Thursday, January 26, 2012

I’m too old for this $#!T

Many, many, many factors were considered in the decision making process, the details of which aren’t that important here, but just so that you can get an idea, here are a few: proximity to family, proximity to where I want to end up after this apprenticeship is over, ease of travel to NY for friends and food and the south for friends and music, intellectual stimulation, social interaction and the feeling that what I am doing will make a difference. With all of these factors, and quite a few more, I have come to the very exciting decision to move to Pennsylvania and spend my farm year at Buckland Farm! 
There will be copious amounts of posts about this place, so I won’t go into any detail here now...

There was just one issue that I had to figure out. They offer housing at this farm for people such as myself, but its not quite ideal. Its a great cabin with a wood stove and a lot of charm, but it would involve sharing a small space with up to 5 other people, and I am simply too old for such shenanigans. I did the dorm thing and lived in a house with 4 roommates and I’m not sure if I want to relive that again. Plus, I know myself well enough by now to say that it wont make me happy, I need my own space. 

How to solve this problem? Living in a tent was idea number one, but 9 months in a tent is a bit excessive. In the barn amongst the chickens? They can be pretty mean. My dad came up with the winning idea, find a cheap camper, set it up on the property and you’ll have a home! 

So that’s what I did, and as of yesterday I am the proud owner of a 1982, 23 foot Winnebago Citation camper trailer. All I need now is a Collie, a super hot, blond South African Girlfriend and a death wish and I could be the star of an 80’s action movie! 
Seriously tho, it’s just about perfect and I look very much forward to spending the better part of a year in it and all its decorating color scheme that was probably called “shades of muddy puddles.”


I just spent a wonderful 24 hours in south central Pennsylvania at Buckland Farm and got to spend quite a bit of time with these painfully cute little piglets. They are from two litters and are about two and a half months old. They run around a bit and take extreme joy in attempting to eat your laces and cuffs, good thing I was wearing thick work pants! The best part is that they absolutely love belly rubs, they like it so much they stretch themselves out to maximize service area or simply roll over. I, being who I am, couldn’t resist thinking: “grow my little ones and one day this belly I am currently rubbing will be salty, rich, smokey and fatty bacon!” 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Where to Begin?

So, the idea is there; well formulated and detailed, but the question remains. How?
Do I just start driving around rural America picking farms at random, dropping in to see if they will host me for a year? Is there a section on Craigslist for “farm apprenticeships offered”? Wikipedia?  Darts on a map?
Thankfully I have some great resources at my disposal: the great friends and connections I have made after 12 years in the business and a wonderful website called WWOOF (world wide opportunities on organic farms). If anybody is considering this same path, I would say WWOOF is your best bet. They offer one week to one year internships at farms all over the world. (Mango farm in Costa Rica anyone? Wait, why am I not doing that?)
I also got some great advice from a friend, she said that I should match the relative ecosystem of wherever I go to where I want to end up. By that she meant that if I decide to move to DC to open a restaurant, then it would be ill advised to go and learn how to farm in the Pacific Northwest, Costa Rica or in Arizona, and vice versa. 
This narrowed my search to Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.  
Then I narrowed that search down to farms that fit my criteria of the ideal farm. Do they raise pigs? Do the having sugaring facilities? Keep Bees? Grow a wide range of heirloom crops? Offer room and board? Are organic and bio-diverse, etc etc etc. 
I sent my letter off to a large number of farms all over the north-east explaining my plan, and heard back from nearly all of them, which was cool. I am not going to bore you with the details of all the back and forth emails, but after a time I have narrowed the choices down to two: "Buckland Farm" outside Clearville PA and "Spence Farm" in Illinois (a friend set me up with them). 
I am headed to Buckland this Saturday (Jan 21) and I am very excited about this trip. The owners seem very engaged, smart, passionate and open and they are also very excited to meet me, so I got that going for me, which is nice. I will be visiting Spence within the next week or two and then I can come to a disicion, I will obviously keep you posted...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Reflection leads to interesting ideas...

I’ve been working as a chef for the past 11 years in cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and New York City, so needless to say I have  always worked with food and have, especially in recent years, been an avid proponent of the local and sustainable food movement, which, to me, is the only logical way to buy, prepare and serve food. I am in the process of planning a year long sabbatical, for lack of a better term; a year of working to learn, a year to work with the aim of acquiring a whole new skill set that still applies directly to my path of being a chef, but opens up ideas and perspectives that you forget exist after you’ve spend years in living in large cities, stuck in a small and confined space, cooking great food for people on the other side of a wall. 
I would always have direct contact with vegetables, meat and fish and all the other products that came into the restaurant, but only insomuch that I would purchase it from reputable sources, prepare it myself, always getting involved in everything that came through the door, and then serving it with love and care. But the relationship started and ended at the door to my kitchen. I, of course, understood where it all comes from. I read and research, I would meet farmers when they would come into the restaurant or at the local farmers markets, and I would ask questions of my purveyors, but I am still suffering from a fundamental lack of knowledge; the actual experience of producing, growing and raising the products that I have been working with and manipulating into extraordinary food for years and years. The knowledge that comes from mud under your fingernails and a sore back; from total immersion, hard work and a passion to learn. 
So what to do about this? Well, what I want to do is take the next year to work on a small family farm, going through all the seasons and learn every aspect of working on a farm, from planting seeds, weeding, feeding livestock, foraging wild edibles, fixing fences and machinery. From gathering firewood to tapping maple trees for sap. My ultimate goal is to have a fundamental, if still basic, understanding of how a farm operates, how to potentially live a self sufficient lifestyle, or even how to start a small farm of my own. 

        I will document the whole experience here, on this blog, in the hopes that I can teach and excite others through my experience and maybe even inspire some to follow in my footsteps. Here's to returning to our roots, to getting out hands dirty, to reaping what we sow in the most honest way. See you on the farm...