Welcome to a new look for my work with farms and ranches. I can't call it a blog any more: it's more than a blog. This not a hobby, this is my life's work. I've never been comfortable calling myself a blogger—I'm a writer. Besides, the word sounds like you're puking, to begin with, and I'd like to administer a bare-bottom spanking to whoever insisted on popularizing it. (Unless that person is MegNut, who is allowing one of my heroes, Michael Ruhlman, to gueststar on her website.)
Onward to the stories.
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Yesterday found me (along with Bob and Logan) at a farm dinner in a beautiful spot up near Waddell Creek (south of Pescadero, north of Davenport), located near Rancho Del Oso nature preserve. Farmer Jeff Larkey hosted his seventh farm dinner—an unrivaled stretch of hospitality in farm dinner history.
The farm looked quite different than it had a few weeks earlier on my birthday. Then everything was just drying mud. Now the crops are in: among them, fennel, red and golden beets, Deer's Tongue lettuce, favas, and all kinds of greens. All these things found their way to the dinner table, along with some pork from TLC Ranch and some California sea bass from H & H Fresh Fish.
Another wonderful addition to the dinner was the presence of Brighton Denevan. It was Brighton's chickens (Aracaunas and Silver-Laced Wyandottes) who provided the eggs atop the salad. Brighton takes a keen interest in all aspects of nature, and it is wonderful to see how he's growing up so beautifully. Great kid. Great.
We also got another chance to visit with Justin Severino, who had been asked to take over the grill, even though he was my guest. He made such a splash, he was invited to be the guest chef at his own OitF farm dinner on July 8. The host farm will be beautiful Live Earth Farm, located on a hilltop in Corralitos, overlooking the Pajaro Valley below. Naturally, Justin is choosing TLC Ranch as his main provider, naturally, so diners can look forward to rustic old-country Italian recipes (all Justin's own) for pork (and lots of it), along with preserves and pickles and other fresh fruit and vegetables from Live Earth Farm, as well as calamari from H & H Fresh Fish.
Probably the most amazing thing about this particular farm campus (as I think of it)—Jeff owns or leases several different properties—is the divine providence aspect of it. One day, he simply got a telephone call offering him the property if he wanted it. They renew his lease every five years—it's been fifteen now, and he figures nothing will change. "I can do this forever. But do I want to? How can I?" he asked.
"What else would you do?"
"Surf." Ah, the quintessential Santa Cruz farmer.
I asked, "Isn't it too bad that farmers can't do knock-offs, like chefs?"
"I tried that. Tried calling in from vacation. The weeds just won't pull themselves."
As he had done in January on the Eco-Farm tour, Jeff talked about the quest for, and the importance of, compost. He's willing to pay a lot for high-quality compost. I asked about an article I'd read in the Sacramento Bee, written somewhat irresponsibly, I think, by a writer named Gwen Schoen. Why irresponsible? Read this:
"I do not use organic produce," says the Natomas resident [Pat Henegar]. "I haven't quite convinced myself that there are enough safety measures in place to make organic safe."
"Well, they use raw materials for growth fertilizers and pest control, and I am not comfortable with the processes used for cleaning and sanitizing. Particularly for things you eat raw, like strawberries. Just giving them a quick rinse isn't enough.
"I'm just fine with the regular produce I find."
This is such a load of (you'll pardon the expression) bulls--t, and I knew it was wrong. I telephoned ALBA to see if someone there could give me a statement of the facts. I also talked to the founder and National Director of Organic Consumers Association, Ronnie Cummins. Additionally, an e-mail to the Organic Trade Association produced a response from Holly Givens, Communications Director.
Gary, at ALBA, said, "The most prevailing source of pathogens typically are not the materials used in the nutrients, but in the handling. There is no discrimination between organic and conventional growing."
Ronnie Cummins told me, "Patterns of disinformation like this in the press can be traced to Dennis Avery and the Hudson Institute." The Hudson Institute is described by SourceWatch.org:
While describing itself as "non-partisan" and preferring to portray itself as independently "contrarian" rather than as a conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute gains financial support from many of the foundations and corporations that have bankrolled the conservative movement. The Capital Research Center, a conservative group that seeks to rank non-profits and documents their funding, allocates Hudson as a 7 on its ideological spectrum with 8 being "Free Market Right" and 1 "Radical Left."
Avery is the Director of a branch of the Hudson Institute called the Center for Global Food Policies. Through some pretty slick Orwellian language, including their development of the "Earth Friendly, Farm Friendly" label
Avery himself is the source of a claim that organic food is more dangerous to eat than food produced using chemicals. Nice! (Go read the whole piece: Avery conveniently manufactures a quote from 'Dr. Robert Tauxe, chief of the CDC's Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch, saying, 'Organic food means a food was grown in animal manure.' " Tauxe and the CDC take extreme exception to Avery's propaganda, and it is nothing more than propaganda.
The Hudson Institute is funded in part by the following entities:
Castle Rock Foundation: "founded in 1993 with an endowment of $36,596,253 from the Adolph Coors Foundation."
Koch Family Foundation: started by two billionaire gas-and-oil industry brothers whose father, Fred, was a member of the John Birch Society.
Olin Foundation: chemical and munitions money
Add to that list these 2002 funders: Exxon, Cargill, ConAgra Foods, DuPont, Fannie Mae (quel scandal!), General Electric, McDonald's, MONSANTO, National Agriculture Chemical Association, PayPal, Procter & Gamble, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Sunkist Growers, Syngenta Crop Protection, and United Agri Products.
What is a fact is that conventional agriculture itself doesn't regulate the use of raw manure in crops. More appalling is that animal manure is fed right back to the animals. This, says Ronnie Cummins, is the reason the government suggests "you treat your kitchen as a biohazard zone."
Holly Givens replied:
"I do not know what this shopper [in the SacBee article] is talking about. Organic food products are subject to all federal, state and local food safety requirements. I do not know of any studies examining rates of food borne illness by method of agriculture used to produce the food.
You might find these fact sheets helpful: http://www.ota.com/organic/foodsafety.html
For many shoppers, use of pesticides is a safety issue, and they choose organic products because organic farmers do not use toxic and persistent pesticides.
So. A letter to Ms. Gwen Schoen is in order. If you hear someone expressing the notion that there is anything unsafe about organic produce, kindly whap them in the face with some rancid commercial bacon, okay? (Not really.) Just cite the facts...and cite Avery's lies.
The bottom line is that the production of compost in California is strictly regulated: Larkey says farmers are limited to how much they can produce on their own farms, which is why he drives all over hill and dale to find the good stuff. The production involves making sure the heat reaches 140 degrees, for one thing.
Boy, do I feel sorry for the food-phobic sometimes.
More on Jeff Larkey in the future: he's a nice man.
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THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “The more I want to get something done, the less I call it work.” —Richard Bach
Thanks for visiting.