After boarding our bus, the next stop was only a short distance away. I hadn't realized that Route One Farms had a new location, and had expected to head to either their Waddell Creek site, or to the site downtown (which I photographed in January), but couldn't imagine where three long busses were going to park.
Route One Farms is owned by Jeff Larkey, who has been farming for decades.
It was at this particular farm that I had a realization that I can't stop thinking about.
The farm had plenty of equipment, and you see this orange machine, here on the right. Not being a farmer, I had no idea what I was looking at, but something about that orange machine really galvanized the crowd. Out came the digital cameras, out came the notebooks, and people were begging Jeff to explain its purpose. Go ahead, take a guess.
Well, I couldn't guess either, so Jeff told us: it's a potato-harvesting machine. Oh, the exclamations! What a wonder! And the buzz that went through the crowd, over this simple little device, was incredible.
All they want is to find better ways to bring food to us! Do you think it sounds simplistic? I promise you, it's not. In about five minutes' time, everything in my world redefined itself with the realization that what the farmers are doing is just about the most important work in the world. They're feeding us. And feeding us wholesome food, raised with love and good intentions, which is the very first step to good health.
I really didn't listen to his whole talk: I had to just wander around and gaze at the beautiful farm with new eyes. New appreciation. It went very deep.
Out near the pumpkin patch, which bordered on a field of artichokes, I met up with a young lady who was feeling the artichoke plants. (Here I must note that I think artichokes plants are so beautiful. They're like a dinosaur and a wild head of hair. So unusual and crazy-looking.) Thinking I was missing out on more arcane farmerly knowledge, like the guy feeling the dirt at Everett Family Farm, I asked if there was anything in particular she was looking at or for. "Oh no. It's just that I've never seen an artichoke before."
Her name was Carrie Brinton, and she had just returned to her native Florida after a stint in the Peace Corps. She was working at Rosie's Organic Farm in Gainesville, and Rosie herself had paid for Carrie's attendance at Eco-Farm. Carrie lamented having to return to Florida, and expressed a poignant desire to live among the kind of like-minded company she was enjoying on the bus tour. (And no wonder: Florida is a crazy place. I lived there, I've visited, and it's only getting worse. Not all Floridians, and not the entire state, but in general...ye gods!)
I told her, "Santa Cruz is expensive, but the price of living includes a liberal mindset and a community of foodies and chefs who worship farmers. I can't imagine living anywhere else, but then, my family is all here."
The visit to this farm was inspiring, and Jeff full of knowledge and technical know-how that was lost on Your Correspondent with the Black Thumb.
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Next up: the only farmer I'd never met. I had read a little about Free Wheelin' Farm on the Local Harvest website, and was intrigued. Farmer Amy Courtney delivers her CSA shares twice a week, bicycling down the Pacific Coast Highway with a trailer in tow. Her farm, a mere acre, feeds 64 people a week.
I think Amy inspired the tour more than any of us expected: she's aglow with love of her work, and the land, and she's had some amazing things come to her via California Farm Link, which is an organization partnering established farms with young farmers. Matching funds over a two-year period turn Amy's monthly deposit of $100 into $400, which she is saving to expand her business.
If Jeff Larkey's farm had lots of equipment, Amy's is probably the most primitive imaginable, in terms of machinery. Her commitment to using the least amount of petroleum products possible means she has exactly one machine using fuel: her single-burner propane torch, used for weeding. To the right, you can see she's holding up the world's most efficient hoeing device: a McLeod. It was invented for the firefighters, joining two separate tools into one. The weight of the McLeod contributes to its ferocious strength at hoeing, and Amy warned about the perils of landing this thing on your foot.
Like all the coastal farms, Free Wheelin' Farm is a beauty. The land belongs to Jim Cochran, who lets Amy work it. (What a mensch!) Everywhere were little hand-painted totems, benificent and goofy at the same time.
Amy's CSA is full now, but she does hope to grow. All I can say is, thank God for people like this young woman. She is a force of nature: radiant, grounded, and beaming. She won everyone's heart, and we cheered when the tour concluded.
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We returned later than scheduled to Asilomar, hungry and tired, and found most of the food and all of the wine at the Slow Food reception had been decimated. We decided to go to dinner at Passionfish, which I wrote up at MouthfulsFood.com:
On Wednesday night, my friend (heirloom tomato farmer, Cynthia Geske) and I ate at the much-acclaimed Passionfish. They are not only farmy (Chef Ted Walter shops at the farmers markets himself), but they adhere to the Sustainable Seafood list produced by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The food was fantastic: we shared a crabcake, a salad with baked gorgonzola, chutney and pecans, and both ordered the wild salmon, which came with edamame and thyme mashed potatoes.
One of the best things about Passionfish is that they don't mark up their wines at all. You pay what you'd pay in a retail store, which encourages people to be adventuresome. We ordered a Nigl Gruner Veltliner, and it was only $25.
On Thursday night at the conference, there was an organic wine-tasting. I saw John Williams of Frogs Leap, who was leaving for dinner. I said, "I hope you're going to Passionfish!" and he gave the thumbs up. His whole group of winemakers was headed there. That's a pretty good endorsement.
Anyway, I give it the thumbs up, too. Portions are generous, and it is not expensive. (The salmon was only $20, and the portion was as big as a man's hand.)
I look forward to returning, and recommend Passionfish to anyone traveling in the Monterey-Carmel area.
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That's all for this round. Coming up: a little report on the workshop I'd attended, "What Chefs Want," and a little bit about Michael Ableman's keynote speech.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: ""I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours." Jerome K. Jerome
Thanks for visiting!