EAT LIKE A FARMER: TEN MOTHERS FARM

Well folks, we're officially three weeks into the new year... how are ya'll doing on those goals for 2018?! My personal mission this year is to be a STUDENT every. single. day. To hold myself accountable, every night in my journal I write down just ONE thing that I learned that day. It can be as simple as mastering a new recipe, listening to an engaging podcast, or discovering something new about a stranger, a loved one, or even about myself. It's never too late to set goals for yourself, so if you're feeling inspired - I hope you'll join me in seeing each day as an opportunity to learn something new (and I'd LOVE to hear what you all are learning each day... let's hold each other accountable)! 

Every day I'm learning from farmers, chefs, line cooks, mothers, fathers, educators, and activists who work tirelessly to make the world a more healthy, resilient, and delicious place. In the new year, I'm excited to share more stories, lessons, and recipes from some of these rockstar men and women who are forging their own path - and they have the muddied boots to prove it.

Case in point: Vera Fabian and Gordon Jenkins, owners of Ten Mothers Farm, based in Hillsborough, NC. Their operation is small (1/3 acre) but mighty, and they use no-till methods to grow insanely beautiful (exhibit A) organic, nutrient-dense vegetables for their CSA members and local restaurants. The now husband and wife team first met in 2007, when Vera was a gardening teacher with The Edible Schoolyard, and Gordon was working for Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. Five years later, they packed their bags and trained as apprentices with some of the most respected farmers in the country: from Bob Cannard of Green String Farm in California, to Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch of Four Season Farm in Maine, as well as Ken Dawson and Libby Outlaw of Maple Spring Garden in North Carolina.

Needless to say, Vera and Gordon are a wealth of knowledge (and a breath of fresh air) in the world of food + farming, and I'm thrilled to share their Eat Like a Farmer interview with you all... keep scrolling to read all about Ten Mothers Farm, the kitchen tools + ingredients these farmers can't live without, and their secrets for cooking seasonal food with bold flavors. 

PS - Wondering where the name Ten Mothers Farm comes from? Vera and Gordon share the story on their website: "There’s an old saying from India that “garlic is as good as ten mothers,” which to us means that food is medicine, as nourishing and powerful as ten whole mothers. There’s  also a fantastic film by Les Blank called Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers. And really, we just love garlic." 

Gordon with Golden Beets in Spring field jpg.jpg
V clearing chard, action shot.jpg
Farm in the fall light.JPG
G harvesting carrots in early June.jpg
V, garlic harvest.jpg
May 11 box, little gems.jpg

Where is your farm located and what do you grow? Hillsborough, NC. We grow vegetables year-round on ⅓ of an acre. We don’t have a tractor so we do everything by hand, no-till. Most of what we grow is for our 54 CSA members and for a a few local restaurants. And then we grow plenty for ourselves too.

Walk us through a typical day on your farm and in your kitchen (ie what do you eat on a typical day)? Our days are constantly changing, depending on the season. This time of year, we get up by 4:45, have a good breakfast and head out to the farm before it gets crazy hot. Breakfast is usually soaked porridge with some hearty combination of yogurt, nuts, jam, sardines (this is Gordon’s secret to everything), and kraut or another ferment. Tuesdays and Thursdays are harvest and delivery days, Saturdays we do our farm walk, make the fresh list, and write the CSA newsletter, and other days we do everything else. I also work at a nearby farm for refugees from Burma and teach cooking classes for children and grown-ups, so I’m a little all over the place half the time while Gordon holds down the fort. No matter what, we always make time to cook, even if it’s just tomato sandwiches (that’s what’s for dinner tonight). We got into farming for the food, so it’s always top of mind. Plus, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do, as (generally) happily as we do it, without eating really well, so it’s a sensible obsession. Dinner is usually an armful of vegetables made into something delicious (roasted eggplant with fish sauce vinaigrette, pumpkin coconut curry with greens, sauteed okra with tomatoes) with a grain of some kind (rice, tortillas, grits, buttermilk cornbread). We’ll often put an egg on it or make a frittataand once or twice a week we’ll splurge and have some meat too. We always make enough food to have leftovers for lunch the next day. Farming without a tractor makes for very physical work which means we’re constantly hungry and thinking about food. We spend a ton of time in our kitchen and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

What is your favorite fruit or vegetable grow, and what's your go-to method to cook it? Garlic because it’s both flavor and medicine and we named our farm after it. Sweet peppers, not bells, because they’re like candy. Lettuce---I never thought I’d say this, but our lettuce has been so good this year. I’ve never eaten so much salad and now I can’t stop. Also, fresh herbs. We grow a lot of parsley, cilantro, basil, and dill and we put them in and on everything. We make parsley salad with lemon and anchovies and pestos out of any combination of herbs. They make everything better.

What kitchen tools could you not live without? A very sharp knife, our big, wooden cutting board, and our Thai mortar and pestle. It’s deep and pounds garlic into a paste in seconds.

Name the top three ingredients used most in your kitchen that don't come from your farm. Vinegars/lemons, olive oil and other fats, and salt.

Favorite cookbook? Right now I’m deep into “Salt Fat Acid Heat” by Samin Nosrat. She’s an incredible teacher and she’s funny. “The Taste of Country Cooking” by Edna Lewis and “The Art of Simple Food” by Alice Waters---these two women are my heroes. And for cooking as a way of life, “An Everlasting Meal” by our friend Tamar Adler.

Do you have go-to methods for preserving your harvests through the year (ie jamming, pickling, freezing)? We ferment everything: radish kimchi, kraut, chow-chow, dill pickles, carrot pickles, hot sauce, salsa. We make beet kvass regularly. Otherwise, we make vinegar pickles and we freeze a ton of tomatoes and sauce. Jam if we get to it.

What advice do you give folks for cooking with your produce, especially when using ingredients they may not be familiar with? Make a plan (that involves a lot of vegetables) and then proceed, boldly.

  1. Really, though, we’d be lost without our weekly meal planning. Every weekend, we make a list of what vegetables we want to eat, what other ingredients we have on hand, and from there, decide on what to cook each night of the week and what ingredients we need to acquire. This way we don’t have to make decisions while famished only to realize we don’t have that one key ingredient. It also helps us do things ahead, like soaking beans or salting a chicken or roasting a big batch of vegetables on Sunday to eat throughout the week.
  2. Make sure your plan includes tons of vegetables. I’m always shocked to hear how few vegetables most people eat when we all know we should be eating more of them. If we were CSA members, the two of us would probably have to buy 5 shares. I’m not kidding.
  3. When it comes to cooking, be bold. From teaching cooking, it seems that most folks are afraid of the very things that give our food flavor: salt, fat, acid and heat (thank you Samin! Read her book). Vegetables need a lot of healthy fat and salt to taste good and be nutritious. Otherwise, taste as you cook. Have an idea of where you want to end up. Remember the best meal you ever had. What did it taste like? Now try to get there. Trust your instincts. If you know what good food tastes like, then you’re halfway there. And if you use good ingredients, then you’re almost all the way there. My students are always surprised when something turns out tasting really good and I tell them: you’ve got good ingredients and a vision and your senses to tell you where to go. What could go wrong? Plenty actually, but wecan’t learn anything in life without messing up. So just start cooking, don’t be afraid to mess up, don’t give up, and always pay attention.

How has running a farm influenced your relationships with family, friends, and your local community? More than ever we feel how much we need strong relationships. There’s no way this farm would exist without the direct support of so many people. And more than ever, food is how we connect with each other and with our community. Farming is hard and farming organically in the Southeast is extra hard. At times, it can be discouraging so it’s important to be able to remind ourselves why we’re doing this. Most of the time we’re tired and hungry and all it takes is sitting down to eat together. Our social life is pretty much cooking for and with friends and going to potlucks. This is the life we want: we farm, we cook, we spend all day surrounded by vegetables, we share food with loved ones.

Share a favorite recipe for a simple, straight from the farm dish that you are craving this season: 

Lettuce Salad with Green Goddess Dressing

INGREDIENTS

  • a head or two of lettuce. Little Gems are our favorite but anything with some body and crispness, like Romaine or Summercrisp, is great.
  • a few handfuls of fresh herbs, finely chopped: any combination of cilantro, basil, dill (though be careful to only use a little dill--it’s strong), parsley, chervil, chives
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • Juice from 1 big lemon
  • ½ cup mayo (from a jar is just fine though homemade makes this dressing even more divine)
  • At least 4 teaspoons vinegar (red or white wine vinegar)
  • OPTIONAL: 3-5 anchovy filets
  • Salt to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

Wash the lettuce and spin it several times in a salad spinner. Dry greens are the secret to a good salad. If the leaves are wet, even a little, the dressing will run off them and make a watery mess.

While the lettuce dries fully, make the dressing. In a mortar & pestle, pound the garlic (and anchovy, if using) into a paste. Transfer this paste into a blender and add the lemon juice, vinegar, chopped herbs, a big pinch of salt, and mayo. Blend until creamy. Taste & adjust for salt and vinegar. If too thick, add a little water (not too much). This will probably make more dressing than you need for one salad. Keep the rest in the fridge and enjoy all week (see below for ideas). Toss your salad gently with your hands to make sure all the leaves are coated.

VARIATIONS: Also delicious over fresh tomatoes, roasted beets and cucumbers, on chicken, or used as a dip for whatever crunchy vegetable you’ve got.