Posts Tagged ‘gospel flat farm’

Foodie Focus: Mickey Murch & Gospel Flat Farm

December 14, 2009

Photo: courtesy of Sarah Warnock

It’s a great time to be a farmer. So says Mickey Murch, who tends his family’s farm in beautiful Bolinas, an eclectic coastal enclave in West Marin, California.

He hasn’t always felt this way. Mickey grew up running bare foot through fields but he didn’t want to dig dirt to make his way in the world. He’d seen how demanding a farmer’s life could be at close hand. So he left the life of the land for Reed College in Oregon to study art.  Perhaps not surprisingly, though, his art was informed by his life, which centers on food, family, farming, and the natural environment. He splashed paint on work boots and wheel barrows and threw popular beer-brewing and pizza-baking parties outdoors.

For his senior thesis he lived rough for a year as part of a one-man sustainability show exploring whether a student could survive on a college campus growing, making, finding, recycling, or bartering the basic necessities of life.  He camped out in a handmade rolling caravan, stitched his own shoes out of leather straps and worn tire treads, and preserved produce, beer, beans, cider, and salmon in mason jars that he used to create an indoor installation that included a film documenting his experience.

As a part of his artistic edible evolution Mickey began to realize that his creative self was so thoroughly entwined with his farm-boy background that he made his way back to the land. In Bolinas he built himself a pod to live in so he could commune with the wild world, and designed what illustrator/blogger Maira Kalman, calls his cockamamie contraption — a mobile kitchen from which he spreads the good word about eating local, organic food fresh from his family’s Gospel Flat Farm. The 10-acre organic farm is named for the four churches that once stood in the spot that now boasts a booming mid-sized row crop and modest animal farm.

When he started working alongside his dad, who had run the farm with his wife since 1982, Mickey made typical first-time farmer mistakes. It took time to figure out what produce to grow and where, as he got to know intimately the climatic conditions he inherited. Even something as simple as watering crops has a learning curve. “A new farmer will look at the surface soil and see that it’s dry but a seasoned grower will kick down the soil a few inches to check for moisture,” says Mickey.

He didn’t have a clue about how to sell what he grew. He tried delivering boxes of produce or inviting people to the farm to pick their own, but neither felt quite right. Almost as an afterthought, he began putting excess produce out by the side of the road. That proved the inspiration for the Farm Stand. The unattended stand works on the honor system; customers weigh and pay without oversight (the locked money box is emptied regularly.)

Now in its third year, the Farm Stand has grown so popular that the farm sells most of its produce there. Locals, travelers, and tourists purchase seasonal crops such as greens, flowers, beans, and beets at any time of day or night. Mickey’s favorite question from folks who stop by: “What do you do with this?” And he enjoys not having to haggle with wholesalers over the price or appearance of his produce: “You can accomplish so much when you don’t have to peddle your wares.”

Photo: Sarah Henry

Mickey, 24, hasn’t abandoned his artistic pursuits; at a recent open studios he presented an edible landscape installation. And an art studio behind the Farm Stand is slated to become a space for groups to meet and merge the world of art, food, and farming. He’s also keen to pass on his love of the land to novice farmers, through an apprenticeship program, and young children, in afterschool and summer camp classes and school tours. He’ll fire up the outside oven, he says, and ask the kids what they want to cook. Sometimes they bake bread or make chard-filled raviolis from scratch with eggs and produce collected from the farm. He also wheels his mobile kitchen (formerly a boat) into downtown Bolinas for community canning or cooking demos. Here’s what it looks like:

Flickr photo by Michael Korcuska courtesy Creative Commons license.

The farm remains a family affair. Mickey’s older brother, Kater, a physicist now living in Berkeley, runs the clan’s winery. His mother, Sarah Hake, is a plant geneticist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture; she picks up starts and seeds for the farm from work. (Local note: That corn crop growing in Albany as you enter town? That’s Mickey’s mum’s doing.) She also planted a community vegetable patch next to her workplace. Mickey’s grandmother, artist Carol Hake, paints portraits of farm stand produce and brings persimmons from her Los Altos Hills home to add to the bounty for sale. Dad Don runs a local land-clearing, tractor-based business and provides oversight for the entire farm operation. And cousin Sam works alongside Mickey, planting, picking, and maintaining the crops and livestock.

Mickey, who lives on the property (in a building now), with wife Bronwen and their baby, has plans for expanding the farm. He’d like to cultivate more orchard crops and raise more livestock animals. But as he cleans and cuts brussels sprouts one recent cold morning it’s clear from the enthusiasm and earnestness that this young grower brings to his way of life that it is, indeed, a good time to be a farmer.

The Gospel Flat Farm Stand is located just before the plant nursery and stop sign on the Olema/Bolinas Road in Bolinas.

In Praise of Brussels Sprouts

December 9, 2009

Flickr photo by cbcastro courtesy Creative Commons attribution license.

Since I spent two hours Monday outside in the freezing cold chatting with a couple of West Marin farmers as they cut, cleaned, and boxed some bodacious-looking brussels sprouts (more on the growers at Gospel Flat Farm later this week),  I thought it timely to weigh in on this most delectable and much-maligned member of the Brassicaceae family.

Yes, many of us have memories from childhood of horrid-smelling, bitter-tasting, floppy-looking boiled brussels rolling around our plates in all their unappetizing glory.

Banish that image from your mind for good. Perhaps one of the simplest ways to enjoy this cruciferous vegetable, is simply tossing it in some olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and then roasting these green balls of goodness at super high heat — we’re talking 475 or so degrees — until they’re tender and their caramel-like sweetness releases. For a complete how-to on the subject check out this quick roasting recipe from Farmgirl Fare or this gorgeous-looking, Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts offering over at 101 Cookbooks.

I picked up a killer recipe for the humble sprout when I chaperoned my kid’s kindergarten class on a field trip to veggie mecca Berkeley Bowl, where each child got to pick a piece of produce to take back to the classroom for follow-up fun.

My boy opted for the brussels sprouts clinging to their stalk, not because he loved ‘em but because of their cool alien-from-out-of-space appearance. A fellow produce picker shared his fave way to eat this cabbage-like veg, a dish that included pecans and gorgonzola cheese. This recipe at Kalyn’s Kitchen is pretty similar. Try it. I swear you’ll never think of these leafy green buds in the same negative way again. (I like to toss in some dried cranberries too for a little festive touch. And switch in hazelnuts for pecans, if you’d prefer.)

Flickr photo by Ed Bierman courtesy Creative Commons license.

Here’s a handy dandy tip: If you decide to boil or steam your brussels sprouts take care not to overcook them as that releases a chemical with the unwieldy name glucosinolate sinigrin, and it’s this pesky substance that produces the stench, I mean, sulfurous odor, that you’ll recall from your youth. Cutting these buds in half before cooking can also help minimize the smelly chemical, apparently.

Before I leave you with some more ways to enjoy these verdant veggies, any copy editors/language gurus want to weigh in on whether it’s Brussels sprouts or brussels sprouts? The New York Times recently had its say on the matter and although it’s French fries the gray lady says its brussel sprouts and lima bean. Go figure.

Below, a smattering of recipes designed to help you change your mind (if that’s necessary) on the merits of these little orbs of loveliness.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Pears from Food Blogga
Love the combo of pear, ginger, and thyme in this simply satisfying side.

Creamy Brussels Sprouts Gratin from A Veggie Venture
Brussels sprouts, cream, and breadcrumbs. What’s not to like?

Shredded Brussels Sprouts & Apples 101 Cookbooks
With or without tofu (which makes this into a one-skillet meal).

Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon & Poppy Seeds
Lighthearted Locavore
Another mighty fine taste combination.

Cauliflower & Brussels Sprouts Gratin Serious Eats Channels Bon Appetit
Cheese, cream, pine nuts, and parsley baked with two nutritious veggies in one delicious dish.


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