your flower crown with pride!

TIPS:

  • For the best effect, vary shapes and sizes. We love incorporating flower buds, berries, and airy accents like fennel flowers and moss.
  • Try adding a larger statement flower off-center.
  • Fresh flower crowns will wilt after a day or so. Crowns will keep for approximately two days if stored in the refrigerator.
  • For a longer-lasting crown, use dried flowers or hardy varietals like strawflower, celosia, gomphrena, or statice.

Artisan Producers, Cooking, Farming, Field Notes

How the OAEC Cookbook Also Teaches about Life

oaec cookbook

The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC) folks have lived peacefully in an intentional community for nearly 25 years, co-owning some 80 acres of pristine growing grounds near the ocean. From this place of centering, they teach thousands of people how to farm and how to honor and preserve biodiversity.

They maintain, enlarge, and propagate a “mother garden” that contains a wild amount of biodiversity and offers a continuous food production cycle amid West County’s wild weather. They paint and hold Chauttauqua and even produced a cookbook.

All of which is to say that the OAEC community is pretty amazing. But there are some things that they do that you might be able to do, too. Like grow a garden. Like buy what you can’t grow from those who can. Like cook at home. Like remembering to smile.

These and other simple lessons are among the pleasures of the OAEC’s eponymous Cookbook (Chelsea Green; $40), a richly illustrated photo-heavy 416-page declaration of intent, process, and good ways to eat from the land — whatever your land might be.

Founded by seven friends in 1994 as the Sowing Circle intentional community and soon incorporated as a 501(c)3, the OAEC exemplifies the human interdependence that their innovative permaculture design work encourages in the plants and trees that surround them.

Hosting workshops and classes, retreats and day visits, the OAEC has a robust seasonal schedule, so the recipes in its cookbook are cleverly calibrated for either four to six people or 30 to 40 hungry folks.

They’re used to feeding a crowd, and an enduring and crowd-pleasing dish that visitors have come to expect is one of their epic salads.

Called the “biodiversity salad mix,” this collection of propagated and foraged foods changes with the seasons, as the cookbook deftly illustrates. Mother Garden biodiversity director Doug Gosling, in charge of the collective’s nightly salad, has such a wealth of options available that he sometimes picks solely for color palette.

In spring, it might contain tulip petals and broccoli leaves amid the myriad; in the summer, rose petals and celery flowers. While his salads always feature a lettuce or green of some type, the point being celebrated is that “salad” isn’t solely Romaine or iceberg glopped up with something from a bottle but rather, a living expression of what’s happening on the earth the very day you sit down to eat it — and that said eating should be fearless in its wandering and appetite for taste.

As pleasurable to simply read as it is to cook from, the OAEC Cookbook, primarily written by Olivia Rathbone but naturally contributed to by all members of the community, offers such wisdom as that chamomile will get bitter if boiled (and make you sleepy!); how best to cook cactus; that seed saving is a radical act; how to start your own sourdough; what the role of rosemary is in transforming whipped cream; that carnations taste of cloves; why lemon verbena is good with steamed rice; and how sometimes in the winter you are simply so very glad that all visitors have gone home and you’ve got the whole 80 acres to yourselves.

Join us on Thursday, March 15, when members of the OAEC are honored at a special Taste of Place dinner featuring recipes in their cookbook.

Farming, Field Notes

Saving Heritage Mexican Corn

Mexico corn

Corn has been a staple in the region now known as Mexico for some 11,000 years. It is more than a foodstuff; it is an entire way of life.

And, as with so much else in the modern world, it is a way of life that is dramatically changing.

Once home to some 60 so-called landrace corn varieties, that is — corn grown and adapted to particular areas and climates — Mexico has slowly Americanized its fields, favoring just a few varieties over the variations the elders once valued so highly.

Where corn once flourished in every state, it is now mostly grown in just three. Even NAFTA plays a role, introducing inexpensive American yellow corn to which consumers quickly adapted, abandoning the indigenous varieties with which they grew up.

With that eclipse in choice, so comes a change in taste and manner, and ultimately — a change in health, resulting in the diabetes and heart disease that marks the Western diet.

In addition to the impact on citizens’ health, losing heirloom varieties means losing taste. The taste that past generations knew, a taste that informed family recipes which no longer have the same flavor. Lore and knowledge have gone, too.

Several crusaders are working to restore Mexico’s rich maize legacy, including Rafael Mier, who has founded the nonprofit Organización de Tortilla de Maíz Mexican to educate his fellow countrymen about how to make more delicious tortillas.

The secret? Start with more delicious corn. Even in Mexico, most tortillas are made with water and a powdered mix called masa harina. The difference is like a pancake-mix pancake versus one made from scratch with freshly ground flour: Alike in name only.

Mier is an unlikely crusader, a businessman who one day three years ago thought to grow his own popcorn only to discover that there was no seed available near him. Nor was there any for sale the next state over. And so on. A simple desire to have freshly popped corn to snack on has led him to devote himself full-time to his nonprofit and resign his role as CFO to a business.

Thank goodness for that. Because corn is an endangered commodity in Mexico, home to the Mayan culture which believed that man was created of corn.

We grind heirloom corn at our Healdsburg store and purvey fresh polenta and cornmeal from it. We carry handsome, locally-made oak and walnut tortilla presses. We’ve invited restaurateur Natalie Goble to join us this month to demonstrate the easy art of making fresh masa. We’re interested in corn and preserving its important role in Western life. We hope that, the more you know, the more interested you will be, too. A very culture depends on it.