organic farm

So long, for now.

This was my last week for the season at Dunbar Farms. This afternoon, after one last harvest day, and preparing one last Friday lunch for the crew, I’ll point the Honda back toward Colorado and make my way home for the summer to reconnect with friends, save up money for the rest of the year, and chef it up for the Boulder Food Rescue‘s Feast of Fermentation. I’m pretty excited to get back, and knowing I’ll be back at Dunbar sometime in October makes this not so much a goodbye, but more of a “See you later.”

I know I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg of what this place has to teach me. Of course, there’s the farm stuff. The growing things, and harvesting things, and all the work that goes into taking care of it all in between. But other pieces of the puzzle are just starting to click into place. I have some research to do before I get back in the fall. I need to take some classes and dig up some books to help me identify all the wild plants that grow around here. I have a feeling I’m leaving a feast of both food and medicine un-utilized by simply not knowing what’s what. That needs to be remedied.

I’m leaving in the middle of perfecting an almost finished, but not quite there method for making tortillas from scratch out of the corn we grow here. Making the masa from the corn I milled is the easy part, but it’s the milling itself that still needs some tweaking. I hear rumors of another cheffy type person coming to stay. I’m hoping whoever it is can pick up the reigns on that one, but if not, that’s at the top of the list for when I get back.

 

In case I haven’t mentioned it, and you didn’t already know, Oregon is stunning. Of course, so is Colorado, but this is a different thing altogether. I’ve only just begun to explore the area, and I’m really looking forward to seeing more of the state upon my return.

Along with the people and the plants, animals live here, too! I haven’t gotten to spend much time with them this go around, so that’s on the list for my fall/winter stay, as well.

 

 

 

Our farm manager, Juan, and I have had some interesting discussions about U.S. immigration policy, work ethic, and the American way of life. He’s opened my eyes to just how differently those who are not native born see the country I’ve always called home. There’s a worker shortage on farms across Oregon this year. Looming questions about the future of immigration policy and more aggressive enforcement have frightened many of the undocumented workers who typically step up to take on the work of picking fruit, maintaining vineyards, and caring for livestock. Juan, who does have documentation, comments, “These are jobs Americans don’t want. Where are all the American people who say we take their jobs away? Why aren’t they asking for these jobs? They don’t really want to do the work. They just want to get mad and complain.”

I don’t have a good answer for him. Not yet. At least, not without admitting some hard truths about how some people view manual labor in general, and how disconnected many people are from the workers who grow their food, and the work it takes for that food to make it to their tables. I’m even more determined now to be a part of the solution… To be a voice that helps bring people together with their farmers and small batch producers to help promote relationships instead of just transactions. Even after laboring side by side for the past several weeks, Juan still isn’t even convinced I’ll be back in the fall. So, obviously, number one on the list is to just get my ass back here. There’s a burrito dinner bet riding on it, so you best believe I’m making good on my promise.

Speaking of food, I’ve heard it said this area “has zero food culture.” From what I’ve seen, though, it’s there if you know what you’re looking for. Much like in Colorado, a good bit of it seems to revolve around local craft breweries. Fine by me! From what I’ve experienced, not only is the beer good, but the food, made with ingredients often sourced from less than 100 miles away, is pretty damn tasty, as well.

Of course, I have a list for Denver, too, and I’m so excited to spend my summer with so many of my favorite people and places. But, it’s nice knowing there’s so much here worth coming back for.

Farmin’ Ain’t Easy

If you haven’t been following along on my Instagram (and really, why haven’t you?), then you may not know that last week, my little 2002 Honda Civic (which I’ve started to lovingly refer to as “The Tardis” because I’ve managed to cram an impossible amount of stuff in there and still be able to lay my seat back to sleep) and I made our way back to Oregon for an almost month-long stay at Dunbar Farms, a small, family owned, organic farm in Medford. I found the opportunity through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and, after a few phone calls, submitting my resume and waiting for references to be checked, I was invited to come out and get my hands in the dirt. And boy, have I.

I might not be a farmer, yet. In fact, I know I’m not. I get days off. I sometimes get to sleep in. If I don’t feel well, I can text my boss (the actual farmer) and let him know I’ll join the crew at 9am instead of 630am. An actual farmer gets to do none of those things. This farm is a living thing, and it doesn’t take, or give, a day off. Not really.

That’s one of the things I’ve learned. People don’t farm like this (organic, sustainable, in the rhythm that nature sets) because they want to become rich, or famous, or powerful. They do it because it’s in their DNA. I’ll tell you more about the folks who run Dunbar Farms in a future post, but suffice it to say, this beautiful spot in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley is a labor of love.

Mondays and Fridays here are harvest days, so they’re our busiest, longest days. We get to work harvesting at 630 in the morning. On Monday, we’re fulfilling wholesale orders for local restaurants and other commercial customers. On Friday, we handle CSA orders. On either, or both of those days, we’re also stocking the farm’s “honor barn.” They have a farm stand on the property, which carries everything from greens, to flours made from the farm’s wheat and corn, to dried beans and popcorn. It’s open 24/7, so locals can stop by at their convenience, grab what they need, and leave cash or a check in the cash box up front. On their honor. It’s amazing and kinda beautiful that it works out that way.

After we harvest, we bring everything back to the clean room to be washed, dried, bagged, weighed, and labeled. Commercial orders are delivered on Tuesdays. CSA orders are picked up Friday afternoon, and customers are encouraged to stay for a minute and enjoy a glass of wine, also made here at Dunbar under the Rocky Knoll label.

On the other days, we do things like thinning the carrot patch, which involves laying down at ground level so we can get up close and personal with the soil to thin out carrot starts and pull the tiniest of weeds before they have a chance to lay down a root system that could choke off the main crop; or pulling last year’s left over potato sprouts (and more weeds) out of this year’s onion fields.

It’s hard work, but not too hard, and quite honestly, pretty satisfying.

As I mentioned, Dunbar Farms grows beans, among other things, and one of the first things I got my hands on to cook was some of their black beans. I know black bean soup isn’t revolutionary, but I wanted to share the recipe I used to make the version that’s been serving as the main part of my dinner almost every night since I got here. It’s super easy, requires only a handful of budget friendly ingredients, and, paired with a pile of lightly dressed greens, serves as a pretty great post-harvest day supper. This recipe makes about four servings.

Equipment:
4 qt sauce pot
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cups
Stick blender, stand blender, or hand masher, whichever is available
Spoon for stirring

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups dried black beans, soaked in water overnight, drained
1/2 a large white or yellow onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
4-6 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup of your favorite salsa
Salt, pepper, and any other seasoning you’d like, to taste

Cook the beans, onions, carrots, garlic, and thyme with enough water to cover by about 2 inches at a low boil for about an hour, or until the beans are cooked through. You may need to add a bit more water over the course of the cooking time to ensure the pot does not boil dry.

Pull out the thyme stems and discard. Reserve one cup of the cooked beans and veggies if you like to keep a little texture in your soup, like I do. If you’re using a stick blender, you can puree remaining beans and veg with the liquid right there in the pot. If you’re using a mixer, blend the remaining beans/veg/liquid in two batches until it reaches your desired consistency. If you’re using a masher, just mash away until, again, it reaches the consistency you like. You can add a little more water or some veggie stock as needed at any point to thin out the soup to your liking.

Add the reserved beans/veggies back into the pureed soup at this point, as well as the 1/4 cup of salsa, then season as you wish. We didn’t have much in the kitchen when I got here, but the tomatillo salsa I used provided a lot of great flavor so other than salt, mine didn’t need much. Cumin, chile powder, and/or fresh jalapeno would be nice additions, as well.

This soup holds well as leftovers, although it will thicken up in the fridge. At that point, you can pretend it’s bean hummus and eat it with pita or chips, or add more liquid to soup it up again.

Enjoy!