The first thing I noticed about beautiful La Milpa Organica, farmed by Barry Logan in Escondido (north of San Diego) is the patchwork quilt of greens that grows in the center of the farm. I arrived when Barry was jogging back and forth from a cooler, filling the back of his van with boxes he would be delivering to the chefs who prize his crops, but Barry took time to give me a tour of his farm. (Pictured at left, Santiago is Barry's ace harvester, filling a box to order.)
We stood surrounded by twenty-some kinds of salad fixings, ranging in color from spring green and chartreuse to deep reds and purples. Barry said wistfully, "I'd make more money if I only sold those," sweeping his hand toward some tiny green plants. "But I'd lose all this beauty, and I just can't bring myself to do it." I could understand, completely, and his yearning for beauty is certainly one of the keys to the soul of this farmer, who left the corporate world to live his dream of farming just three years ago.
Escondido, like the rest of San Diego county, has seen the encroachment of McMansions and all the chain stores and restaurants, but Barry's little corner manages to keep a little of its wildness. Located on land that used to house a protea grower's ranch, much of twelve acres is rocky and unuseable—Barry estimates that he farms about four acres. Rain water rushing down a gully had washed much of the topsoil away, and turned other parts of the farm into dirt that was as hard as concrete. Through a slow composting process, Barry's managed to turn the farm into a lush paradise of diversity and wonder.
I asked about the meaning of "La Milpa," and he told me, "It means 'cornfield.' In the Mayan creation myth, God tried several times to make people, but was unsuccessful. It was only when he made people out of cornstalks that we came into being. Corn was sacred to the Mayans: together with beans, it formed a perfect protein. So in a deeper sense, the idea that 'you are what you eat' means that the Creator made you from that which you have eaten. It's beautiful, isn't it?" Indeed. The fence you see at the right is made from last year's cornstalks, and Barry said it is very traditional in Mexico.
Besides all the greens he grows, Barry is also growing three kinds of corn: white, blue, and a red that he couldn't resist. (Nothing patriotic intended, I'm sure, but I think he's got the Fourth of July sewn up.) He's planted— won't be able to remember them all—squash, eggplants, strawberries, and tomatoes. Oh yes, tomatoes: it isn't really summer until you have your tomatoes. Barry installed an wood-burning oven in the center of the farm, intent on resuming his summer tradition of making pizzas for the Wednesday staff meetings. (You can see it to the right of the shade tree in this photo.)
I was curious about the restaurants he sells to, and he told me how fortunate he was. He'd been volunteering at Good Faith Farm, who had several accounts with chefs around the county, but they had moved to Northern California. Barry had simply inherited their accounts, and acquired some new ones himself.
He listed them (by order of his delivery stops):
A.R. Valentien (The Lodge at Torry Pines)
George's at the Cove
Nine Ten (I ate there last year)
Jack's La Jolla
Michele Coulon (link to Fodor's)
Optimum Health Institute
Most of these appear on my Platial map of Chefs and Farms.
Barry told me about an event that is held every October at the Lodge at Torrey Pines, called Celebrate the Craft. From their site: "Local chefs, farmers, ranchers and vintners come together for an annual celebration of the very best of California's culinary offerings." They put the farmers and vintners up at the Lodge and give them a feast, in addition to the public event. Crazy Salad wrote about it on her blog last October. I'm going to do my best to get there this year—Barry was filled with praise for the quality of the food and wine.
I wrote to ask Barry to tell me more about himself. He answered poetically:
I was born in Santa Barbara California
when it was still paradise
when you could build a fire on the beach
and eat out of the tide pools
drink directly from the creeks in the back country
when there were still miles and miles of
citrus avocado and walnut orchards
when houses cost under $8000
before the traffic signs
and strip malls
I was born into a time and place
and a way of life
that has vanished
My grandparents were farmers
some of my earliest memories are
riding the tractor with my grandfather
I've almost always had a vegetable garden
throughout my life
I've had and eclectic collection of livelihoods
NGO project administrator in Latin America
spent the 70's
going to college
volunteering in medical projects in Latin America
building the Alaska pipeline
(hard to believe that the Prudhoe Bay oilfield is now in terminal decline)
'developing' a large tract
of forest in Ecuador's Oriente
Since then I've read and traveled widely
bicycled over the Himalaya
and the Andes
volunteered in an alternatives to violence
program in the local prison
supported grass roots solidarity projects
in Mexico Central America and Cuba
spent a lot of time
wandering in the desert...
and educating about them
are now critical issues
that are still far off most people's radar
it's important work
we do after all eat several times a day
the industrial agricultural model
is not sustainable
what stands between humanity and starvation
is a few inches of biologically rich soil and obliging weather
along with farmer's both of those elements
are under pressure
The rising cost of petroleum and commodities in general
not to mention the problems associated with GE seeds
loss of farm land
etc etc etc
old food from far away
will give way to an appreciation for
fresh food sustainably grown on local farms
May it be so...
His love of beauty led to hiring someone good with flowers, in the form of Miel, pictured here. Flowers are abundant, bordering nearly every bed of growth at La Milpa. Like many farms I've visited, an artistic hand has woven through the rows of green things planted there. The intersection of straight lines with the fringes of petals, the nests of curled leaves, and the brilliant blooms, fruits, and vegetables are one of the biggest reasons I do what I do.
Those of you fortunate enough to live in San Diego can find Barry's beautiful greens and more at the Hillcrest farmers market on Sundays. Or visit one of the restaurants he sells to and thank them for supporting their local farms.
COMING UP NEXT: Deep Roots Ranch, and a brief visit to see what Jasmine and Mike have shaking at Everett Family Farm. And tomorrow I'm visiting a farm in the Carmel Valley with chefs Justin and Mike.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “Both the grand and the intimate aspects of nature can be revealed in the expressive photograph. Both can stir enduring affirmations and discoveries, and can surely help the spectator in his search for identification with the vast world of natural beauty and the wonder surrounding him.” — Ansel Adams
Thanks for visiting.