Meet the Makers

Ethic Ciders and the Amazing Regenerative Orchard

apples

While some 15,000 acres of apples covered Sonoma County in the 1940s, that number was halved by the 1980s and in the low thousands by 2016. Homes and wine grapes have mostly absorbed our old orchard land.

Just in the nick of time, a new type of apple evangelist has come to Sonoma County, one as content to cultivate what’s already there as to plant for new. In fact it’s fair to say that this is the era of the orchardist.

Ned Lawton, his wife Michelle Lawton, and their partner Ryan Johnston are orchardists who comprise the team at Ethic Ciders. Dedicated to regenerating their land, the team at Ethic makes cider by growing soil.

On a recent morning, Ned Lawton and farmer/cider maker Ryan Johnston took a visitor around the orchard to see how their dedication to regenerative agriculture is doing. Having won a prestigious 2018 Good Food Award for their Golden Rule cider, the agreement seems to be that it’s resulting in a superior product.

Naming their company after a set of moral principles keeps the Lawtons and Johnston honest. Ethics speak to conduct; Ethic Ciders speaks to what the land needs. The results are delicious, but the name could feel like a burden.

Not to Lawton. “There’s an ethic in our cider-making, and the way that we allow the fruit to express itself,” he explains. “’Ethic’ holds us to a very high standard, which is good because it causes us to ask what the right thing to do is. How do we treat our supplier relationships, how do we make the cider, how do we communicate the right thing to the consumer?”

Johnston adds that, for him, the name denotes that they “stand for something good and can lead by example.”

Whether he’s leading by example or merely doing what’s best for his land,  Johnston spends much of his time coaxing nutrients back into the orchard’s sandy soil. Farmed for decades without maintainance, the orchard was sorely in need of some TLC and nutrients. By tending to it with the attention of a parent, Johnston has been able to coax this hillside back to life.

By regenerating the land through carbon retention in the soil, Lawton and Johnston have changed its course so significantly that  the orchard is now certified organic, tilled and watered only when needed, and cover-cropped each winter. To grow better apples and make better cider, bluebird boxes have been added and hedgerows planted.

Ethic’s orchard is one of the first in Sonoma County to complete an Orchard Carbon Farm Plan in conjunction with the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District and an arm of the USDA. This dovetails into a 2017 California Initiative, the Healthy Soils Program, that offers grants to farmers who are willing to change their land practice methods to honor the very ground on which they grow.

The Lawtons and Johnston are betting that the results are worth the extra expense and effort. They’re discovering it to be true.

“Once consumers taste it, we’ve got them,” Ned Lawton says. “Most of the orchard-based cider makers in the U.S. are making dry ciders. That’s changing people’s perception.”

He adds, “We’re basically making wine with apples. That’s the intrigue, the interest, and the longevity of the business. Once the consumer understands the dynamism of it, it will bring the cider industry to a whole new level.”

This article adapted from one originally published in the September/October 2018 issue of Made Local Magazine.

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. 

Eat Good Food

Join Our Chicken CSA!

chicken csa

Raised among the riches of a West County Gravenstein apple orchard, the chickens we offer to our Chicken CSA members are the same ones that we serve here at SHED. If you’ve tried a chicken dish in our Café, you know the spectacular chicken-i-ness of their flavor and the richness of the meat. You may not know that they can only be purchased via this CSA.

Produced by Parade Farming Co., the hens are Poulet Rouge/Freedom Ranger chickens. Freedom Ranger birds were derived from an American and European heritage breed in the 1960s to meet the high standards of the French Label Rouge program.

In keeping with Parade’s old-school farming practices, their chickens are moved around the property in sync with the natural cycles of the season, integrated with the rhythms of the farm’s heritage hogs and sheep.

Parade harvests their hens in small batches every week, and personally delivers fresh birds that are never frozen or shrink-wrapped in plastic.

The Chicken Club is a month-to-month membership that entitles members to four birds a month. The chickens weigh approximately six pounds and come with head and feet attached (unless you’d like us to remove them for you). They cost $36 each, totaling $144 for the month. You’re encouraged to split the CSA share with friends, family, and neighbors! Pick-up is each Saturday after 12pm noon.

Do something delicious for yourself and your family. Join the Chicken CSA today!

Hungry? Learn how simple it it so to cook the roast the perfect bird.

Farming, Foodshed, Healdsburg

The Best Ways to Shop the Farmers’ Market

It’s hard to overstate how much we love our local farmers’ market. Celebrating its 37th birthday last week, the Healdsburg Farmers’ Market is both a community gathering space for our agricultural hamlet and source of dinner inspiration twice weekly though the summer. Thankfully, we aren’t the only lucky ones. The popularity of farmers’ markets has soared recently, and there are currently more than 8,000 farmers markets in the United States. So how can we all make the most of our local markets? We culled our favorite cookbooks to get some pearls of wisdom from chefs on how to best shop the market:

From Steven Satterfield, author of Root to Leaf, A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons

Eat more vegetables, and eat with the season.

If you are able to show up with an open mind and some empty bags rather than a shopping list, you can respond to what is available. Allowing the fresh produce to guide you is true seasonal cooking.

From Kevin West, author of Saving the Season: A cook’s guide to home canning, pickling, and preserving

Save nature’s fleeting abundance with preserving.

When choosing fruit, be guided by fragrance and taste rather than appearance. Smaller fruit is often best, because it has a lower water content and more concentrated flavor.

From Alice Waters, author of Chez Panisse Vegetables

First shop, then cook.

Go to the market before you decide what to cook. Decide on your menu based on what you find there. Buy products that are fresh, local, and organic. Select produce that looks freshly harvested and at its peak. Look for vegetables that look right back at you!

and Chez Panisse Fruit

Let yourself be surprised.

Ask questions. Learn what varieties you like and when they come into season. Tell the vendors what you like best and why. When you’re driving in the country, stop at farm stands whether you think you need anything or not.

From Yotem Ottolenghi, author Plenty More

Integrate spices.

Become familiar with different varieties of vegetables available in markets and specialty shops. Explore the varied and exciting world of vegetable cooking!

From Deborah Madison, author of Vegetable Literacy

Know your farmer, know your soil.

One of the most important principles of organic gardening is growing soil first, food second. The plants we eat can’t be better than the soil they’re raised on, so it’s important to know a good farmer or two who is growing soil along with their beets. Know your farmer, know your food.

From Tamar Adler, author of An Everlasting Meal.

Buy the best and eat it all.

When you go hunting for vegetables for your boiling pot, don’t be deterred by those stems and leaves. Though it’s easy to forget, leaves and stalks are part of a vegetable, not obstacles to it.

The best vegetables to boil will be the ones in season. They will also be the ones with the most leaves, most stalks, and longest stems. Knowing that you can simply boil the expensive, leafier vegetables at the farmers’ market should help justify your buying them. All you have to do is cut them up and drop them in water, and you can drop all of them in water.

It’s been proclaimed! August 2-August 8 is National Farmers’ Market Week! Wherever you are, shop the market!

Farming, Foodshed, Healdsburg, Preserve the Season

Sun-Drying the Harvest

At the end of a meandering lane at the southern tip of the Dry Creek Valley is a diverse fruit orchard where preserving the harvest is still done the old-fashioned way — by sun-drying.

SHED_GRADEK_03

It is a grove of sweet-smelling stone fruit and flowers where, in the height of the summer, bees buzz around seven-foot-tall sunflowers and the task at hand is solar preservation. Brothers Ken and David Gradek run the farm, where their family planted peach, plum, nectarine, and apple trees more than 60 years ago. Brother Dale is visiting the day that we arrive. The men explain that they started drying the fruit because, David says, “our mom couldn’t bear to see any fruit go to waste.”

As he halves nectarines with his paring knife, Ken explains that solar drying is a slow and laborious process that reduces their harvest while extending its life; six pounds of fresh fruit yields only one pound of dried. Each peach and nectarine needs to be hand-picked at its peak ripeness before being washed, sliced, and sulfur-cured and then laid on redwood trays in the sun for several days.

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Once upon a time, when Healdsburg was still known as the “buckle” of the Prune Belt, fruit drying was a major part of our agricultural economy. Today, the process has all but disappeared. The brothers found antique redwood field drying racks from the prune era on their property and repurposed them for their operation. “When we found them, they had square nails,” Ken says. “There’s no two of them alike.”

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Like any farm task, this one is weather-dependent. In sunny and dry conditions, the fruit will dry in three days. It must then be cured outdoors over a smudge pot of burning sulfur, a centuries-old technique that preserves the color in the fruit and protects it from bacteria, yeast, and mold. The Gradek brothers sell out of their fruit – both fresh and dried, every year.

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David, Dale, and Ken Gradek

Photos by Caitlin McCaffrey