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,

Gary-Carpenter-Image

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.

squab ranch

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.

squabsquab1

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.

free range chx ducks2

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

chx coop chx coop2

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

Coastal Foraging In Southern California…(a.k.a. Going Coastal)

My job got a whole lot more awesome…if that’s even possible!

I set aside one day per work week completely devoted to foraging for Alma Restaurant. This usually involves going out into the wilderness somewhere to find edible items to bring back to Chef Taymor. This trip I went coastal 😉

carp coastsb coast

I had to head a bit north of LA; unfortunately much of the direct LA coast line is too polluted to forage. But venture a bit north of LA and the coastline is  very much alive and full of beautiful edible products. Like the sea grass growing here:

seaweed rocksea grass

I was amazed how many varieties of seaweed I encountered. Each having their own unique texture and flavors.

sea lettuce seaweed salad

Some were more briny than others, some were more tender and delicate. The  minerality of the seaweeds also varied depending on whether or not they were growing in sand or on rocks.

seaweed salad 2

Just as vegetables in the garden differ in size, flavor, and texture,  so too did the sea vegetables I harvested.

seaweed loot

I feel as if I have just discovered a whole new world in coastal foraging and I feel so blessed to live in such an abundant and fertile region of the US!

birds car

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

~Marcel Proust

Flower Ave Garden Project: La Vicotria!

To some this may just look like an unassuming old jar of La Victoria salsa filled with some dried lawn clippings, but to me it is an act of kindheartedness and love!

la victoria

The story behind the little jar is this:

A few weeks ago a nice woman stopped by to admire the garden. She told me that she had a little space where a few herbs grew, but mostly it was overgrown with volunteer coriander (cilantro). I told her that I didn’t have any planted and she offered to bring me seeds from her plants. I completely forgot about the interaction until I came home the other day and found the jar full of coriander seeds waiting for me!

These will be a beautiful start to my herb garden. I don’t know if I will ever see the kind woman again to thank her and share the story behind the Flower Ave Garden. But I love that so many little stories like this are woven into the very essence of this place. It is quickly turning into sacred ground and is being built with love!

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any other human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

~Etienne de Grellet, Quaker Missionary

Flower Ave Garden Project: Gatekeeper

Everyday, little by little, the garden is taking shape. I have a looooong list of little projects to get done, and building an actual gate for the front was top on the list!

Designing the frame for the gate was step one.

gate1 gate2

The next step was tacking on the fencing to close in the frame of the gate.

gate4

I had a little help with the next step. My parents were in town for a few hours with a layover from LAX to Seattle, so I put ’em to work! They were able to get the holes dug for the fence post, and were able to offer TONS of great advice as they are both very experienced builders.

gate7

After the posts were measured and the holes were dug and the parents were dropped back off at the airport, it was off to my home away from home, Home Depot to pick up some concrete.

gate6

I couldn’t have done it without the help from this little guy! He helped me keep everything level as I poured the concrete.

gate5

Coming in to this project, the most experience I had with power tools or construction was hanging a shelf from Ikea. It’s been so fun to learn to build things, it’s empowering! I think the gate came out rather well if I do say so myself 😉

gate3

And to finish up the day, we had another visitor! Janene lives two blocks away, and did a U-turn once she saw the garden. She just retired from teaching at an elementary school for the LAUSD. She told me of some budding programs for school gardens around LA. It was inspiring to hear about others teaching our kids the importance of staying connected to their food system, and what REAL FOOD looks like!

janene

It has been such a wonderful blessing to get to share this garden with others. Everyone who comes here loves the garden for different reasons; and all of these different reasons are all reasons why I started the garden! To educate about farming, to connect people to their food, to stay active, to grow and eat healthy food, to encourage others to do the same, to have a working garden in an urban setting…the list goes on!

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”

~Henry David Thoreau

Foraging in Santa Barbara, CA

5am wake up calls are made less sucky if it means you get to forage in Santa Barbara all day. Having lived in Santa Barbara for almost 10 years, I have a pretty good lay of the land.

My first foraged item of the day were these beautiful apple succulent tips. These tiny little guys are just as their namesake; crisp, tart, and refreshing!

applesucc  applesucc2

Next up were these wild radish blossoms. Not only pretty, they add a nice spice as a garnish!

radishflower2

There is a sloping hillside on the ranch that I foraged on, it is shaded and cool. Everything that grows in this area is lush and green. I was so excited to find these little fiddle head ferns along the base of the hillside!

fiddlehead

The climate couldn’t have been better, a mild 70 degrees in February. As the light shone through the canopy of trees, I came across a beautiful field of wild nasturtium.

nasturtiumnasturtium2

And adjacent to that was another field, full of wild New Zealand spinach (also known as Tetragonia tetragonioides). This is a beautiful field green, that is tender and crisp.

nzspinach nzspinach2

Next stop was the top of the hill, overlooking the Pacific. Just a half mile up the road and the climate changed drastically from the shaded hillside. It was much warmer, and there was wild mustard everywhere!

mustard   mustard2

Even my dog Moo was getting in on the foraging action! Except I think he was trying to forage lizards :p

mooforage

We headed back down the hill to the Cherimoya orchards to look for some Santa Barbara snails!

Cerimoya are a beautiful fruit with white, candy-like flesh. They soften as they ripen, just like a banana.

cheri

We also came across these almond blossoms. They smell sweet and almondy, just as you would expect the flower from this tree to be =]

almondblossom

And finally…JACKPOT! We found our Santa Barbara escargot, fed off of organic cherimoya trees. Hopefully these guys will like their new digs in Venice.

snails

My car was packed to the brim with all of my foraged treasures. I’m so excited to share a piece of this beautiful place with diners in LA!…but not excited to get back to the traffic =-/

radishflower traffic

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”

~Jawaharlal Nehru

Flower Ave Garden Project: Dammit Janet

This is Janet, and she’s totally awesome:

janet

Janet is a business owner who has a shop up the street from the garden, and goes for regular walks around the neighborhood. She was so excited and curious about the Flower Ave Garden; asking questions about everything I had planted. She was very supportive and encouraging, and told me how Korean cuisine uses amazing vegetables (I totally agree). I gave Janet some sugar snap peas as a thanks for all of the kindness =] Love ya Janet!

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”
~Saint Basil

Flower Ave Garden Project: The Cover Up

Ground cover can be a gardeners best friend. It helps keep the soil warm and keeps pests away. And one of the biggest benefits to a culinary gardener is that it can keep the green tops of things like radishes nice and tender. This will make them a beautiful addition to a plate.

 ground cover rad

One perk of being a culinary farmer is that you get hooked up with some seriously yummy food! I dropped off some Red Russian Kale to Chef Fox at Rustic Canyon, and came back with fresh ceviche and tortilla chips! YUM, thanks guys.

family1

I have been in Venice for about 6 weeks and am settling in nicely =]

venice1

“The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

~Paine