Friday, March 30, 2018

An Oregon Dairyman Reclaims the Pasture

Meet Jon Bansen, a pasture-based dairyman in Oregon's Willamette Valley, in this profile I wrote for Civil Eats' Farmer of the Month series.

Fourth-generation farmer Jon Bansen translates complex grazing production systems into common-sense farm wisdom.

In the U.S., the dairy industry is a tough business for organic and conventional producers alike, with plunging prices and changing consumer demand leading to a spate of farm shutdowns and even farmer suicides. And in Oregon, where dairy is big business—accounting for 10 percent of the state’s agriculture income in 2016—the story is much the same.

But Jon Bansen, who has farmed since 1991 at Double J Jerseys, an organic dairy farm in Monmouth, Oregon, has throughout his career bucked conventional wisdom and demonstrated the promise of his practices. Now he’s convincing others to follow suit.

Bansen and his wife Juli bought their farm in 1991 and named it Double J Jerseys, then earned organic certification in 2000. In 2017, he switched to full-time grass feed for his herd of 200 cows and 150 young female cows, called heifers. He convinced his brother Bob, who owns a dairy in Yamhill, to convert to organic. His brother Pete followed suit soon after. (“He’s a slow learner, that’s all I can say,” Bansen joked.)

He’s someone who prefers to lead by example, which has earned him the respect of a broad range of the region’s farmers and ranchers, as well as its agricultural agencies and nonprofits.

“Jon is an articulate spokesperson for organic dairy in Oregon and beyond,” said Chris Schreiner, executive director of Oregon Tilth, an organic certifying organization. “His passion for organic dairy and pasture-based systems is contagious, and he does a great job of translating complex grazing production systems into common-sense farmer wisdom. His personal experience … is a compelling case for other dairy farmers to consider.”

George Siemon, one of the founders of Organic Valley, the dairy co-operative for which Bansen produces 100 percent grass-fed milk under Organic Valley’s “Grassmilk” brand, believes the switch to 100 percent grass is a direction that Bansen has been moving in all along.

“He’s just refined and refined and refined his organic methods,” said Siemon, admitting that Bansen is one of his favorite farmers. “He’s transformed his whole farm. It’s a great case when the marketplace is rewarding him for getting better and better at what he does and what he likes to do.”

Deep Roots in Dairy Farming

Dairy farming is baked into Bansen’s DNA, with roots tracing all the way back to his great-grandfather, who emigrated from Denmark in the late 1800s, settling in a community of Danes in Northern California. His grandfather followed in the early 1900s, hiring out his milking skills to other farmers until he saved enough to buy his own small farm near the bucolic coastal town of Ferndale in Humboldt County.

Bansen was about 10 years old when his father and their family left the home farm to strike out on their own in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. They bought land in the tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Yamhill, about an hour southwest of Portland.

A typical farm kid, Bansen and his seven siblings were all expected to help with the chores. “You fed calves before you went to school, and you came home and dinked around the house eating for awhile until you heard Dad’s voice beller at you that it was time to get back to work,” Bansen recalled. “I was a little envious of kids that lived in town and got to ride their bikes on pavement. That sounded pretty sexy to me.”

After studying biology in college in Nebraska and getting married soon after graduating, Bansen and his wife worked on his dad’s Yamhill farm for five years and then began talking about getting a place of their own. They found property not far away outside the sleepy town of Monmouth. It had the nutritionally rich, green pastures Bansen knew were ideal for dairy cows, fed by the coastal mists that drift over the Coast Range from the nearby Pacific Ocean.

One day, a few years after they’d started Double J Jerseys, a man knocked on their door. He said he was from a small organic dairy co-op in Wisconsin that was looking to expand nationally. He wondered if Double J would be interested in transitioning to organic production, mentioning that the co-op could guarantee a stable price for their milk.

It turned out that the stranger was Siemon, a self-described “long-haired hippie” who’d heard about Bansen through word of mouth. “He was reasonably skeptical,” recalls Siemon. “He wanted to make sure it was a valid market before he committed, because it’s such a big commitment to go all the way with organic dairy.”

For his part, Bansen worried that there wasn’t an established agricultural infrastructure to support the transition, not to mention the maintenance of an organic farm. “I was worried about finding enough organic grain,” he said.

On the other hand, however, the young couple needed the money an organic certification might bring. “We had $30,000 to our name and we were more than half a million dollars in debt” from borrowing to start the farm, Bansen said.

After much research and soul-searching, they decided to accept Siemon’s offer and started the transition process. It helped that his cousin Dan had transitioned one of his farms to organic not long before and that generations of his family before him had run pasture-based dairies.

“My grandfather, he was an organic dairy farmer, he just didn’t know what it was called,” Bansen said. “There were no antibiotics, no hormones, no pesticides. You fed your cows in the fields.”

The Organic Learning Curve

During the Bansens’ first organic years, they had to figure out ways to eliminate antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides—all of which Bansen views as “crutches” to deal with management issues.

To prevent coccidiosis, a condition baby cows develop when they don’t receive enough milk and are forced to live in overcrowded conditions, for example, Bansen fed his calves plenty of milk and made sure they had enough space.

To prevent cows from contracting mastitis, an infection of the mammary system, he changed the farm’s milking methods.

Another learning curve had to do with figuring out the balance of grain to forage (i.e., edible plants). Originally Bansen fed each of his cows 20 pounds of grain per day, but after switching to organic sources of grain, he was able to reduce that to four or five pounds a day. This switch cut down grain and transportation costs dramatically.

He also had to learn to manage the plants in the fields in order to produce the healthiest grazing material possible. Since the transition to organic, Double J has grown to nearly 600 acres, a combination of pastures for the milking cows, fields for growing the grass and forage he stores for winter, when it’s too cold and wet to keep the animals outdoors.

“It’s not a machine; it’s a constant dance between what you’re planting and growing and the weather patterns and how the cows are reacting to it,” said Bansen. “There’s science involved in it, but it’s more of an art form.”

Read the rest of the article and find out why Bansen made the decision to transition to a grass diet for his cows, and why he's "sick of farmers bitching about the price of milk and going down to Walmart to buy groceries and taking their kids out to McDonald’s. You have no right to bitch about what’s going on in your marketplace if you’re not supporting that same marketplace."

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Spring Thing: Maple Bread Pudding with Nancy Harmon Jenkins

It's Easter weekend and I can't think of anything more appropriate than my friend Nancy Harmon Jenkins's super-easy maple bread pudding, especially if you use the first of the season's local eggs from a farmer who raises her chickens on pasture. (A trip to the farmers' market on Saturday morning would be awesome!)

Get the recipe here and make it for brunch served with yogurt, or drizzled with warm syrup and a dollop of whipped cream for dessert after your ham dinner. What could be more perfect? Thanks, Nancy!

Monday, March 26, 2018

On-Farm Seed Production, Part Two: Arch Cape Chicory

When I would go to the farmers' market or the grocery store, I browsed the vegetables on offer to find the one that I deemed worthy to take home to my table. I never wondered how it got there—I assumed the farmer planted seeds from a previous crop (or a seed packet) and the vegetable would grow reliably as it had in previous seasons. It never occurred to me that what I was looking at was the result of deliberate choices on the part of the farmer (or seed breeder) over many years. The following is the second part of an article that contributor Anthony Boutard wrote for Acres USA magazine outlining that patient process. (Read the other posts in the series.)

Production of leaf or salad chicories, marketed as radicchio to give them an Italian burnish, are an important commercial crop in Italy and California. The producers rely on proprietary seed production. For example, the late Treviso chicory growers’ consortium cooperatively funds seed production for their storied Tardiva. This assures them the necessary consistency and reliability. That carefully produced seed is unavailable to other farmers.

'Arch Cape' chicories.

Stymied by the sharp decline in the consistency and quality of the publicly available seeds of the late Treviso type, with less than 10 percent of the resulting crop resembling the Italian version and the off-types often unsaleable, we either had to walk away from the crop or produce our own seed. Affection ruled the day. We decided to extract our own selection from the infuriatingly messy genetics enclosed in those seed packages.

Late winter chicory seed production is not for the impatient farmer. The crop is planted in the early summer, the new seeds are harvested midsummer a year later, in the summer of the following year those seeds are planted and in February of the next year the results are evaluated, a project of nearly three years. The necessary patience springs from enjoying a brightly colored chicory salad on a dreary February day.

Agapostemon virescens, a native ground nesting sweat bee working a chicory inflorescence. Chicory pollen, visible on the stamens an the bee’s hind leg, is white. 

We direct sow the raw chicory seed on beds rather than using starts. Our brief called for the development of a head in field-grown plants during the month of February. These were, in our experience, the most tender and least bitter relative to the later heads. Field harvest diverges from the Italian practice of lifting the roots from the field and forcing greens in muddy lagoons under shade cloth. Direct sowing and field harvest reduces labor costs.

The desired leaves are spoon shaped, sporting a red blade without any of the white venation typical of the early Treviso types. The white rib of the leaf must be sharply defined. We diverged from the classic Italian brief by allowing any red found in the thesaurus, from alizarin to wine, rather than a uniform shade, as well as a looser assemblage of the leaves conferring a more floral appearance. Our brief offers a more playful and informal salad “green” than the Italian standard without sacrificing quality. We joke that it is a digital food; you just can’t resist eating it with your fingers. It is equally good in a risotto or grilled.

Editing the first selection, which was done in early February, reduces that selection by about 10 percent.

For those wanting to follow our path and produce their own chicory seed, here are a couple of additional observations. Cichorium intybus is largely pollinated by native bees and it is important to cut down any flowering stalks of naturalized members of the species that grow in the neighborhood, commonly known as “blue sailors.” When selecting candidates for seed production, flag the best-looking plants just prior to harvesting. After harvest, remove the rest of the plants, leaving only the flagged selections. Selection is a reductive process, so you will need to revisit your selections several times to make sure they meet your brief. For example, we remove the flags if the plant shows any sign of hairiness, an unfortunate trait, or disease. For varieties where a tight head is selected, you may need to open the top of the head so the flowering stalk can emerge. On our farm, we leave the seed plants to flower in place, though you can transplant them if desired.

Label, designed and hand-cut by Anthony Boutard.

The seeds are found in the florets left after pollination. After they dry, we strip off the florets from the flower stalks and, when time permits, run them through a cheap, hand-cranked steel burr mill. The seed is then sieved and winnowed. The removal of the seed and cleaning are time-consuming and reserved for the winter months.

Later this winter, we will harvest heads produced by our third selection. We estimate that between 80 and 90 percent of the heads grown will be harvested and sold as a variety distinct to our farm.  In the field, the clusters of leaves remind us of travelers, their backs arched under their capes around the dying embers of fire on a rainy winter’s eve. A fanciful notion reinforced by the fact that the storm fronts delivering our winter rains pass over Arch Cape on the Pacific Coast, fodder for the naming our late winter salad chicory project ‘Arch Cape.'

Read the other posts in the series. All photos by Anthony Boutard.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Best Breakfast? Make Dave's Best Biscuits!

It is a rare weekend morning when my husband isn't warming up the oven and pulling out flour from the pantry to bake something for breakfast. This is in addition, of course, to his every-two-weeks sourdough bread production schedule.

What can I say? The guy is a baking fanatic, always searching for the next masterpiece to add to his repertoire.

One of his specialties is scones, which I've shared here before, and which he makes whether he's here at home or we're out camping along a mountain stream. But another recipe he's nailed is for feather-light biscuits that rise in layers like stacked parchment paper, and are perfect slathered with big pats of butter and drizzled with honey.

With spring break upon us and kids milling about looking for something to occupy them, it seems like the perfect time to call the young 'uns into the kitchen for a baking project. Little ones can pull up a chair to stand on and help, while the older ones might want to try it on their own while you enjoy another cup of coffee at the counter.

Dave's Best Biscuits

2 1/4 c. (285 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. (4-5g) salt
1 tsp. (18g) sugar
4 tsp. (19g) baking powder
1/3 c. (75g) very cold butter
1 c. (225g) very cold milk

Preheat oven to 450°.

Place flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in food processor and pulse for a few seconds to combine.

Cut butter into small pieces and add to food processor. Pulse half a dozen times and check the size of the butter pieces. Repeat if necessary until the butter is in pieces roughly the size of peas.

Put flour mixture in a mixing bowl and add the cold milk. Toss together gently until barely combined. As soon as the dough holds together, turn it out on a lightly floured counter. Gently "knead" the dough a few strokes until it is a mostly a cohesive ball. (The fewer kneads the better.)

Pat the dough with your hands into a rectangle 1/2-3/4 inch thick, depending on how tall you like your biscuits. Cut into 2 inch circles (you should get ~6), and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet or sheet pan. Leftover dough can be gently patted out and recut into biscuits.

Bake at 450° for 8-10 minutes. Butter and eat while still warm.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Cows Living in Filth at Mega-Dairy While State Allows It to Continue Supplying Milk

This post summarizes media coverage involving incidents at Lost Valley Farm, one of two mega-dairies in the Boardman area that supply milk to the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA) for its dairy products, including Tillamook cheese. A list of the source articles is listed at the bottom of the post.

Even before it opened, the Boardman-area mega-dairy known as Lost Valley Farm, owned by Greg te Velde of Tipton, California, was skirting state regulations by starting construction of the dairy without  having the proper permits in hand.

An article in the Salem Statesman Journal reported that "Oregon regulators approved te Velde’s Lost Valley Farm in March [2017], despite formal objections from a dozen state and national health and environment organizations that raised concerns about air and water pollution, water use and health impacts on nearby communities."

According to an article in the Capital Press, in its first year of operation alone, it:
  • Was sued by Daritech, a dairy equipment manufacturer, in federal court for allegedly failing to pay in a timely fashion more than $340,000 for the installation of equipment.
  • Was sued by IRZ Consulting for not fully paying for labor, equipment, materials and other services related to the construction and improvement of real estate.
  • Was sued by Laser Land Leveling, Inc., which sought to recover $1.4 million for labor, materials and other services. (The suit was settled out of court.)
  • Did not report as required on wastewater from the dairy that had overflowed into a pit not authorized for storage.
  • Did not maintain adequate lagoon storage capacity to deal with runoff in case of a storm.
  • Did not report as required that  liquid and solid manure had discharged from a tank, flowing into areas unauthorized for waste storage.
  • Was issued three notices of non-compliance with its CAFO permit between late June and late November of [2017], which required corrective actions.
Then the Statesman-Journal reported that te Velde had been convicted in July of 2017 of "careless driving contributing to an accident" after he hit an Oregon Department of Transportation truck on Interstate 84 in Hood River County and was fined $450. The same article reported that te Velde was arrested in August in a Tri-Counties, Washington, prostitution sting on charges of patronizing a prostitute and possessing methamphetamine. He was booked into the Benton County jail and subsequently released on bail.

At the time of his arrest in the prostitution sting, the same article reports, the Tillamook creamery, which processes the milk from Lost Valley and another mega-dairy in Boardman for most of its dairy products, issued a statement saying "we were extremely disappointed to learn of these allegations, and they very clearly go against the values and behaviors we hold true at the Tillamook Creamery Association." The article quotes Tillamook as stating that "the staff that we’ve worked closely with at Lost Valley are hard-working and dedicated to supplying high-quality milk, and we recognize that the alleged personal actions of one individual should not tarnish the professional reputation of everyone involved in the operation. That said, we expect the Lost Valley Farm organization to respond swiftly, responsibly and with a high degree of accountability in regards to this situation."

Lost Valley's problems didn't end there.

In February of 2018, the Capital Press reported that the State of Oregon had slapped Lost Valley with a $10,640 fine for allegedly discharging waste in violation of permit conditions, an amount that many critics called a slap on the wrist considering the number of violations found and the four citations the facility had been issued. Then in late February, the state decided to sue the mega-dairy for "repeatedly endangered nearby drinking water by violating environmental laws" and saying it should be shut down immediately, according to an article in the Statesman-Journal.

The Oregonian reported that "in the state’s lawsuit, inspectors said that te Velde and [Lost Valley manager] Love stored waste and wastewater in areas not permitted for it; never completed building all the required lagoons and other facilities to store it; the existing facilities regularly overflowed when it rained; they removed parts from a storage tank after agreeing not to; and the container that held dead animal bodies leaked."

Love and te Velde issued a dramatic written response to the state's lawsuit, which the Statesman-Journal reported as saying "the injunction would put them out of business, forcing them to lay off 70 workers, euthanize their cows, lose a $4 million per month milk contract, and default on local creditors."

The article continued: "'The department’s order would have significant ramifications to the local community where the dairy is located,' te Velde [wrote]. 'Many of our employees are Latino and rely on the dairy to support their family.'"

The Tillamook creamery, for its part, is reported to have said in an e-mail to the Statesman-Journal at the end of February that "based on a number of recent factors that indicate deterioration of the Lost Valley operation, Tillamook has initiated the process to terminate our contract with Lost Valley Farm."

Despite this, as of the end of March, Tillamook was still buying milk from the dairy, according to an article in The Oregonian, which also contained photos taken by an Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) inspector showing the horrendous living conditions of the cows at the dairy. The article quotes a spokeswoman for Tillamook as saying "it is better for the cows and environment to keep a relationship with the dairy."

Also in late March the State of Oregon announced it had reached a settlement with Lost Valley to allow it continue operating. An article announcing the settlement said that "under the new agreement, Lost Valley can generate up to 65,000 gallons of wastewater per day compared with the 514,000 the dairy estimated it would need. It also must comply with other terms of its permit, such as notifying the state if there is a wastewater or manure spill. And the dairy must remove 24.4 million gallons of liquid manure from its overloaded storage facilities by summer, so that it can avoid polluting local water sources during a heavy rainstorm."

Reactions to the settlement were swift.

"The state’s settlement barely requires more than compliance with the permit already in place—it’s a status quo deal that lets Lost Valley off the hook. The Governor and ODA should have continued seeking to close the operation, which they should never have approved in the first place,' said Tarah Heinzen, staff attorney with Food & Water Watch, in a press release issued by a coalition of farm, environmental and animal welfare organizations.

"If ODA refuses to use its authority to stop factory farms with repeated and serious violations, Oregon clearly needs stronger water and air pollution laws to bar such irresponsible proposals in the first place,” said Scott Beckstead, rural affairs director for the Humane Society of the United States. “For example, Oregon does not require air pollution permits or monitoring at factory farms, and legislation to establish air quality protections from the industry failed last year."

Amy Van Saun of the Center for Food Safety said in the press release that the organization was extremely disappointed in the state for not using its authority to prevent this factory dairy from coming in. "And now that disappointment continues with a weak settlement despite numerous, disturbing permit violations that endanger public health and the environment. We warned ODA and the Governor that this would happen, especially with an operation of this enormous size, and business-as-usual is not an acceptable response."

In the settlement, weekly inspections by the state to insure compliance were agreed to for a period of one year. If Lost Valley complies for that period, it will be allowed to return to operating under its original permit. Specifics have not been made available as to how te Velde and Lost Valley would rectify the violations outlined in the lawsuit and meet the new conditions for waste limits and removal while maintaining the same number of cows at the facility.

* * *

UPDATE: Lost Valley's owner, California businessman Greg te Velde, has been drawing water from a protected aquifer in the Boardman area, with the tacit permission of Oregon Governor Kate Brown, her staff and the directors of at least three state agencies, according to a damning article in The Salem Statesman-Journal posted on March 23rd.

It says te Velde "moved ahead without the necessary permits, using a loophole in Oregon law to pull water out of an underground aquifer that’s been off limits to new wells for 42 years, alarming neighboring farmers who say their water supplies are now at risk." The paper said it has documents showing that Brown and state officials "knew the dairy would fall back on the loophole if a proposed water trade was challenged."

The article said that te Velde drilled three wells into the aquifer that is used for drinking water by area residents. The aquifer, which local residents use for drinking water, was designated a Groundwater Management Area (GWMA), so named because nitrate concentrations in many area groundwater samples exceed the federal safe drinking water standard.

When state officials found out about the illegal wells, te Velde agreed to truck in water, but the newspaper reports that "records show he brought in little water. Instead, Water Resources officials discovered months later that te Velde actually drew most of the water from one of the wells, claiming an exemption for watering stock — just as the earlier memos among the governor's staff and state agencies had predicted.

"And when ordered to install a monitoring device on the well, te Velde put in one with an unauthorized reset button, according to Water Resources officials. Now, the state's water officials say they have no idea how much water the dairy is taking out of the aquifer."

* * *

UPDATE: A recent report in the East Oregonian newspaper indicated that Rabobank, a Dutch agricultural lender, claimed that Greg te Velde, owner of Lost Valley Farm, had defaulted on part of $60 million in loans for the Boardman dairy and two other dairies te Velde owns in California. "John Top, owner of Toppenish Livestock, said they will begin preparing next week for the auction, which is scheduled for April 27," the article stated. "However, according to a preliminary injunction filed in Morrow County, te Velde has not given the auctioneer permission to enter the dairy."

Today (Thursday, 4/5/17) I was able to reach Cody Buckendorf, Operations Manager at Toppenish Livestock, who said that an on-site auction was going ahead on Friday, April 27th, and that the auction company had been given access to the property. He said that their first day on the property to process cows prior to auction was yesterday, (Wednesday, April 5), and that the bank was estimating there would be 19,000 cows auctioned. When questioned about the conditions he observed at the dairy, he said that, contrary to the photos taken by the inspector that led to its shutdown (photos, above), "it was one of the cleanest dairies I've seen." Read the full post.

Read my article on Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities about the issues mega-dairies pose to Oregon's air, water, environment and communities, as well as Why I'm Quitting Tillamook Cheese and other coverage about factory farms in Oregon. Photos obtained via a public records request by Friends of Family Farmers which shared them with media outlets. 

Source materials as follows:
State officials let mega-dairy use loophole to tap endangered Oregon aquifer
Lost Valley Farm dairy may have to auction herd

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

On-Farm Seed Production, Part One: The Ave Bruma Melon Project

When I would go to the farmers' market or the grocery store, I browsed the vegetables on offer to find the one that I deemed worthy to take home to my table. I never wondered how it got there—I assumed the farmer planted seeds from a previous crop (or a seed packet) and the vegetable would grow reliably as it had in previous seasons. It never occurred to me that what I was looking at was the result of deliberate choices on the part of the farmer (or seed breeder) over many years. The following is the first part of an article that contributor Anthony Boutard wrote for Acres USA magazine outlining that patient process. (Read the other posts in the series.)

Ayers Creek Farm produces its own seed for a dozen crops, representing more than 30 individual varieties tailored to our farm’s environment and its customers. These projects are an important element of our farm’s identity. We continue to explore new variations and improvements on our favorite fruits and vegetables.

Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm.

As with cooking from scratch or customizing equipment, producing your own seed as a farmer or gardener should not be undertaken with saving money in mind. If that is the intent, the effort will disappoint. Refining a farm-based variety is a time-consuming effort that can span years. It is an on-going project; there is no fait accompli, no moment where you can relax and congratulate yourself on a job well done. In contrast, it is so simple to open a package and be done with it.

So why bother?

The reason we started producing our own seed varies with each crop.  Seed availability and quality are invariably factors. An affection for the crop and a clear idea of qualities desired as the project develops are essential. Finally, we want the variety to engage and please our customers; that’s the point of the enterprise, after all.


Affection is easy to evaluate; as the poets say just look to your heart. For example, we have never mustered sufficient affection to produce seed for onions or kale. We grow and sell them, happy to buy the seed. We leave it to others to invest their creative efforts on these crops. Late winter chicories, on the other hand, captivate us. We know we can grow a much better chicory from our own seed production than is available commercially. In their thrall, we have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours shaping our own population. Most importantly, our customers share our esteem for these beautiful greens.

The farm's Citroën 2CV.

Affection is a single variable—either you have it or you don’t—sorting out the desired characteristics is a problem with a complex of variables. To guide us in that effort we have borrowed the concept of a “design brief” used by architects and engineers in shaping their projects.

A design brief lays out the desired functions and characteristics of a project. For example, by the end of WWI, the French lost a generation of male farmers, leaving their widows and children to manage the farms. The Citroën car company produced a design brief for a vehicle suitable for these farmers; drivers with more finesse than brawn. It called for a car capable of hauling four people and a 110-pound sack of potatoes, traveling 78 miles on a gallon of fuel, a suspension supple enough that a market basket of 144 eggs suffers no breakage on the trip from farm to market on rough, cobbled roads, and a soft removable top to accommodate bulky items such as a heifer or ewe. With respect to aesthetics, the brief specifically called for nothing more elaborate than an “umbrella with wheels.” The car that evolved from this brief was the Citroën 2CV, adored by millions of European farmers and students for several decades.

Carol Boutard in the field.

The design briefs we employ for our seed production follow a similar approach. Crops must contend with our general limitations. We use no crop protection; neither sprays against insects and diseases, nor structures such as hoop houses against the weather. Our soils are heavy silty clay loams and support robust populations of root-feeding symphylans. Our primary purchasers are restaurants. Once a dish is developed, they keep it on the menu for several weeks. We avoid niche or novelty crops prone to changes in fashion, favoring instead the refinement of familiar and well-established crops that have long harvest windows or storage life.

To illustrate how we build on this basic design brief for the production of crop varieties distinct to our farm, I provide four examples.

‘Ave Bruma’ Melon

Melons offered commercially in the U.S. are treated as perishable fruits. In Spain, Italy and through Central Asia a diverse cluster of melon varieties is selected for long-term storage at room temperature. Grown in the summer, they will hold in storage well into late winter. It is a style of fruit that has slipped out of fashion here, though we have many immigrant customers who recall the pleasure of eating these melons through the winter.

The tasting panel at Ava Gene's.

‘Valencia’ is a classic Spanish storage melon, with a history in the U.S. going back to Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately, the seed available today is poorly maintained for the storage trait. In our 2013 planting, fewer than five percent held until Thanksgiving. The loss of storage life is an artifact of seed production; if you are simply selling seeds it is inconvenient to put the fruits into storage until January and then sell only those where the fruit doesn’t rot. That level of attention increases the cost of producing the seed substantially, as we know from experience.

Disappointed, we resolved to fix the problem using that handful of melons as our genetic base and restoring storage life to the variety. We named the project ‘Ave Bruma,' Latin for “behold the winter solstice.” We set out a brief calling for a quality melon lasting through the holidays with a hard, dark green wrinkled rind.

Melon seeds, sorted.

The seed from the surviving melons produced about 100 fruits that summer which remained in good condition until December. The brief called for a quality melon. A restaurant, Ava Gene’s of Portland, agreed to help us sort out the best-flavored fruits. We delivered the fruits without charge and they set aside the seed from the very best. Six melons stood out in their sampling. The seed from each fruit was kept separate to insure the planting included equal portions of each selection. We repeated the deal with the restaurant a second year, and of those fruits the staff selected 13 that were clearly superior. Now they buy the melons.

In four years, we have managed to extend the storage of Ave Bruma well into January, with just a small percentage going bad. With respect to flavor, the melon remains a work in progress. The flavor is good, sometimes sublime, but not as consistent as we desire, though some of the variation may be due to cultural considerations. A vine carrying too many fruits can lead to reduced flavor. Next year, we will spend more time thinning out the fruits as that may be an important factor in conjunction with genetics. Genetics are not a magic wand when it comes to flavor, good field management is essential as well.

Read the other posts in the series. Photos by Anthony Boutard (excepting the author's photo).

Sunday, March 11, 2018

More Borş: This Time a Risotto!

Okay, I may be needing an intervention over my current obsession with this fermented grain thing, but really, guys, it's pretty amazing stuff. And easy as pie—though, compared to what's involved in making pie, it's more like, I don't know, making a peanut butter sandwich. But that's not how the saying goes, so I hope you catch my drift.

I got a note recently from a reader who saw one of the previous posts about this fermented grain stock, and was moved to share this:
"I am Romanian—I actually came to the USA four years ago, but lived for 20 years in Austria—and my grandmother was doing her own borş and we used it for soups all the time! I still remember the taste, and the big jar that was always standing at our kitchen table. We do eat a lot of soups in Romania, which means I had lots of borş in my lifetime!" 
Stock made from Peace, No War corn is in upper left. So pink!

I've now made three kinds of stock, all from Ayers Creek Farm ground grains: one from yellow flint corn that went into a posole, and the second from Peace, No War purple corn that made a fabulous risotto chock full of sautéed Arch Cape chicory and onions. The third was a barley stock for a parched green wheat soup with carrots and kale and a bit of bacon. All the stocks were distinctive, rich and full-flavored, particularly the purple corn stock, which had an almost meaty quality. As a matter of fact, I used it instead of beef broth to make a beef stroganoff, and couldn't tell the difference in the finished dish.

And the Pepto-Bismol pink color of the stock made from his purple corn? Anthony Boutard (of Ayers Creek Farm) has this to say:
The color comes from the anthocyanins in the corn. It is my art project, selecting for an intense mix of these water soluble pigments. Some of the anthocyanins are pH indicators, including those in corn. You start with that dark blue at around pH 7 and, as the brine acidifies, reaches pH 3.7, it becomes that beautiful fuchsia color. Otherwise, there is no specific culinary reason for the effort on my part. 
As an aside, the plant genus Fuchsia is named in honor of the German botanist and doctor Leonhard Fuchs (1501-1566). His herbal was cited by successor herbal publications, including Gerard. Several species have him as their authority as indicated by L. Fuchs following the Latin binomial.
So if you're game to try it, check out the recipe. It takes four to five days to ferment on your counter (or, as mentioned above, on your table), but it's so worth it!

Chicory and Onion Risotto with Fermented Grain Stock
Inspired by the fabulous Linda Colwell

For the chicory:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped in 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
12 oz. sturdy chicory (like Arch Cape, radicchio or treviso), roughly chopped

For the risotto:
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 c. arborio rice
1/2 c. dry white or rosé wine
4-5 c. fermented grain stock (I used fermented purple corn stock)
1 c. parmesan, grated fine

For the chicory, heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then add the chopped onion. Sauté until tender, then add the garlic and chicory and sauté until the chicory is wilted and tender but still has some crunch. Set aside.

For the risotto, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot or deep skillet until it melts, then add the rice. Stirring to prevent sticking, cook until it is hot and well-coated with oil, 2-3 minutes, then add the wine. Stir until the wine is absorbed and then add a ladle of stock, stirring until it's absorbed into the rice. Keep adding ladles of stock, letting each one absorb, until the rice is cooked but still has a nice resistance, then stir in the chicory and cheese. Serve with more parmesan at the table, if desired.

* * *

Addendum from Anthony:

After making and using the grain brines for more than a year and a half, their utter simplicity is their virtue. I have not tired of them. A jar or two sit in the refrigerator at all times. It is not an obsession, no more than using water or milk in dishes is an obsession. Just a fine and versatile ingredient that deserves greater recognition. For the life of me, I can’t understand why the grain brines remain unexplored.

Saturday, I made a clam chowder using brine with onions, potatoes and celery, and a bit of cream. The chowder bridged the realm between New England and Manhattan styles in absolute perfection. The New England richness offset by the brightness of the tomato-based Manhattan version. In seafood chowders as a general matter, nothing else satisfies, having used the brine. Last night we had bay shrimp in a white sauce made from half milk, half brine, and served over rice.

Tomorrow, it will be a beef brisket braised in some brine. For the last two Thanksgivings, we have made gravies using the brine in the place of stock. Likewise, perfect for braising lamb shanks. Soups featuring mushrooms and fungi also fare much better when brine is used instead of meat stock.

I like meat stocks and a turkey stock is what drives me to cook the otherwise just satisfactory fowl. A good beef, pork or chicken stock is wonderful, but they are too often added to dishes in a perfunctory manner where they flatten or detract from the flavor of the primary ingredient. The brines have just the opposite effect, brightening and accentuating the primary ingredient. Not always desirable, but a good starting point.

What intrigues me is the fact that so many Eastern Europeans describe these brines so vividly and with such fond memories, yet they seem to have abandoned them to nostalgia, or buy the stuff as a processed food in specialty stores. I think they have shrouded them with such mystery because no one bothered to make them simple and as easy as Sea-Monkeys.

I have packaged a coarsely ground barley for Josh at Barbur World Foods. I have an index card attached with simple instructions, and non-metric, Sea Monkeys-worthy measurements:

Grain brines are a nourishing and flavorful ingredient prepared from coarsely ground meal soured by lactic acid fermentation. Use the brines in place of meat stocks or where a recipe calls for wine. For example, in making a risotto, fish chowder, mushroom soup, white sauces, or braising meats. Excellent for vegan dishes.

 Use a very clean 2-quart mason jar. Add one cup of barley and three tablespoons of kosher salt. Fill the jar to the top with warm water and screw on the lid. Shake and leave on the counter at room temperature. Loosen the lid slightly while it is fermenting.

Read more of Anthony's writings in his Farm Bulletins. It's time well-spent.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Guest Essay: Ode to the Egg

Writer and cookbook author Nancy Harmon Jenkins has traveled and lived all over the world, in the process coming to the realization, in her words, "that there is a powerful connection between who we are and what we eat. That food is a dramatic (and delicious) expression of who and what people believe themselves to be and how they got that way. Is this cultural anthropology? Yes, I suppose it is, but it’s anthropology with the very important difference that you can taste the culture on your tongue and feel it between your hands, not to mention sniff its often heady aroma on the air."

It’s the simplest, most basic of foods, the one cooks turn to when there’s nothing to eat in the house—because there’s almost always an egg or two in the pantry, ready to be scrambled for a quick supper, or tossed with hot pasta to make a rich carbonara, or poached in chicken stock to turn unassuming broth into chicken soup.

Spring and eggs go together. When the light starts to strengthen and the grass begins to green, the hens begin to lay once more, which is why eggs are so closely tied to the two great Mediterranean spring festivals, Easter and Passover. The egg on the Seder plate, the colored eggs in the Easter basket, are there to announce that winter is over and new life has begun.

Fortunately, eggs have crept out from under the dishonor in which they were held for decades, vilified for high cholesterol content and banned from the tables of anyone who feared heart disease. No longer! Dietary cholesterol is not usually the cause of elevated serum or blood cholesterol. That’s more the result of a diet high in saturated fat, or of unhappy luck of the genes.

Eggs, traditional kitchen folklore tells us, are good for you, an excellent source of protein of course, low in total fat, with 0 carbs and just 71 calories in a normal large egg. They are good sources of iron, selenium, phosphorus, and riboflavin, as well as vitamin B12. They’re also well supplied with antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which protect against macular degeneration, among other benefits. Did your mother tell you eggs are good for your eyes? Mine did, and she was right!

But what kind of eggs? Cage-free, free-range, pastured, pasteurized, organic? The choice is confusing but for most and best flavor, my vote goes to eggs bought from the farmer who tends the chickens. Like Farmer Hubert’s eggs, pictured above, they may be multi-colored (the blue ones are from Araucana hens, the white ones from Leghorns, but I can’t tell you about the rest.) Going straight to the source, you’ll find out how the chickens were raised, what they’ve been fed, and how fresh the eggs are. A bonus: eggs from hens allowed to scratch around a chicken yard are almost always better tasting than ones raised in total captivity. Incidentally, brown eggs are favored in New England and white eggs preferred elsewhere, but the flavor and goodness are exactly the same.

Here’s another interesting fact to put in your egg file: Eggs in North America must be washed before they can be sold. Not a bad idea, you’re thinking? Think again. Eggs come with a natural protective coating that gets dissolved in the wash water. In Italy, where I live part time, eggs don’t have to be refrigerated, while in the U.S., I’m told, it’s best to keep them, if not refrigerated, in a very cool place to protect them. (You may find that eggs bought from the farmer have not been washed.)

What about salmonella? If you think eggs are risky, cook them thoroughly, either hard-boiling or baking in cakes or cookies. Hard cooked eggs can quickly become deviled eggs, a seriously delicious, old-fashioned treat. Do them up Mediterranean style, mixing yolks with a little mustard, some capers and a few green olives chopped with fresh green herbs, the whole bound with a dab of olive oil and another dab of mayonnaise. Or serve them plain, halved and garnished with a black- or green-olive tapénade.

Take a tip from the Italian kitchen and drop eggs, one after the other, into a bean-and-pasta soup, then serve a poached egg with each soup portion, perhaps with a little parmigiano reggiano sprinkled on top. Another dazzling egg trick I learned from Maria Jose San Roman, a great chef from Alicante in southeast Spain: Use gently fried eggs as a sauce to top sautéed potatoes: Sauté sliced potatoes (in olive oil, of course), then arrange on a platter, season generously, and top with eggs similarly fried, the yolks basted with hot oil so that when they break they make a rich, golden sauce for the potatoes. Nothing could be simpler—or better.

Easy Cheese Soufflé

Cheese soufflés transport eggs to the height of elegance. They have a reputation for being tricky but they’re actually easy when you understand the concept. Basically, it’s a béchamel sauce into which egg yolks are stirred and then the stiffly beaten whites and grated cheese, baked until the eggs puff up, and then served immediately. Wait just 10 minutes and the soufflé will deflate—still tasty but not the exciting thing that comes straight from the oven bursting with cheesy fragrance. Another advantage: You can prepare most of it ahead of time, then just beat up the egg whites and fold them in with the cheese right before you put the thing in the oven for 20 minutes. Most soufflé recipes make enough for 6 people but I like this snug little way of making just enough for two.

You’ll need: butter, a small amount of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, a little all-purpose flour, about 3/4 cup of whole milk, 2 eggs (separated), and a cup of grated cheese (gruyere is best but emmenthal or cheddar will work well too). Plus the usual salt, pepper and, if you wish, a pinch of ground red chili and/or a spoonful of French mustard.

First butter the inside of a couple of small soufflé dishes, the kind that hold about 1 cup. Butter them generously and sprinkle the bottoms and sides with grated parmigiano–you’ll need about a tablespoon for each. Set these aside and in a small saucepan melt about a tablespoon of butter over low heat. While you’re doing this, warm the milk in a separate saucepan–it should be very warm but not simmering.

Whisk about 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour into the melted butter, whisking well to avoid lumps. Cook, stirring, for just a minute or two to get rid of the raw taste of the flour, then start adding the hot milk, a little at a time and whisking after each addition. This will avoid lumps in the béchamel sauce. When all the milk has been added, continue cooking for a bit to let the sauce thicken to the consistency of very heavy cream. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool down a bit, then add the egg yolks, one at a time and whisking well after each one. Add a little salt (not too much because the cheese will be salty), ground black pepper, a pinch of chili pepper if you wish (I like to use piment d’Espelette, the chili from the Basque country of southern France), and a spoonful of Dijon mustard. Stir all this together then set aside until you’re ready to continue making the soufflés.

When you’re set to continue, heat the oven up to 450º. Beat the egg whites to a stiff froth, then gently stir half the egg whites and half the grated gruyere into the béchamel. Top with the remaining egg whites and cheese and, using a spatula, fold it all together.

Add the mix to the two soufflé dishes and transfer to the hot oven, immediately turning the heat down to 350º. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the soufflés have risen and turned golden on top. Remove and serve immediately.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Ryan Magarian's Pearl Tavern Matures

It's not all food system issues around here, y'know. I also get a chance to write profiles of restaurateurs and visits to museums thanks to kind editors like Andrew Collins of Portland's The Pearl magazine. Recently I drove across the Willamette to sit down with cocktail guru Ryan Magarian to talk about his latest venture with former University of Oregon and NFL footballer Joey Harrington, called Pearl Tavern, which Magarian described as an "American sports bar meets neighborhood tavern."

After a slightly bumpy beginning, this lively neighborhood space has found its footing—and a loyal following.

It seemed like a recipe for a hands-down success: combine a highly visible corner location in a burgeoning business and residential neighborhood with the expertise and energy of a sought-after bar expert opening his fourth establishment, a Michelin-star chef, a hugely successful restaurant development group, and a national sports celebrity. Throw in a can’t-miss concept: American sports bar meets neighborhood tavern. And you’ve got an instant winner, right?

“When we started out, we let ourselves get a little undisciplined,” says Ryan Magarian, the man behind some of the city’s most successful bar programs, including neighboring Oven & Shaker, which he runs with chef Cathy Whims. His newest venture, the comfortably masculine Pearl Tavern (231 NW 11th Ave, 503-954-3796), which he opened almost a year ago with former University of Oregon and NFL footballer Joey Harrington, took a few months to hit its stride.

“We were trying to do too many things,” he says. “We were kind of looking at doing steak, we were sports, we were a restaurant, and honestly—it just didn’t connect with people at first.”

Steadily, however, Magarian and his teammates have put together a winning venture, with star chef Thomas Boyce helming the kitchen. Pearl Tavern maximizes what Magarian refers to as the neighborhood’s desire “to find comfort and community in one space.” Indeed, you’ll find an unexpectedly high level of service, food, and beverages that’s quite uncommon among sports-concept restaurants.

Magarian claims, in his humble opinion, that the tavern turns out the best burger in town. Other top dishes include a healthier version of classic nachos, featuring pulled pork, tomatillo salsa, and cotija cheese, and an unabashedly decadent mac and cheese. Chef Boyce, known for his commitment to local farms, ranchers, and fishing families, plans to feature Dungeness crab cakes when the season opens, and his fish-and-chips and shrimp with hazelnut romesco are already fan favorites.

Magarian also designed his cocktail menu with fresh ingredients in mind. Consider the Whiskey Ginger From Scratch, with freshly extracted ginger juice (“people go bananas for it,” he says) and Thumper’s Revenge, which he describes as “somewhere between a Bloody Mary and a mojito with carrot juice as a primary foundation—so fresh, but savory too.”

Read the rest of the article about his groundbreaking whiskey program, curated by the phenomenal Tommy Klus, and the tavern's "complete celebration of Oregon athletics."

Photos by Paul Wagtouicz for The Pearl magazine.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Farinata, A Dream Come True

Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food has traveled extensively to find small, family-owned producers of exquisite oils, grains, salt and herbs, so his travel advice is worth heeding. As are his recipes, as the one for farinata, below.

I ate farinata for the first time in the Ligurian village of Levanto, just up the coast from the Cinque Terra, more than 10 years ago. Judith and I had spent a wet October day hiking the trail connecting the five towns, and the Cinque Terra rail pass lets you travel between La Spezia and Levanto, the hamlets just beyond the north and south ends of the five towns. So we rode the train to the sleepy seaside resort hoping to dry out a little.

As we wandered around, I'd ask the shopkeepers where they ate, my standard practice for finding good local food instead of the stuff meant for tourists. We ended up at a pizzeria away from the beach, back up the hill toward the train station.

We planned to grab a quick bite before riding the train back to La Spezia to pick up the car and drive "home" to the Tuscan village of Chianni. But I saw something that clearly wasn't pizza come out of the wood-burning oven; nothing on top, just a plain-looking golden pie in a darkly patinated copper pan. I asked what it was, the pizzaiolo said "farinata," and handed me a slice. I thought about the slightly crispy edges and soft, custard-like interior for years, dreaming about finding it somewhere closer to home.


Farinata is a simple flatbread made from chickpea flour, water, salt, and olive oil. The humble ingredients belie the rich flavor; it's hard to believe that there's no cheese. And it's fairly easy to make, enough that I can't believe I waited so long to try.

Mix chickpea (aka garbanzo) flour with about twice as much water; for a 12 inch farinata I use a cup of flour and 2 cups of water. It's important to let the flour hydrate completely, so let the batter sit for at least 30 minutes or even overnight (longer is better). Add a teaspoon of salt and a generous pour of good extra virgin olive oil (about 3 tablespoons). I like the traditional addition of fresh rosemary, so I'll stir in a tablespoon or more of it, lightly chopped.

Set your oven hot to 400°, move the rack to the top slot, and put a 12 inch cast iron skillet inside until it gets nice and hot, about 20 minutes. When you're ready to bake, add enough extra virgin to the hot skillet to completely cover the bottom; swirl it around to get up the sides a bit, too. Pour in the batter, slide the skillet into the oven, and cook for about 20 minutes. It's done when the top is lightly browned and the edges are pulling away from the pan. It's best hot, but it's not bad the next day.