One of the biggest problems with being a writer/photographer is the balance between looking and listening. And frankly, just being. When I'm at a farm, especially one as beautiful—orderly, healthy, happy, humming—as Linda Butler's oasis, Lindencroft Farm, I tend to dial down the volume on my work. I just want to hang out with the farmer and look at the pretty things growing. Or pet the kitties—Linda and her husband, Steve, have four. (And about ninety-seven bird feeders, so I wonder how that works out. Stay tuned: she answers my question.)
What I'm saying is that I tend to bliss out and forget to write things down. Luckily, Linda will fill in lots of gaps—wait until you see the list of what she's growing.
I had visited earlier in the summer, following the advice of Cynthia Sandberg, who had surprisingly (to me) taken Linda as a partner in the farmstand at Love Apple Farm over the summer. The variety and quality of produce grown at Lindencroft Farm was a good match for the hundred or so varieties of heirloom tomatoes Cynthia was growing. Cynthia had told me then that Linda was CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers), and that her vegetables were gorgeous.
Linda says: ”Twenty-five years ago, I went to San Francisco City College for a degree in ornamental horticulture. In a bedroom of my third-floor flat, I grew hundreds and hundreds of plants from seed. I longed for a garden of my own. I spent the next 18 years trying to grow under the shade of the redwoods, on a hill, in the densest clay on earth. Finally, I find myself standing in the sun, on the top of a small mountain (really a only a hill) surrounded by forests, and all manner of wild life, and I know that this is heaven on earth for me. I started growing all kinds of vegetables and finding that everything I pulled from the earth tasted like nothing I'd ever brought home from the grocery store. The beauty of tomatoes and peppers and asparagus and eggplants is astounding but nothing compared to the taste of these beauties freshly harvested. I never looked back. To grow and to share what I grow is all that I need.“
I have been on a few farms, and I have never been on one where the care showed more than at Linda's farm. (I've seen the equal, but never one better.) Part of that, I'm sure, is that the area is so small. ONE ACRE. On a hillside, and a hillside in the mountains where temperatures yesterday morning were in the thirties. (Okay, so good-bye to the tomatillos.)
The land has some of the worst soil imaginable: sand like a quarry—in fact you can see a quarry when you drive up the hill and look out. Linda has meticulously amended it, and each bed is three-and-a-half feet deep. The beds are a study in “how to do things right.” Ai-yai-yai. Here is a new one, on the right: you can see the quality of the soil, and the quality of the work on the frames.
In September, she'd sent me a list of what she does to the soil: pay attention, kids.
Here is a list of soil amendments I use:
• Greensand, a product of the sea, supplies trace minerals and boosts microbial activity for long term release of nutrients, potassium source (K)
• Oyster shell powder, a calcium source
• Blood meal, a nitrogen source
• Rock phosphate
For 100 square feet* apply 2.5 pounds of blood meal, 4 pounds of rock phosphate, 3 pounds of green sand, and 5 pounds of oyster shell powder.
*It really is square feet because it's a topical dressing for the surface of each bed, to be worked in with a trowel. It will trickle down with subsequent watering.
This I use when I work the soil for the first time, when I make a new bed and fill it up. I dig this all in the first foot. Then just before I plant in the new soil, I add about one pound each of fish meal and kelp meal and work it into the top six inches. When I harvest and then get ready for all subsequent plantings or sowings I add generous amounts of compost and a little more fish and kelp meal. If I'm sowing carrot seeds I work some worm castings in also. All the leafy vegetables that we harvest for their leaves like, broccoli, kale, chard, spinach, lettuce, and brussels sprouts I give a fish and kelp about once a month in the form of a dilute emulsion. I just dump about a half a gallon of each around the base of the plants for the big ones. The small ones like spinach, chard, kale, and lettuces get a foliar feeding of the same fish and kelp emulsion. You can get all these things at San Lorenzo Garden Center in Santa Cruz.
The partnership at Love Apple Farm was good for vision and friendship, but Linda longed to do more—I tried to hook her up with the restaurants I know, and passed the word along to Nesh Dillon at the Santa Cruz Farmers Market. One of the crops that grows best on her farm is asparagus, and she's putting in 500 new crowns. The fruit trees on the lower part of the hillside farm are going to be moved, or come out, to make room for the new beds.
When I talked to Nesh, who really runs a great set of markets, I had forgotten to mention the asparagus (because it wasn't in season, and thus wasn't on my lips from a recent taste). Talk about coincidence. Linda sent me an e-mail four hours after she had visited the market, just after I'd been talking her up. (I have to talk her up. She's a farmer. And an amazing farmer, which ought to be redundant, but there it is.)
I dropped by the Live Oak farmer's market and looked for Nesh Dillon. I tell him I want to become a seller and start to talk about what I grow and he throws a hand to his brow and says.“OMG, this is a coincidence! Tana Butler just talked with me about your peppers.” He was actually excited to meet me. I told him I grow asparagus and he said that he could use me in virtually all his markets because he has no organic asparagus growers. Tana, your are true to your word, thank you so much for your continued help.
Linda assured me in September that you haven't had asparagus until you've had the asparagus she grows. This is not arrogance but the serene confidence of a farmer who is also a good cook. That's one of the things I like about hanging out with Linda: we talk about flavors and recipes and techniques. [To all my farmer friends: I'm not awarding Miss America here—I just loved my visit at her place way up the hills in Ben Lomond.]
Whereas Cynthia Sandberg is known as The Tomato Lady, Linda wants to be known as the Pepper Lady. The Butlers own a fire-roaster—it resembles a gigantic Bingo cage, and the peppers turn slowly over open flames. The charred skins fall through the cage, and the finished peppers are then sealed in bags. She grows spicy and sweet peppers, and many I've never heard of. This is because she pores over every seed catalog in creation, and, like every farmer I know, pays close attention to the descriptions of the flavors.
Yesterday, she sent me home with a lot of peppers, and I suggested a use for her sweet red peppers: red pepper coulis. (That goes to a Google search.) Throw some of the fire-roasted (or otherwise roasted and skinned) sweet peppers in the food processor with good balsamic vinegar, a little salt and pepper, and whir until liquidy. I love this with polenta—and even get a little Martha Stewart-y and use star cookie cutters on the polenta. (The red pepper coulis goes into a squirt bottle, for optimum drizzlage.)
“Oh, when things are nutty, I come right out here.” I got it: farms are therapeutic to all but the densest of people.
Linda's list of crops reads like pure poetry. She's starting a CSA: how lucky are those subscribers?
Montpellier French filet, Boby Bianco, Kakucho edamame
Chioggia, Golden Detroit, Albino Vereduna
Tenderstem, Di Cicco, Red Arrow, Calabrese [Tana's note: raise your hand if you knew there were at least four kinds of broccoli in the world. Raise both hands and wave them wildly if you can tell them apart.]
Purple Haze (named after the Jimi Hendrix song), New Kuroda, Amarillo yellow, Kyoto red, Sugarsnax, Saint Valery
Ruby Red, Argentata, Italian Silver Rib, Pot of Gold
Armenian burpless, Carosella, Cornichon, Centriola
Rosa Bianca, Bambino, Italian White, Nadia, Beatrice, Black Beauty
Florence Fennel Sefa Fino
Red Russian Kale
Haogen, Zatta, Ortolani, Charentais
Ishikura bunching, Tokyo Long bunching, Rossa Lunga, Granex, Siskiyou Sweet, Stockton Red, Savona
Anaheim, Jalapeno, Ancho/Poblano, Rio Grande, Serrano, Fresno, Nu Mex, Chilepequin
America Spinach, Bloomsdale Spinach, Correnta Spinach, Spinner Spinach, and Viroflay spinach
Baby rondo, Black beauty, Dudoo, Zephyr, Cosi Romanesco, Caserta, Black Eel, yellow, green, white patty pan
Butternut, Delicata, Sugar pumpkin
Tomatoes: about 40 different varieties, I can provide the names if you need them
Lettuces: about 30 different varieties [Tana's note: I couldn't name thirty kinds of lettuce with a gun to my head.]
Celeriac, Kohlrabi, Baby Turnips, Sugar Pod Peas, Broccoflower, Broccoverde
Are you amazed? I'm amazed. One woman, two hands, folks. TWO HANDS. (I'm pretty sure she doesn't dig all the beds, but she takes care of everything. She grows everything.) Her farm is like a library.
I asked if there was anything crucial for people to know. She writes:
A lot of farmers say they are organic, and most of them probably are, or are “mostly” organic. But what does it really mean? Some people take it very seriously, and some are a bit more casual. Some farms call themselves organic, when perhaps a better description would be “no chemical sprays.” Big businesses are trying to label their foods “organic,” not because of any belief in the principles, but because it improves sales. Unfortunately, the USDA seems more than happy to bend the rules in their favor.
For us, being an organic, sustainable farm is something that we deeply believe in. Some of our customers also share this belief, while others simply appreciate the quality and flavor. The reason we decided to become certified by CCOF really comes down to a simple notion—a commitment. We, as farmers, are committed to follow the highest standards and practices of organic farming, and the CCOF certification allows our customers to know exactly what that commitment is. We aren't claiming that being CCOF makes us better—only that being CCOF makes it clear what are standards are. And yes, there is some overhead and expense to the process. Largely, however, things like record-keeping actually help us to be better, more efficient farmers. The cost is actually quite minimal, and is based on a sliding-scale of farm income.
Another important benefit for us in going through the certification process is the science behind growing safe, healthy, natural foods. Curiously, many of these details were missing or glossed over in the many books we have read to help prepare us to be farmers. The recent spinach contamination fiasco may provide a good illustration. The ultimate source of the E. Coli which caused the whole problem appears to have been from cow manure. We are not making any accusations that this fresh manure was deliberately used on the spinach fields—it appears to have been accidental contamination spread by wild pigs. But here's the point. Cow manure—that's natural and organic, right? Sure, and it can also be a killer. Part of what we learned from CCOF is the proper way to compost manures to ensure safety, and how important it is. Yes, we have to take daily readings on our compost piles, and record them. Yes, we have to make sure the piles are hot (between 131 and 170 for 15 days) , and are turned at least 5 times. But we know that by following these practices (and all the other ones), we are going to be providing food that is safe as well as delicious.
I hadn't known that farmers keep daily readings on compost piles, and somehow it comforts me as much as anything I ever read in a science class, even though I sucked at science (but excelled in algebra).
I will write more about Lindencroft Farm tomorrow. And more beyond that.
Thank you, Linda, for the chance to visit and hang out with you while you care about everything.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “Anybody who believes that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach flunked geography.” — Robert Byrne
Or, as I once heard it, ”Any woman who thinks the way to a man's heart is through his stomach is raising her hopes a little high.” Ahem.
And on that note, we conclude 17 straight (or wobbly and tilted) days blogging for NaBloPoMo. And on another note, our relatively new TV will not turn on, and my car had to be towed for the first time in her life on Monday—causing me to miss my appointment with the personal trainer who comes with my gym membership. Other than all that, I am satisfied that I have produced a post of true substance for the November blog-a-day commitment. I cannot believe the crap I have had to wade through in the "Randomizer." People who write a sentence saying that they can't come up with a sentence. Every day so far for the freaking month.
(New picture of Logan in his Little Prince album, if you're inclined. Nothing like a bit of glue and construction paper to bring a smile.)
Thanks for visiting.