Archive | 2008

Urban farm tour

29 Aug

I’m feeling frantic with the “end of the summer”. I want to have a tour and do a seed swap (newly inspired by Heather Flores and her event last night for slowfood). I’m thinking late September. Who’s into it? Which Saturday?
Also, I heard CUESA is putting on an urban farm tour! September 12. They’re going to Alemany and a farm in East Palo Alto. Here’s the ticket info.

Slow food

28 Aug

Um. No time to talk, I’m in the middle of a perfect storm of barnyard fun: baby rabbits, Bebe the goat in heat, introducing some new chickens to the flock. It’s mania. I have a lot to report but no time–more soon.

In the meantime, here’s an article I wrote for Saveur.com about the Slow Food Victory Garden in SF.

Aged goat cheese

14 Aug

You’d think I wouldn’t have enough milk to make cheese. But the little bit I get each day from Bebe adds up and then I have to make something. I’ll toss a tablespoon of yogurt into a quart of milk, warm it up–and voila! a quart of yogurt.

Or, the other day, my postal carrier told me about something called cajeta. He often drops off the mail and then we talk about food–spit-roasted rabbits, steamed pumpkin drizzled with honey and mashed up with goat milk. Cajeta was goat milk slowly cooked with sugar until it became a caramel-y goo. The way he was drooling, I knew it had to be good. I had two cups of milk, so I decided to go for it. I had to stir the milk and sugar for an hour. Luckily, Bill was in an expansive mood so we talked and I stirred. The result was a gloppy goo–dulce de leche, great straight out of the jar.

I also made an order through Caprine Supply. Got a hobble, udder wipes, an iodine dip, and cheese molds. I tried making my own out of plastic containers drilled with holes, but they kind of sucked. Armed with these new molds, I hoarded milk and made cheese.

The fresh, triangular stuff turned out nicely. Creamy and light.

Because I had hopes to make aged cheese, I ordered some penicillin culture too. After the cheese firmed up, I started spritzing it with the white mold culture. It formed a rind after a few days left out (but covered to prevent flies).

After 10 days, Bill and I had a tasting. I secretly hoped it would taste like boucheron. Um, no. It wasn’t creamy in the middle, just firm. It kind of reminded me of the cheeses I tried in Portugal. Sturdy, nothing fancy. Definitely edible.

Virtual farm tour

3 Aug

Sorry for those of you who missed the last farm tour. It was nice to meet some new folks and see old friends. I’ve got a gun to my head to finish a writing project, so there won’t be a tour in August. Plan on a Friday in early September.

In the meantime, here’s the farm report.

The bees I caught last year are doing really well. There seems to be lot of activity, though I was worried about the queen’s laying pattern last time I did an inspection (which was awhile ago–I hate bothering them). The swarm caught this spring in Alameda has died out. The queen never started laying and it all went to hell. I partially blame myself because I had this really jankity brood box with very funky frames.

The garden is in that awkward mid-summer phase where the greens are done but the tomatoes aren’t quite ripe yet. Luckily there is something to eat because it’s summer apple season. One of our neighbors comes in and picks them, which pisses Bill off, but I’m resigned–and even a little supportive–of the lot pillagers. Times are tight in the ghetto and the more fresh food I grow, the healthier the people around here will be. In a nod to my hippiedom, I’m growing corn and sunflowers, crops I usually don’t pursue. However, I have a reason! I do like sweet corn. And, the goats will very gladly eat the corn stalks. So it’s a multi-use plant. Similarly, goats like sunflower leaves and seeds.

The chickens on the deck are getting big, and I’m almost ready to set them loose outside with the big girls. They’ll get their asses kicked, but after a day or so all will be well. They’ve been flying off the deck and into the street, which is no good, so I’m getting motivated. The big white fella is Edith’s soon to be boyfriend. By the way he’s been puffing up lately, I’m fairly sure he’s a male.

Finally, the deck rabbits are getting plump from eating the windblown apples. They’re approaching their 3 month old birthday, which means it’ll be time for rabbit rillettes soon.

Swing on by: Friday

23 Jul

Howdy.

The farm gate will be open on Friday, from 3-6pm. Stop on by! I’m hoping to see some of the folks from the conference and make some new friends, and see some old pals.

The farm is at 28th street and MLK in Oakland. Look for the bright mural on the abandoned building–the farm is behind the green fence on the corner. I’ll be weeding in the garden.

Freaky vegetables

21 Jul

What do you do if someone invites you to Mondavi’s Taste3 conference? You go.

There’s the food. The wine. The big ol’ schwag bag. There’s a mulberry tree at Copia that, right now, is raining down dark juicy berries. No one seems to be picking them! There’s a great thrift store in Napa. But even better than the fine wine, the lobster dinner at Mumm where everyone got their nice clothes dirty with butter and lobster drippings; the complimentary coffee, tea, chocolate and shoes–there were some of the most eloquent, poetic, funny, slightly mad people who really care about what they’re doing. Dan Barber gave a talk about why he won’t use foie gras anymore (not for the usual reasons). A photographer named Laura Letinsky, who takes haunting photos of…leftovers, gave a presentation that got my slow-moving brain thumping. Jennifer 8 Lee confirmed my love of Chinese food as the all-American food. It was great. And then I returned hom, back to the vegetables in my garden.

Finally, the cabbage, which has been so slow growing, are starting to form heads. The first to be ready is this Melissa. Crinkly. Somewhat addled with slugs and a few earwigs. Delicious when grated with apples from the tree (the Anna apples are now ready), tossed with rice wine vinegar and walnuts.

The zucchini is out of control, as usual, but early this year on account of the pig manure. This is the vine of the Ronde de Nice zuchini, a round zucchini that volunteered out of the porcine poo
pile. I’ve harvested about a thousand of these small guys with their blossoms still attached. This vine looked weird, though. Thicker. There were flower buds coming off the vine. Not normal. I followed it to its trailing end. My heart stopped. It became a club footed monster. The vine thickened to almost 6 inches thick, like some crawling prickly pear cactus. And at this monstrous terminus was an almost vaginal cluster of flowers and fruit all riddled together.

I gasped. I have never seen this before. There were *so* many fruit in one space. A gold mine of zucchini. Was it the pig shit? Is it some mutation caused by extra fertile soil? Something deeply wrong with my eco-system? I don’t know. I harvested a few of the zucs for dinner, and when I carried them into the house, I couldn’t help think that the zucchini plant reminded me a bit of Taste3–a many headed vine, a delectable banquet, a marvelous freak show that makes for some fond summer memories.

Scattered acres

15 Jul

Just flew in from Seattle yesterday. I abandoned the farm to spend six days with my family up north. It was my mom’s un-65th birthday and un-retirement party (her real birthday is june 15; she’s retiring at 66). My sister and I threw her a Bastille day party featuring Sally Jackson cheeses, Salumi salami, bbq-ed oysters, and grilled Toulouse-style sausages. Also, there was a Cajun band. Riana made some yummy quiche with morels and a mind-blowing sour cherry dessert.

But the farm, right, how can I leave that for almost a week? In the end, it all worked out. My friend N came by every day and fed the goats and rabbits and chickens, I left Orla out with Bebe to keep her milked out, and I deeply watered the garden the night before I left.

After six days of absence, I thought upon my return, the goats would come running, the rabbits would clap their hairy paws together, the chickens would cuddle up. Actually, they barely noticed me when I walked through the gate. The only critter on the farm that’s ecstatic I’m back is Kousin the cat, who slept at my side all night.

Having a break made me realize how much work GhostTown Farm actually is. So many animals to care for, weeds to pull, vegetables to water, turds to clean up. But these chores, this care-taking is what gets me up in the morning, sets the rhythm for my day, makes me feel necessary and useful. It’s also nice to realize that I can leave for a few days and it’s not a disaster.

While in Seattle I picked up a copy of Common Grounds magazine, which has a very good article about the urban farming movement. The writer interviewed me, too, but the best idea came from an urban farmer in Chicago named Nance Klehm who described her “farm” as a scattered acre–a combo of rooftop gardens, a backyard, and other people’s backyards. I like this concept.

Taken to the next level, if you add up all the land devoted to urban homesteads, hobby farms like mine, community gardens, and backyard chicken runs, finally add up to many acres. When I say that I’m an urban “farmer”, I’m depending on other urban farmers, too. That its only with them that our backyards and squatted gardens add up to something significant. Scattered, but not insignificant.