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, 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!), 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. 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.”

Chefs, Cooking, Modern Grange

Vegetables and Their Secrets

On a sweltering August afternoon, farmers, vacationers, brides-to-be, and home cooks gathered in the SHED Grange on Sunday to glean bits of vegetable wisdom from Chef Steven Satterfield, author of Root to Leaf and chef-owner of Atlanta’s acclaimed restaurant Miller Union. Interspersed with tastes from his book prepared by the SHED kitchen, Steven made his way through a bountiful table of summer produce and gave words of wisdom for selecting, preparing, and cooking vegetables. Among such gems were how to select chilies that naturally impart a sriracha flavor, the difference between green onions and yellow onions, how to get an eggplant perfectly charred on the outside and creamy on the inside, and the secret to preparing perfect pole beans.  Take a peek and take away some vegetable secrets of your own.

beets

With their edible tops and stems, beets are a great example of cooking root to leaf. In fact, beets were first cultivated for their greens, much like their cousin, spinach. Steven loves the flavor combination of beets and nuts.

 

Annie Plating

Chef Annie plating the country ham and melon dish using musk, charentais, and sensation melons from Russian River Farm and S Wallace Edwards & Sons – Surryano Ham, a Good Food Award winner and a favorite of Steven’s which we carry in the SHED Larder.

 

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Steven’s recipe for roasted vegetables featuring okra takes advantage of this versatile, crisp, sweet, complexly flavored vegetable, a Southern staple whose mucilaginousness is under appreciated in the rest of the county. It’s one of his favorite vegetables.

 

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Steven explains the geometry of the onion in terms of its North Pole, South Pole, and Equator, a nifty trick when navigating the natural curves of a vegetable with a straight blade.

 

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A cold glass of Red Car rose proved the perfect pairing to the Southern menu on a hot summer afternoon. We carry Red Car’s lovely vegetable friendly wines in the SHED Pantry.

 

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Miss the event? We’ve got a signed copy of Steven’s book with your name on it, full of great advice for vegetable lovers and omnivores alike.

 

 

Thanks to photographer Karen Preuss for capturing and sharing these images.

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.

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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

 

Artisan Producers, Modern Grange

Biodynamic Education Series at SHED

The methods that came from the factory floor to the farm in the late 1800s coupled with technology developed to serve WWI had made a startling dent in the fields by 1924. That was the year that Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf school system, addressed a group of farmers in a town now found in Poland about methods and practices to redress what then was organic farming and was then beginning to fail.

Today, we call it Biodynamic farming and it is in huge increase around the globe. Grape growers have particularly embraced it as a way to combat the monoculture that large grape production can cause. Europeans have embraced it because Biodynamic farming practices serve the soil and every inhabitant upon that soil, from the insects to the bees to the plants to the people. And slowly, Americans are beginning to understand that foods and wines produced in the Biodynamic method are healthier not only for people, but for the very land itself.

Here in the U.S., Biodynamic farming and food production is overseen by Demeter USA, the national certification organization that precedes the USDA Organic Certified seal by some 17 years. We are proud to support Biodynamic education and to help spread the word about this rapidly increasing practice.

To that end, we host a series of educational workshops on Biodynamic farming and products the first Sunday of each month, Oct. 5, 2014, through March 1, 2015. Presentations are at 10am unless otherwise noted.

We hope that you'll join us for some or all of this series. Here's a sneak peek at what you can expect:

Oct. 5: Elizabeth Candelario, co-director, Demeter USA. Wonder what all the Biodynamic buzz is about? Our series kicks off with a discussion about the origins of organic and Biodynamic agriculture and an exploration of the trends in Biodynamic food and fiber.

Nov. 2: Cynthia Sandberg of Love Apple Farm. The practice of Biodynamic farming means adhering to organic, holistic, and cosmic tenets. Learn the differences between organic and Biodynamic growing and how to integrate its principles into your garden from Cynthia, who has partnered with renowned chef David Kinch and his Manresa restaurant in order to remain sustainable.

Dec. 7: Colum Riley of Malibu Compost. Explore how healthy soil functions and how composting and Biodynamic preparations can bring unhealthy soil back to life. Learn methods, materials, and uses for your own home garden or farm. 

Jan. 4: Michael Thiele of Gaia Bees. Biodynamic apiculture treats the honeybee nest as "One Bee-ing" in its formation and life gestures. This class will explore current issues to the health of bees, and asks what they and we need to survive together. Michael is truly a miracle man who understands what our bees need to survive. And if they don't survive — neither do we.

Feb. 1: Harald Hoven of the Rudolf Steiner College. Learn how to use the astronomical calendar to guide your decision making about planting, cultivating, and harvesting your crops. 

March 5: The wine industry was an early American adopter of Biodynamic farming. As a grand finale to our class series, and with a glass of wine in hand, we will hear from grape growers and winemakers who are pushing the envelope on ecological farming and product quality. Note: This is a 5pm event.