FarmSuperba

Sometimes it takes a little imagination to see potential. Whether it be in people, places, or ideas. Potential can be an enigma. But that’s why I love urban farming. Once you open your mind to it, you can see the potential in the least likely of spaces.

Take this vacant asphalt lot for example:

IMG_4113

Seems pretty unassuming. It used to be storage space for an old upholstery store and a run down barbershop on Lincoln Blvd in Venice, CA. Most would argue that there is nothing remarkable or unique about this lot, but when you combine community-minded restaurateurs Paul + Tiffany Hibler, a talented builder/mad scientist, and an urban farmer…you plant the seeds of something special.

Construction on FarmSuperba began in early 2015. Funn Roberts, the mad scientist I was telling you about, was full steam ahead with building the shoebox farm.

IMG_5977

The asphalt was busted open, and flagstone pavers were puzzled together to replace it. This now allows for rainwater to be returned back to the water table, instead of being diverged into the gutters and swept away to the street.

A total of twenty hydroponic towers live on the farm. The beauty of the towers is their lego-like design. They snap together and are completely self contained.

IMG_5978

Funn did a fantastic job of sinking the bases of the towers into a deck to allow for a sleek profile and interactive layout.

FullSizeRender (16) - Copy

Because of the relatively small size of the lot, vertical growing made sense. With 20 towers, each containing 44 growing slots, the tower portion of farm can produce 880 plants at any given time.

IMG_6262

Funn’s mad scientist brain really came through when he designed and constructed a beautiful aquaponics system. The unit is self contained, large tanks filled with fish help fertilize the water to provide nutrients to the plants. The plants help act as a filter for the water. Wanna learn more about aquaponics? Just click.

Farm_Space3_SkandiaShafer

Calming and inviting, one would never know that they are just yards away from Lincoln Blvd, one of the busiest thoroughfares in Los Angeles. Almost every plant on the farm is edible, and goes to supply food for Superba Food + Bread.

The farm has turned into a space for community engagement. FarmSuperba hosts things like Yoga On The Farm

Processed with VSCOcam with c3 preset

Meditation + Mindfulness classes

IMG_2109

A teen photography class from Venice Community Arts paid the farm a visit to learn about transformation of space

FullSizeRender (9)

On winter solstice we gathered round the fire pit to set intentions and honor the passing year

IMG_7839

Some rad things have already been happening on FarmSuperba, I can’t wait to see all of the possibilities that will manifest themselves as the farm continues to grow. Stay tuned for updates…

6 Edible Flowers To Elevate Your Garnish Game

As fine dining techniques begin to disperse into more mainstream restaurants, and even more so into home cooking, things like edible flowers are helping chefs and home cooks elevate their garnish game. Not only can they offer a splash of color, but most bring an immense amount a flavor in one little bite! Here is a list of some of the more common edible flowers that are fairly accessible, and in some cases, are growing wild in your own backyard:

Nasturtium:

Image

This beauty is found in cultivated gardens, as well as can be foraged in the wild. Both the greens and the blossom are edible. The lily pad shaped leaves are pretty spicy and peppery, and can be a bit of an acquired taste. The blossoms are much more mild in flavor and spice. In fact, they bring a touch of sweetness to help round out the flavor profile of the plant. The blossoms make a great addition to a salad and should be served raw.

Marigold:

Image

The varietal of marigold shown here is Mexican Marigold, but there are many different types of marigolds, with many different looking blossoms. The greens are edible as well are the blossoms, but be sure to find the young, tender greens which will be easier on the palate. The flavor is reminiscent to a sweet anise. I would even described it as a tangerine-bubble gum flavor. Marigolds are also a great addition to a garden, as they will fend off certain unwanted insects. Some of my favorite types of marigold are:

Mexican Marigold

French Marigold

Signet Marigold

Mustard:

MustardI

If you time it right, mustard blossoms can be foraged in the wild. Southern California hillsides are blanketed with them from spring to early summer. If you don’t have access to them in the wild, or they are out of season, these can be cultivated in the garden by letting mustard greens bolt (go to flower). Mustard blossom flavors can range from a mild tingle to a serious bite on the palate. One of the chefs that I work with was making his own mustard purely out of the blossoms…brilliant!

Radish:

SONY DSC

These little beauties have to be one of my favorites! So delicate, and so delicious! Radish blossoms are another edible flower that can be found either in the wild, or in the garden. I’ve seen radish blossoms in an array of colors; white, pink, yellow, purple and there is no mistaking what kind of plant this blossom is coming from, so much radish flavor and spice packed into a beautiful little blossom.

Chive:

Chive Blossom

Once you’ve tried a chive blossom, you realize what an impact an edible flower can have on a dish. The first time I had one, they were sprinkled on top of a raw oyster…WOW! It was a revelation and made me understand that a plant can have many usable parts, not just the traditional ones we know them for. Boasting a bit of spice, a chive blossom is a great substitute or addition to any recipe requiring that distinct allium flavor.

Borage:

Borage

Think cucumber! Thats right, borage blossoms taste exactly like cucumbers. These hearty plants are very easy to grow, and are a favorite to bees. The blossoms are prolific on the

plants, and will bloom from early spring to late fall. However, use caution when harvesting as the plant has some prickly leaves!

**It is important to note that whenever foraging in the wild, one should obtain permission to enter on to private property. It is also imperative to identify the plants you are harvesting from as safe for consumption.**

 

Meanwhile, Back At The Snail Ranch (Article featured in TakePart.com)

Credit: Willy Blackmore

A Los Angeles restaurant is turning to a front-yard garden for its vegetables—and some slow-food protein too.

homegrown_alma_0

Snails have an ignoble reputation in America: Not only are they pests, but invasive ones at that. Helix aspera’s leaf-munching presence in gardens and farms around the country is an irritating legacy of France’s less easily understood culinary mores (see also: horse, frog’s legs, ortolan).

But if you’re in the restaurant business, faced with the choice of either serving imported snails or paying as much as $30 per pound for their domestic counterparts, the supposed backyard pest can quickly turn into a welcome friend.

So alongside the fava beans, radishes and beets Courtney Guerra tends at her Flower Avenue Garden in Venice, CA, are snails. And they’re there by design.

Guerra, 32 years old, is tanned and blonde, looking more like a Venice surfer than anyone you might peg as a farmer. Her working attire veers more toward Lululemon gear rather than anything cut from ochre duck canvas.  She started the Flower Avenue Garden back in January, when she moved to Venice after working in the rarefied world of Napa Valley restaurants.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and cooking for a private caterer, Guerra worked with Christine Kim, the head gardener at Meadowood, in St. Helena. Kim oversees a half-acre of crops, an apiary, hen house and a herd of goats for the three-Michelin star restaurant. Guerra’s hope is to adapt that kind of operation to the city, building gardens dedicated to supplying restaurants with produce and other products, like those snails.

“That’s been the reason why I really moved down here in the first place,” Guerra tells me as we walk among the beds of turnips, fava beans and obscure greens like New Zealand spinach and ice lettuce. “I really fell in love with farming, but then it was like, OK, if we want to reform our food system in any way, we have to think of alternative ways to get our food. Because what we have going on right now pretty much everyone can agree is not working. So, I was like, I’m not one to turn down a challenge, so let’s do this in L.A.”

The snails are picked off the branches of a friend’s organic cherimoya orchard in Santa Barbara, where they’re very much unwelcome. After driving them south, Guerra places them in a muddy, subterranean box, about four-foot square, where they feed on radishes, turnips and greens. Twice a week, Guerra swings open the plywood lid, casting daylight down on the slow, sliming packs, and plucks out 50 or so specimens. Those snails are starved for a few days, which purges their slimy bodies of any gritty dirt they’ve sucked up, before they travel 15 miles east, to Alma, a Downtown L.A. restaurant run by chef-owner Ari Taymor.

Taymor, 27, grew up in the Bay Area, and the scent memories of the chaparral and redwoods are a major influence in his cooking—his is a culinary effort to distill California onto a plate. So it’s no wonder that it was a meal at Chez Panisse that pushed him toward a career in the kitchen, andAlice Waters’ local-food ethos has influenced his own cooking philosophy.

Before opening Alma last year, Taymor had his own experience working with a traditional restaurant-garden setup. In 2010, he spent six months working at La Chassagnette, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Southern France’s Camargue, just outside of Arles. But Alma, which sits next door to a hostess dance club, where patrons pay women by the minute for grope-y turns around the dance floor, is substantially removed from the rural swamps of Provence, where, like Napa, agriculture is a common industry.

For Taymor and Ashleigh Parsons, Alma’s co-owner and general manager, the business is something more than a restaurant—it’s a means of being involved in a community, a lofty ideal that’s exemplified by the health and wellness after-school program they run at two nearby schools, both of which serve students who live in neighborhoods underserved by grocery stores. And while Guerra’s business may be about growing esoteric ingredients like buckwheat sprouts and caraway greens for chefs, she also sees the garden as a way to show the potential for an urban space to grow food.

Taymor says it was the impressive produce from Flower Avenue that sold him on working with Guerra, and she similarly felt that the Alma kitchen staff would treat her painstakingly raised vegetables appropriately. But it would appear that chef and gardener make excellent partners on a level that goes beyond what’s in the dirt and what’s on the plate; both think in big, somewhat didactic terms, and they strive to run businesses that do more than make money—they want to feed, to inspire.

“It was actually like dirt with a futon frame in the front and bikes in the back. It was just a bunch of bachelors who lived here,” Guerra says of the one-story Venice bungalow she moved into at the beginning of the year. She broke ground on January 4, digging up the front yard, mixing in manure, compost, and a truckload of soil hauled down from the cherimoya orchard. And she’s working with good dirt to start with, judging by the area’s history. “The land here in Venice was actually an old bean farm,” Guerra says she learned from a neighbor. “Before all of these housing tracts went in there, it was all beans.”

Simple two-by-six frames hem in the crops in the front yard of the corner lot; a tall magnolia tree casts a patch of shade over a portion of the garden, which Guerra is learning to take advantage of, planting lettuces and agretti, a coastal succulent with a snappy, salty bite, around its base. Save the variety and density of what’s growing there, Guerra’s yard isn’t much different from the other yards on the street—or the millions of other plots Angelenos choose to fill with roses, bougainvillea, succulents or California poppies.

“You could have half of the stuff that I have coming out of this garden and you and your neighbors would be lousy with vegetables,” Guerra tells me as we stand in her backyard, where I can see her neighbor picking lemons off a tree on the other side of a low stucco wall. His citrus might not be destined for a restaurant that Jonathan Gold raved about in the Los Angeles Times, but he’s quietly practicing part of what Guerra’s preaching. “I think that says a lot about what kind of power you can hold in terms of what role you can play in your food system. Basically, you should be buying meat, dairy and grains from a grocery store. Everything else you can provide for yourself.”

Taymor and his kitchen staff are prepping for dinner service when I speak to him about working with Flower Avenue. He moves between the stove and a cutting board, charring and chopping strawberries he then purées in a blender, listing the ingredients from Venice that are featured on the menu that night as he works. “We’re using her radishes, her turnips, some of her carrots, we’re for sure using her snails, we’re using a bunch of different greens.”

“We’re starting to see what the potential volume is” for produce from Flower Avenue, Taymor says. “The goal, at first, is to have the tasting menu be exclusively out of the garden, and then, from there, to move the menu toward that if we can get a bigger garden.”

And that’s the perennial challenge of re-envisioning Napa and the Camargue in the Southern California sprawl. Yards may be common, but a few continuous acres are hard to come by. Walking through Guerra’s greenhouse, the metal racks packed with two-by-two dirt squares of cucumber, squash, basil and fennel seedlings, it becomes clear that what is essentially a very ambitious home garden is only one step toward a self-sustaining restaurant.

“I kind of knew going into it that this would be an issue, obviously,” Guerra admits as she walks by one of the last unplanted pieces of dirt on the property, a small, oddly shaped patch that will soon be blanketed with herbs. “I’m already running out of room or have run out of room, actually. And that’s really frustrating for me because I can’t give chef a really nice bulk harvest of broccoli.”

“As much as I love it, I sometimes see limitations in terms of scope and scale and water and stuff like that,” Taymor acknowledges. “But we really want to be embedded in the community, and to be embedded in the community in this way, to actually have a place where people can see where our food comes from and to participate in it, it makes a big difference.”

Alma Restaurant Rooftop Garden Project: Beginnings

It happened, and I knew it would, I have officially run out of room at the Flower Ave Garden in Venice. My new mission, if I chose to accept it (you best believe I have!) is to find more space for Alma’s veggies!!

Thankfully the success of my mission came in the form of a tiny rooftop space directly above the restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. It isn’t ideal, the space is small, the roof a bit old and could probably use some repairs, but it is a good fix for the short term.

Once again I owe a HUGE thanks to Tony, the ranch owner in Santa Barbara. He and his family drive down every Wednesday to sell produce in the Santa Monica’s farmers market. On his last trip he brought down a truckload of buckets filled with beautiful Santa Barbara soil…and of course donkey shit 😉

dirt

I decided to repurpose crates to turn into planters. I lined the inside with landscaping material that will allow for proper drainage. They are lightweight, portable, and can easily be setup or moved.

crate

The next step was to design a trellis system for the beans that I planted in the crates. I used these buckets, anchored with brick and filled with concrete to make movable posts. Then up to the rooftop to zip-tie the fencing to the posts!

cement

Alma’s rooftop garden also acts as good practice for me, as I am patiently awaiting our next step in urban farming…a warehouse rooftop! Stay tuned kids =)

filled beds rooftop

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

~Walt Disney

(One) Farm-to-Table: Courtney Guerra and Alma’s Ari Taymor on Farmer-Chef Monogamy (Article from BonAppetit.com)

Credit: Matt Duckor, Bon Appetit Assistant Editor

me ari

I’m standing in front of a modest home in Venice, California. There’s a popular cafe down the street that serves sixteen different types of breakfast cereal and, behind the house, 1,000 square feet of white strawberries, scarlet frill mustard, and breakfast radishes. Venice is in Los Angeles, but this sure doesn’t feel like it.

growhouse
The greenhouse belongs to farmer Courtney Guerra, and the micro bronze fennel she’s growing is for Ari Taymor, the chef-owner of Alma.

“What size do you want for the micro?” asked Guerra.

“Micro what?”

“Bronze fennel. What presence do you want it to have on the dish?”

That’s exactly the sort of conversation Guerra hoped she’d have when she moved to Los Angeles.

salad

Formerly a cook and gardener at The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley, Guerra’s aim was to work closely with one L.A. restaurant, supplying it with produce. That exclusive relationship would allow her to focus on what the chef wants planted, when that chef wants it picked, and how much of it the chef needs, not to mention the unified flavor the comes from ingredients growing in the same patch of dirt. She had a friend in Venice who wasn’t using his yard–that is, “besides to store futons, trash and office furniture”–so she moved in and had the garden up and running in a matter of weeks.

me rad
At first, Guerra says, she “felt like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, he will come.'” She didn’t have to wait long. This past Valentine’s Day (a coincidence, I’m told), she met Taymor through Rustic Canyon Wine Bar chef Jeremy Fox. The two clicked and quickly signed an exclusive contract.

frill seeds
Only one dish on Alma’s menu is currently made up of Guerra exclusives: An early spring salad featuring frill mustard, buckwheat, pea trendril, among other things. But the plan is for everything to come from the garden by early next year. And then there are the snails. Guerra selects them in the morning and Taymor served them to you after being sautéed in garlic and butter at night. They are delicious and evidence that every restaurant should raise its own snails.

snails snails2 snails3

While nearly every restaurant that opens its reclaimed wood doors these days preaches farm-to-table (and a handful of LA restaurants grow their own herbs and limited produce), none match the scope and ambition of Guerra and Taymor. In December, Fox told me he hoped to have a garden supply his restaurant like he had when he was chef atUbuntu, but that it was at least a few years off. While Guerra’s garden is perfect for the 30-seat Alma, it couldn’t exclusively support a high-volume restaurant. Not yet.

meari strawberries seeds2 workbench

So yes, this is new ground for L.A. “I try to explain to people people–not restaurant people–what it is I do here,” says Guerra. “I think when people see it, that we’ve taken nothing and turned it into a restaurant’s culinary garden, they’ll get that you don’t need two acres in Napa Valley to have something that works.”

ice lettuce strawberries
Still, expanding out of someone’s backyard would be nice. So Guerra and Taymor are looking up. Literally–they’re working on a 60,000 square-foot rooftop garden in downtown L.A., where Alma is located. That means more room for everything she plans on growing, including fava beans, Ryokuho broccoli, purple peacock broccoli, and sea kale. For now, I’ll settle for another order of snails and the best salad I’ve had all year.

squab

http://www.bonappetit.com/blogsandforums/blogs/badaily/2013/03/alma-farm-venice-california.html

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
~Harriet Tubman

The Changing Landscape of The American Farmer (Article published on theultimateyogi.com)

It’s possible that the only place you will see a farmer standing in overalls with a pitchfork these days is on a package of some highly processed food, selling you the imagery that the food was made by said overall-wearing, pitchfork-welding farmer. But in actuality, the nostalgic image couldn’t be further from the truth, and the story of who is bringing cheap, commoditized food to our plates is starting to be told.

Who grows our food?

The veil is slowly being lifted for millions of Americans, and as a nation we are beginning to see what it really looks like to be a farmer in America. We’d like to believe that at the other end of that Moons Over My Hammy breakfast sandwich from Denny’s is a farmer carefully harvesting the eggs from happy chickens roaming around the farm, hand-milking the cows for the cheese, while his wife pulls fresh sourdough from the oven, ready to slice. Ok, so maybe we don’t all take it that far, but we can certainly admit to being blissfully ignorant of just who is growing and raising our food in America.

Urban Farming is Here

As our nation reaches a tipping point with out food system, we are beginning to look at the new emerging face of the American Farmer. Like splinter-cells rising out of they tyrannical strong hold of “big food”, the small farmer is finding a renaissance in this country like never before. A new generation of Americans have seen the pitfalls of our current food system and are starting to take interest in things like urban farming and urban homesteading.

A new Revolution

The 60’s had the civil rights movement and free love, the 80’s had punk rock and anti-authoritarian ideologies, today we have the urban farmer. Furthermore, just as these movements had a specific focus (i.e. playing music and boycotting war), they spoke to a generational counter-culture movement that galvanized and mobilized.

So what happens to a society where growing your own food can be one of the biggest acts of rebellion? You support the rebellion. You foster it. You empower the youth of the movement to keep going, keep seeking truth, and keep their independence from “the man”; show them that their health and their environment are not for sale. Make it cool to be a farmer, make it sexy to work with your hands, and play in the dirt. Let Hollywood catch on to the movement, let political leaders take note that if they support food system reform, then they will be supported by votes. You encourage a new generation of farmers, that’s what you do. You make being a farmer and actual career possibility.

A common thread

To open society’s mind to what the modern American farmer is will be the next step in the evolution of farming in the US. This is done through storytelling. Sharing stories of urban farmers in New York that are using rooftops to feed a neighborhoods, residents in LA turning their front lawns into vegetable gardens to market to chefs, regular folks brewing their own beer to sell to microbreweries. These are all examples of the modern American farmer, and all examples of reform.

Be the change

As consumers, we hold all of the power in our hands. Want to see change? Vote with your dollar. Want to encourage and support the local small farmer? Buy local! Eat at restaurants that serve ingredients grown by local farmers. Shop at farmers markets, and cook your own food. Make it impossible to ignore that a paradigm shift is taking place, and change is happening now.

Courtney Guerra

Courtney Guerra

Courtney Guerra is the co-founder of the urbanfarmmovement.com and also has her own blog. She studied cooking at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone and fell in love with farming while working in the garden for The Restaurant at Meadowood.

Flower Ave Garden Project: RADish

We had our fist harvest of radish come out of the garden! They couldn’t be more beautiful. Just another sign that So Cal is going to be a perfect location for this culinary garden.

    harvest

One of the big advantages of a restaurant having their own garden, is they get to dictate what size they would like the radish harvested at. You can have itty bitty ones that make a delicate statement on a plate:

babyrad

Or you can have medium sized ones that have a little more ‘meat’ on their bones:

radish

Kris lives at the house and part of the perk of having a culinary garden in your front yard is access to fresh veggies!

kris

And to wrap up the day we had some neighbors visit. Courtney, baby Mika, and 7 year old Mark stopped by to check out the garden and ask questions. Come to find out that Courtney and her family are urban farmers as well! She told me they had a few things planted and grew edamame last season and it came out sweet and delicious. I sent them home with some fave bean starters, I hope they enjoy! I think it is a beautiful thing that Courtney is teaching her family what it looks (and tastes) like to grow your own food, they are the next generation of farmers this country needs! And baby Mika is obvy really in to fava beans 😉

courtneyfam

“That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another.”

~Adlai Stevenson