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!

Field Notes, Foodshed, Nonprofits

The Challenge of a Plastic-Free SHED

Inspired by the Plastic Free July movement, SHED is taking a closer look at how we use plastic. Plastic Free July is a non-profit whose goal is to eliminate single-use plastic. Their campaign aims to avoid landfill waste, reduce environmental impact, and protect the ocean. SHED faces challenges when it comes to reducing single-use plastic in our kitchens, store, and warehouse. SHED aims to promote a plastic-free lifestyle with our wares as well as through our operations. We have policies in place to reduce our impact, but we can always do more—or in this case, use less.

Plastic Alternatives at SHED

Reducing single-use plastic at SHED is important because we depend on a resilient local food system that is free from harmful pollutants and trash. Single-use plastic items such as cups, straws, cling wrap, and food containers are designed to be used once and then thrown out. Plastic is made from nonrenewable resources, and it does not break down after it is discarded. Part of SHED’s mission is to protect the environment by being good stewards of our local watershed and foodshed. We do this by prioritizing alternatives to single-use plastic and offering recycling and composting.

SHED promotes intentional lifestyles by selling thoughtful, durable reusable products. Our collection of plastic-free wares includes straightforward pieces that can easily be incorporated into your daily life. We also offer several incentives to our guests to opt for reusables. We offer a $0.50 discount for bringing your own reusable vessel to our coffee bar, a $1.00 return for any SHED labeled glass jar, a $0.50 return for our berry baskets.

Challenges of “Plastic-Free”

There are also challenges to going plastic-free at SHED. You will find plastic containers, cling wrap, and latex gloves in our kitchens. As a market and café, we are trying to find ways to ways to reduce this use of plastic without compromising on food safety and convenience for our guests. We are currently working with our vendors to develop plastic-free packaging options for our housewares and pantry goods. However, because we work with handcrafted pieces, fragile items are still often protected with bubble wrap.

Although we are proud of our recycling and compost programs, there is still room for improvement. Composting is a core tenet at SHED because it is the essence of a complete food cycle: food is grown in the soil and then returned to it. Our kitchens compost leftover food scraps which feed a hearty pile at HomeFarm (the farm and home of SHED co-owners Doug Lipton and Cindy Daniel).

We also offer compostable produce bags and compostable to-go cups in our store. However, compostable to-go ware is far from perfect. It’s almost always made from genetically modified commodity crops like field corn, the production of which undermines SHED’s core values. Compostable disposables are also widely misconstrued as a one-size-fits-all zero-waste solution. Here in Healdsburg we luckily can send them to an industrial composting center where they do eventually decompose, but many municipal composting programs cannot handle plant-based plastics, nor can they be broken down in a backyard compost pile. Many compostable to-go items, used with good intentions, end up contaminating waste streams or decomposing in greenhouse gas–producing landfills—that’s not what we want. Far and away the best option is to refuse single-use disposables whenever possible, and that’s what we encourage our guests to do.

We have recently begun an audit at SHED to get the full picture of our plastic usage. Before we can make well-informed changes to our daily operations, it is essential that we educate ourselves and our guests about how we use plastic. There will be more obstacles to overcome. We are looking forward to meeting these challenges with the same creativity and mindfulness that go into every aspect of SHED.

Eat Good Food, Foodshed, Watershed

Foraging for Sonoma Seaweed

A briny smell wafts from the laundry room sink as I rinse the grit from my fresh harvest of seaweed. Unfurling the fragile nori, I wash out the sand and shells ensconced in the wrinkled clump. After rinsing, I arrange my “catch” on a towel outside. The plants lay like limp fish out of water. Soon the afternoon sun transforms their tendrils from murky green to crispy black.

Drying seaweed is actually the end of the story. It is, however, one of many skills I learned during SHED’s Edible Seaweed Forage with Heidi Herrmann. Once harvested, seaweed should be washed and dried so it can be eaten throughout the year. A local seaweed expert, Heidi Herrmann of Strong Arm Farm, taught us about sustainable harvesting and how to cook with seaweed. It was an invigorating experience to climb over rocks, wade in the ocean, and nibble on the wild plants.

The morning of the forage was bright, clear, and beautiful. As I drove westward, the landscapes changed dramatically.  The neat vineyards turned to forest villages, and finally, the Sonoma coast came into view. The motley crew of fellow foragers met at Shell Beach at 7:30 am. Since seaweed harvesting is dependent on the time of the tides, we arrived early to get a break in the ebb and flow. Consulting her pocket tide book, Heidi gestured toward today’s date and the time of the tides. We had about an hour to get in and get out.

Shell Beach

I breached the parking lot overlook and began my descent towards the sea. Scuttling down the haphazard steps I took in my surroundings. A dramatic canvas of green vegetation swept down the valley. Delicate purple flowers sprouted along the path and massive rocky outcrops jutted up from the water offshore.

Once on the beach, Heidi taught us how to identify different varieties. Then, she instructed how cut the plants in a way that allows regrowth. Equipped with scissors, ziplock bags, and a sharpie, I began bagging samples. At times it felt like a coastal crime scene: I was the investigator and the seaweed was the evidence.

We came across several varieties:

  • sister Sarah, a frilly, crunchy variety that resembles a wreath
  • kombu, a slimy, leathery variety that resembles a belt
  • bladderwrack, a leafy variety with an unfortunate name
  • nori, a smooth, shiny, and paper thin variety the resembles decorative wrapping paper.

As the tide came back, we packed our harvest and turned to Heidi for our final lesson of the day. She asked us each to reflect on our experience with gratitude for each other, the superb day, and the generous ocean. Foraging should not be taken for granted. Only by respecting the seasons, the tides, and the environment can we continue to enjoy edible seaweed.

Field Notes, Foodshed

Natural Bee Hives

For the benefit of the bees, we sell only natural bee hives.

Standard commercial bee hives are made for the convenience of the human who harvests honey, not the insect that produces it.

While we know the joy of eating honey and the good crunch of comb, what we really want from bees is to coexist with them, enjoying the chance to observe their fascinating lives.

We prefer natural hives because they allow bees to create comb the way that they would in the wild, with smaller cells that help protect against mites and other predators.

Among the natural bee hives we carry is the Warre hive, named for the French monk who popularized it in the late 19th century, calling it “the people’s hive.”

Warre designed the hive so that one could add an empty box to its bottom each spring and harvest the honey from a box on the top each autumn.

The Warre is a “top bar” hive which means that the bees can build their combs from horizontal wooden bars that run along the hive’s top, making it lighter and easier for a human to examine the comb periodically without unduly bothering the insects.

The Kenyan, or horizontal top bar, hive is thought to be the oldest and most commonly used type of man-made hives in the world. Long and handsome, these hives come with their own stand, so that they sit about waist height, allowing for easier access.

We are glad to sell Warre and top bar hives both online and in our Healdsburg store. At our HomeFarm property, we have those and other hives for the bees.

The Golden Hive is so-named because its proportions align with the Golden Mean. Designed to minimize interaction between humans and bees, the Golden Hive benefits apiary health by reducing insect stress.

Woven from rye grasses, the biomorphic Sun Hive was developed by a German sculptor and is really something that is best made in with a group.

Tall and with a full belly, the Sun Hive has its portal at the bottom, allowing the bees to come and go freely. Once made, it is mudded with manure to provide insulation.

The Log Hive is as it sounds — a tree trunk that has been hollowed out to accommodate a hive. Many wild bees nest in trees and the Log Hives fashioned by humans work for the bees while providing us with a nice glimpse of the insects’ intricate life.

Helping honey bees to thrive by providing appropriate places for them to nest is one small thing that we can do to support this endangered population. Planting nectar-rich flora for pollinators is another.

Want to learn more? We have more info on natural bee hives, planting a bee-friendly garden, natural beekeeping, and supporting pollinators throughout our site.

Artisan Producers, Chefs, Craftsmanship, Farming, Foodshed, Healdsburg, HomeFarm

Introducing the SHED Pantry Line

We’re excited to announce the launch of the SHED pantry line, featuring a proprietary collection of powders, salt blends, herbs and spices, preserves, pickles, and Shrub concentrates drawn from the best ingredients prepared just as we do in our Healdsburg café.

Coming to fruition under the direction of SHED chef Perry Hoffman, plans for the Pantry Line predate SHED and its café. SHED co-owner Cindy Daniel knew that she wanted to do this before our doors even opened.

“It’s always been a dream of Cindy’s and really, it just makes so much sense,” Perry says. “It really came from the concept of utilizing the pantry that we use to cook from in the café.”

SHED Powders

A distillation of flavor, the SHED powders are a unique finishing touch that pack a punch. Available in one-ounce bottles, they are the essential taste of the vegetables from which they’re made.

Dehydrated in our own kitchens and then pulverized before being mixed with Jacobsen Salt, these powders are intended to be used just before serving to add a strong note to your good fresh food.

“I’ve been using powders for 16 years,” Perry says. “The tradition really comes from fine dining. They’re amazing flavor enhancers. When you dehydrate produce, you concentrated the flavor of that element.”

Perry likes the Charred Eggplant Powder sprinkled atop a bowl of yogurt with fresh chopped mint. He mixes it into vinaigrettes, and hails it as his “love letter” to the baba ganoush dip he adored as a child.

The Tarragon Caper Powder is a nod to traditional French cuisine, adding a note of elegance perfect for using to finish sauces. “Capers and tarragon are two ingredients that are made for each other,” Perry says.

The Niçoise Olive Powder is purposefully not powdered entirely. “We leave this a bit chunkier and just smash them into little crumbles because we love those little bits of dried olives,” Perry says.

The Shiitake Mushroom Powder is a “flavor builder,” Perry says, referring to its role adding umami to any dish. “Add it to a little bit of chicken stock and soy sauce and you’ve got this amazing stock that will add flavor to anything. It’s all about intensifying flavors.”

One in every 100 Padron peppers is hot, so eating them has an element of chance. Dehydrating and then powdering them for our Padron Pepper Powder guarantees that its sweetness will be tempered by a bit of heat. “When you combine them,” Perry says, “you get an incredibly wonderful, earthy powder.”

The Smoked Onion Powder features sweet onions and adds a gorgeous element of onion flavor to everything it touches. “Mix it into sour cream,” Perry suggests, “and you have a dip.”

SHED Salt Blends

SHED’s blends use Jacobsen Salt as a base and add unusual flavors to create finishing salts you’ll always want to reach for.

An incredibly versatile and popular offering, Lemon Salt can be sprinkled liberally atop roasted potatoes and fish. For dessert, try a pinch with vanilla ice cream.

Utilizing an increasingly popular Japanese culinary herb, our Red Shiso Salt is perfect for bringing a fresh taste to a salad before serving or for sprinkling upon fish.

“As a chef, you have the opportunity to cook this way because you have Shiso and you have salt,” Perry explains. “Home cooks don’t necessarily have that option. This is a way of being able to capture those flavors in a jar and be close to the same outcome.”

Made for chicken and perfect for lamb, pork loin, and other roasts, the Rosemary and Wild Fennel Salt is, Perry says simply, “a natural love affair.”

Normally not one to play favorites, Perry confesses that his favorite of the new line is the Black Lime Salt, which has a distinctly Californian take on a traditional Middle Eastern flavor profile. Limes are salted and soaked before being dried and pulverized, bringing an intensity to this salt.

“The wonderful aromatic flavors of lime are very dominant, so this becomes a umami flavor enhancer,” Perry says. He suggests pairing the Black Lime Salt with the Shitake Powder for a umami powerhouse. “If you were to add those two to your broth, it would be very full-bodied.”

SHED Shrubs

A drinking vinegar born from the need to use all of the harvest, the Shrub has recently come back into favor. And thank goodness for that.

Shrubs are the centerpiece of the Fermentation Bar in our Healdsburg store and our flavors always change to match the season. This new collection of essential Shrub flavors is just the start; we’ll be certain to add more as the harvest wanes and new herbs, fruits, and flowers become available.

Available in 12-ounce bottles, SHED Shrub concentrates form the base for a refreshing non-alcoholic drink but can just as easily be made with Prosecco or other lightly bubbly wines.

Whether Quince, Apple, Beet, or Grape — each SHED Shrub concentrate is made from organic ingredients raised by farmers we know or even foraged by Chef Perry himself.

What’s more, his technique for creating this concentrate hasn’t change. For a few hundred years. “We do this just as they would have in the 1800s,” Perry says.

Preserves and Honey

Having fresh jam made with local fruit is a hallmark of the SHED café and our pantry. A devoted home cook, Cindy has always spent part of her summer putting up preserves. Now you can share in some of our good fortune and bounty. Each jar is made of pure organic or even foraged fruit set with cane sugar and a good squeeze of lemon juice. That’s all.

SHED honey is raised in Sonoma County by beekeepers who respect their hives and the hard-working insects inside of them. SHED subscribes to the idea that we don’t keep bees — the bees keep us, as one-third of all the food that we eat is made possible by pollinators.

Pickled Vegetables

Fermentation is a core value at SHED. “We pickle everything. It was so hard to even choose what to put in the jar,” Perry says.

Perry loves eggplant but it doesn’t pickle well, so he made a gorgeous chunky Roasted Eggplant Conserva from it. He encourages us to use it as a chutney. “Yogurt is the most wonderful platform for it,” he enthuses. “It’s such a match made in heaven.”

Packed like the Conserva in 13.5-ounce jars, our Pickled Carrots are flavored with dill leaves, jalapeños, and black peppercorns; the Pickled Turnips with bay leaf, beets, and garlic. Both of them are perfect additions to supper, laid out on a relish plate to contribute bite and interest to a simple meal.

Also jarred up for a pre-dinner pickle plate are our Pickled Shiitake Mushrooms, Roasted Eggplant Conserva, and Turmeric Pickled Turnips.

Herbs & Spices

With this Pantry line-up, SHED is also proud to release its own line of herbs and spices, adding traditional everyday spices like cinnamon to a line-up of offerings that include the Middle Eastern flavors of Harissa, Zahtar, and Vadouvan. We have other unusual mixes like Shichimi Togarashi, Japanese Curry Powder, and Chinese Five Spice. Our own line of Dukka is already a best-selling staple. We even have six kinds of peppercorn!

Just the Start

SHED’s Pantry line is an effort to preserve the peak flavors of the season by pickling, preserving, fermenting, smoking, and drying ingredients to make jams, pickles, shrubs, spice blends, and powders.  It’s an attempt to better tell the story of good farming, good cooking, and good eating.

“We want to take all of the behind-the-scenes things that we make and showcase them,” Perry says.

“There are so many things that we have to make to stock our own pantry. The powders are a perfect example of that.  We want to show what we make, and how we use these products to flavor and enhance our cooking,” he says.

“And how you might share in that.”