501 Pounds!

When you plant new trees, you never really know what to expect from them in terms of production while they are young. With the vast majority of our fig trees having been planted in March 2011, I wasn’t sure what we’d see in their first season. My benchmark for success was 500 pounds of figs. As of this morning, we have now picked 501… and there is still more to come.

But as happy as I am with our little trees (and “Harry“), I am most grateful to the response of our local community. Chef Tim Kilcoyne at the Sidecar continues to be a fig warhorse, but Julia Crookston of Bona Dea Preserves has edged him out as our top consumer to date. Perennial favorite Kate Dunbar of Petite Reve Cafe has done some fantastic things with our figs, particularly the early Desert Kings. Rabalais Bistro in Santa Paula, 71 Palm and Paradise Pantry in Ventura, and the Italian Job Cafe in Oxnard have been wonderful additions to our family of customers. We are also thankful for our friends who have taken up the challenge of introducing others to Petty Ranch figs… Kat Merrick of Totally Local VC, Gianna Cagliano, and Nancy Hochstein.

The season may not be over yet, but we can’t wait to express our appreciation for those who are  sharing this experience with us. Thank you!

3000 words on Fig Season

Our first few Desert King figs were ready last week. I’ve been trying to think of something profound to say about the beginning of the season. But a few pictures from Kate Dunbar, Owner of Petite Reve Cafe in Ventura, speak more eloquently than I can. Beautiful work, Kate. It’s going to be a great season!

Desert King Figs, Meyer lemons, and lemon verbena

Cheese plate with figs

Fig, honey, chevre galette

Lead, follow, or get out of the way

In a recent interview with the New York Times, French Laundry Chef Thomas Keller created a stir when he disavowed any responsibility for the direction of national food policy. Chefs, he said, are not responsible for sustaining local farmers or fixing climate change.

Not surprisingly, his comments drew a sharp rebuke in some arenas (Civil Eats, Huffington Post.)  Should they have?

His comments raise two questions. The first is whether or not chefs can be agents of change in our food system, particularly with respect to local food. Clearly they can. I’m fortunate to work with several chef and food artisan friends who are our “local local heros”… People like Tim Kilcoyne, Rachel Main, Kate Dunbar, Julia Crookston and James and Manuela Carling of Ventura Limoncello. Customers are responding to their work, other restaurateurs are following their lead, and food and farming are receiving more attention than ever. These people are leaders and they make a difference.

The second question raised by Chef Keller is whether he personally has an obligation to lead within the food movement. He says “No” and I agree with him. He has built his career around food as art, not food as activism. He is entitled to pursue his vision, as are we all. Even if I wished for his leadership, it would be a futile desire on my part. You can not assign leadership to the unwilling. Not if you expect results, anyway. In fact, I’m glad that he risked the predictable backlash by being honest about his views, rather than assuming a false mantle of leadership.

The Marines have a saying: “Lead, follow, or get out of  the way.” Chef Keller has opted to get out of the way. That’s fine. There are a lot of great people like the ones I mentioned above who can and are leading already.

Those are the people we should be talking about.

TotallyLocalVC.com

I’m excited to be working with TotallyLocalVC.com, a new site dedicated to living, playing and working in Ventura County, and celebrating those things that make this area special. I’ll be writing an occassional column on Agriculture’s role in our county, as well as particpated in some planned farm dinners. Part of the reason my output in this blog has dropped off recently is that I have been writing and editing the pieces that will appear in TotallyLocalVC.com. My first piece, on Ventura before agriculture, should post soon.

So even though I am something of an “insider”, I was still very pleased to be profiled by D.K. Crawford in one of the first pieces published. You can read her (overly generous) article here. She does a wonderful job introducing several of the people that I am proud to call customers and friends: Tim Kilcoyne of the SideCar and Local Cafe, Kate Dunbar of Petite Reve Cafe, and James and Manuela Carling of Ventura Limoncello. The secret to whatever success I have had as a “rockstar farmer” is that I am teamed with people this talented. When you have this caliber of people using your lemons, you can’t help but look good.

I’m trying to apply the same trick to my writing. Having the chance to work with TLVC’s dynamic founder Kat Merrick, and talented writer/photographers like DK is a great opportunity. Watch this space for more work soon!