Organic Food.....Part Two: Farmers with Faces
Wal-Mart and Costco and Safeway have organic milk. "O" Organics, etc.
The pricks who supply the mega stores....who are often partially owned by the same mega-stores..... have developed a work-around to avoid actually having real organic facilities: 1) establish an organic facility and get it inspected and certified; 2)drag in random cheap commercial cows from wherever; 3) milk the shit out of them; 4) call your product "organic"; 5) go look for some more cows, and do it all again.
"Free range" chickens....for eggs or meat.....technically have access to a tiny patch of outdoor ground....but they never, ever use it. Like ghetto kids could technically take a bus to Yosemite on their own any time they want.
Our supposed "organic" pork supplier of last year buys mature pigs...feeds them organic stuff for two weeks in his organic facility....slaughters them and charges double the commercial rate.
This is like sending Rosie O'Donnell to the Golden Door for two weeks.... and calling her Giselle Bundchen.
Like I said, we have fallen back on the Local Standard. We don't buy anything from someone we don't know, or haven't visited.
Our farmers have faces.
Farmers With A Face....
The New Standard: "I don't know you.....Fuck you."
If I don't know you, I assume you are someone who will sell out core principles for a momentary advantage.... or to pull in a few bucks for a friend or supporter or major donor or client. (Like our President....or our Slimy Whore Senator, Diane Fibstein...the West Coast Joe Lieberman. That is probably unfair......Joe Lieberman actually might have principles....just misguided ones.)
There was a time when business and politics were not like this....but then again, I am an old person.
We food guys in Cachagua read and re-read Joel Salatin...and we overbuy from our local farms. People like James Creek Farm and Serendipity.
So...how pleased were we to get the commission to cook a meal for the Big Sur Land Trust at the Odello Ranch.....serving all of the produce from our friend Jamie's Serendipity Farms based at the self same Odello Ranch.
The idea was to show off Jamie's produce, serve it to the BSLT's major donors..... in the barn on the ranch where the food was grown.
My wet dream of a party.
The Odello Ranch is the knot that ties Big Sur to Carmel geographically and socially.
Bruna Odello, the matriarch of the original owners of the property is an actual angel loosed here on earth with a Nikon camera.
Bruna reminds me more than anyone of the Carmelite nuns at the Monastery a few hundred yards south of the Odello Ranch....when Bruna says "God bless you..." you feel like there actually is a God, and you just got blessed. Goosebumps.
We were there at the get-go of the whole Odello Ranch transformation thing. BSLT traded Clint Eastwood for the water credits to develop Tehema..... in exchange for Clint's buying out the Odello's...... and donating the land back to the BSLT.
This was an end-run around the insanity of Nick Lombardo trying to develop the Odello property as an old folks' home with strip malls and a parking lot to park the busses that would buss people into the New Carmel ....that would be closed to vehicular traffic. Like San Simeon.
The local Hospitality Association thought this was a great plan. Clint, god love him, thought differently.
We did the exploratory lunches; we did the celebration parties when the deal was done.
This is Real Republican stuff: people make money; our agricultural heritage is preserved; conservation stuff happens; non-profits make money. Beautiful homes are built on land no one even knew existed. Nice, hardworking modern American farmers get a showcase property to grow organic foods for the local folks. At a profit.
Win. Win. Win. Win.
BSLT took the Odello Ranch artichoke fields and retired them. Then.... they re-leased them to an Earthbound Farms graduate, our friend Jamie, to develop as an organic farm.
So......last month BSLT hired us to take Jamie's produce and highlight it in a late-afternoon gathering for their major donors.
Jamie's stuff: three kinds of basil, heirloom tomatoes, three kinds of chard, potatoes, three kinds of artichokes, strawberries, pumpkins, spaghetti squash......goat cheese. She has a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) deal where she delivers a sampling of whatever is growing to local rich people in a box each week, and she has a list of the half dozen restaurants that actually care about food, agriculture and sustainable lifestyles.
We buy everything we possibly can from her.
BSLT gave us $450 to make food for 55 people. We were in heaven. This would pay for some of the servers....and we will work for FREE when the politics are right.
Baby artichoke chowder: baby artichokes cut and cleaned in the Italian style, poached in good organic cream.
Pumpkin ravioli with cannelini beans and DayGlo chard: we used Jamie's sugar pie pumpkins....Bob the Eggman's eggs from Pajaro....Lundberg flour...and made pasta. We roasted more pumpkins and mixed them with Jamie's goat cheese for the filling. The cannellini beans were from Coke Farms in Pajaro...not far from Bob's eggs. We made a big bean stew with soft heirloom tomatoes, Jamie's torpedo onions, Thomas Farm (Soquel) Korean garlic....and added chopped crazy chard at the last minute. We served it in our handle cups...and garnished it with two of the ravioli and splashed the whole thing with Opal Basil oil from Jamie's plants.....and dosed it with Big Sur sea salt that Sam the Stanford Intern made.
Panzanella: watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, three kinds of basil....our Micah's rough bread.....organic Petaluma olive oil.
Jamie's Roasted Baby Potatoes. Lotsa butter and good salt.
Jamies Roasted Spaghetti Squash.....developed at Cornell, by the way.
Jamie's Three Green Bean Salad with Summer Savory and Petaluma EVOO. Summer savory is the bomb with green beans. There was also some local mint in there for aromatics.
Kamut......all the way from Montana....our big failing. But, served with Jamie's roast carrots, beets and fennel brunoise, and all the basil parts left over from the basil oil process.
Serendipity Strawberries with Baby Pumpkin Pies....
Heller organic wines were served.....along with some vodka and gin. Hey, these are Republicans! And bourbon....my mom came, you see......
Not bad for eight bucks a person.
The folks were bussed in.....the barn was just a barn. Owl shit....hay.....busted farm machinery. Galvanized iron roof. Dirt floor. Jamie did a gorgeous veggie display, and she brought down bales of hay all around from the Glen Deven Ranch.
We got all the folks a plate and a big glass of wine. Two bowls for the beans and chowder.
Bruna got up with her daughter and grandson and showed a bunch of old and new photos. She gave a background of the family history. She started right off crying about how happy she was.....and soon there were not many dry eyes in the house.
Next up was Blanca Zarazua.....a local lawyer, and the Mexican Consul in San Jose. She was born on the Ranch...(Bruna paid the medical bills)....and she introduced her dad, one of the original farm workers on the property.
Blanca is a tough-as-nails litigator. She scares me the same way being on top of the Empire State Building scares me: I know intellectually that I am in no danger....but shit happens. I stand back.
Blanca also started off sobbing. She described her dad, and his life on the Ranch....and how he is her best friend and inspiration.....and how happy she was the Ranch had come full circle and was now back in the hands of someone who understood the land.
Meanwhile, a rain shower passed over the farm, and rattled hard against the iron roof......and leaked some tears on the crowd as well. Stevie Ray Vaughn.......
The rain stopped.....and, I swear to God.....a rainbow busted loose over the Carmel River and the Ranch.......
I didn't have to say much. I quoted John Sebastian:
"You and me and rain on the roof....
Caught up in a summer shower....
Drying as it soaks the flowers......
Maybe we'll be caught for hours....."
I recited the definition of ''organic'' for the folks: "Of, or pertaining to, living organisms. Of, or constituting, an integral part of a system or society".
Here we were, sitting in an old barn...ankle deep in owl shit....looking out over rain and fields and sunshine and wind, surrounded by the food grown on the spot. Surrounded by the people who had conceived and worked the land as a farm for four generations.....and surrounded by the people who had done the donkey work to make it all work legally.
The pigeons.....the major donors....had until that moment never really realized what they had wrought with their checks and their phone calls.
They were stunned. Once again, not a dry eye in the house.
"Organic" food isn't about what you spray on it or don't spray on it.
It is about the grower who takes responsibility, the workers who till and pick, the land and the community it grows in, the cooks who prepare it, the diners who enjoy it.....and the poor slobs who clean up and compost the leftovers.
For a few hours on a Friday in Carmel we all experienced what it would be like to be part of an intact, functioning culture.