Gazing over the neighbouring fields as a child, I never really considered their significance beyond the beautiful vista they lent to the view. Every now and then, I’d see the farmer, flat cap, wellies and tweed, tending to his animals and crops. “By gum, how quaint life is in Yorkshire!”
My failure as a child to understand the link from farm to table seems somewhat ridiculous. But how many of us actually know where our food comes from? While we have a certain knowledge about cooking and world cuisine, most of us have little idea about how food is produced. This might explain a recent study, which found that UK school children thought cheese comes from plants, tomatoes grow underground and potatoes grow on trees. With this in mind, I ventured north of San Francisco to Sonoma County where ‘farm to table’ is gospel.
I met my employer and host for the week, Milo Mitchel, in the sleepy town of Sebastopol one sunny evening. Milo explained to me how the town is historically famous for Gravenstein apples, a tart apple perfect for cooking or cider making, which was first brought to the town by Luther Burbank. I didn’t have to wait long for my first farm to table experience. Minutes later I was sat by fire, drinking freshly pressed apple juice and feasting on freshly caught rabbit. Having spent the last 7 weeks in the metropolitan rush of New York and San Francisco, this was a moment of true bliss.
Milo picked me up the following morning to begin our first day of farming. We would be visiting Zazu Restaurant, where Milo is the resident farmer, to plant some edible violas, herbs, and install drip irrigation systems for their padron peppers (patrons of the restaurant pick their own peppers which are then cooked and served.)
As the day progressed, Milo explained to the intricacies of soil composition, the art of watering, and how each of the plants we were tending to had different needs. Mid way through our time together Milo broke away to speak with the Zazu’s staff about the produce he was growing – something that stood me in good stead for when I would later cook in the Zazu kitchen.
We later moved on to one of Milo’s private customers to prune some apple trees, feed the sheep and plant support for some tomatoes. On arrival Milo discovered a problem with the irrigation system. A gopher, had chewed through the tubing and wiring. This misfortune brought to my attention to the difficulties of farming. As Milo explained, no matter how much you read, learn and practice, some things just come down to luck. And that luck is the difference between making a living or not.
Next day, I woke up having been bitten by some pesky spider, clearly unhappy with the love shacks latest resident. Undaunted, I went across with Milo to one his larger farms to harvest some produce for the restaurant.
A TV crew was soon to arrive to film a ‘moveable feast’, so we set about planting more violas and cleaning up the farm for cameras. TV shows are not your average farm experience. However, California is so widely celebrated for its farming, that it draws Hollywood to its doorsteps. But then again, they’re not only ones poking their nose in. 5179 Miles. The distance travelled to work in an industry that lay just 10 yards from my backdoor step. Maybe next time the local farmer walks by I’ll hop over the fence to learn some more!
My farm to table experience continues later in the week with a particularly bloody encounter. Milo has also written a post about our time together here.
Like the above? You may also enjoy…