(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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

Getting To Know Your Farmer: Gary Carpenter, Squab Ranch~Ojai CA

As consumers, we live in an age where the term “free range” simply means poultry are allowed some access to the outdoors with no regulation on the quality or size of the “outdoor” area or the length of time granted access, and the term “cage free” which simply means the animal isn’t kept in a cage but the owner of the facility isn’t required to give any access to the outdoors and practices such as beak cutting are allowed.

So how can a consumer navigate all of the ambiguous and unclear labeling laws in our country? By getting to know their farmer!

This is Gary Carpenter,

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Gary owns and runs Carpenter Squab Ranch in Ojai CA, just south of Santa Barbara ( http://carpentersquabranch.com/home.html ). Gary and his family have been squab farmers in Southern California since 1921, and have been dedicated to producing a quality product like no other. The ranch produces squab, chicken, geese, and duck. And it also acts as a processing facility for locals in the community.

Nestled in a small canyon on the outskirts of Ojai, the Squab Ranch is a tiny example of a farmer and his family committed to doing things the right way.

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The squab Gary raises are some of the most beautiful fowl I’ve seen. The breed are White King/ Hubbell birds, and are a broad breasted pigeon bred in the 1920’s by Dr G. M. Hubbell and acquired exclusively by Dr. Edwin Carpenter for his ranch. The current flock traces its roots back to those original birds.

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The “free range” chicken and geese are just that, FREE RANGE! They are allowed to have full access to the ranch to dig in the dirt for bugs and worms, or make a little nest along side the ranch house and soak up the sun.

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The doors to the spacious coops are left open to give access to the real outdoors.

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It is important to become more savvy about the unclear labeling laws administered by our government, and to be informed about how your food is being brought to your table. Supporting farmers like Gary Carpenter is one small difference that you can make in trying to repair our broken food system. If you would like to try Gary Carpenter’s products, they can be found on the menu at Alma Restaurant in Downtown LA ( http://www.alma-la.com/index.html ).

“Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.”

~Wendell Berry