The Great Grain Dinner

Posted on

The right angles of streets and structures in the Atwater warehouse district didn’t soften under the sepia lights. We parked in front of a rare break from the concrete and steel, in front of a stretch of wood with a suggestion of a door. “This must be it,” I said to Mark. A turn of the handle revealed towering thickets of bamboo lining a low-level lit path. We followed it, this meandering trail, through a hidden paradise to a haven of warmth and bright colors. We arrived at Elysium.

Leyna Lightman, event catalyst extraordinaire, partnered with Leonardo Bravo of Big City Forum to host a conversation between Mark Stambler, Bob Kunz, and I. We had a frank (might even say brutally honest) conversation about working with heirloom grains and, most critically, about running a small-scale, ethical business. We shared with the audience stories of our passion and hardships, and ultimately came out with a sense of optimism for what’s to come. I felt grateful to be with two people dedicated to pushing the boundaries of their craft, to break from the conventions of industrial production. This is the start of a collaboration to strengthen each other and a new California grain economy.

Not only do I feel optimistic, but also heartened. Bob told me about his experience opening the bag of my red fife and being amazed at the powerful, spicy smell — something he hadn’t experienced with grains before. I’m so glad he had fun with them! Mark spoke of his support for my farming practices, which audience members reiterated.

That evening of delightful surprises and wonderful company characterizes this trip to Los Angeles. The rest was more of that.

The next night was the grand dinner. 60 seats sold out and bomb-a** food and drink. It was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime affair. I’m so honored to have been part of this collaboration!

MAKER CREW

Root Simple

Posted on

I’m ready for constructive criticism on my radio speaking abilities.

Click HERE to listen to the Root Simple podcast where the interview me about farming during the drought.

In other news, I’m running around from town to town, moving farm, home, and hearts. Over the next few days, I’ll be giving talks and attending dinners centered on heirloom grains. I got to sample beer made from my red fife, and boy was it delicious! Right now I get to enjoy a moment of reprieve at Mark Stambler’s house, watching loaves of 100% Farmer Mai grain go into the oven. This is connection, this is community, this is a lovely life.

Expect the Unexpected

Posted on

I like planning. Farming forces me to make all kinds of plans, modify them, and entirely replan.

I planned to plant at the beginning of November. Before doing so, I needed to get compost, spread it, disc the field, and flatten it. The compost didn’t come until mid-November, it wasn’t spread until later, the discing happened a couple weeks ago, and the field was ready for seed this week.

You might ask why these delays matter. One answer: weather. You can’t, or shouldn’t, work the field when it’s too wet otherwise you’ll get stuck and compact the soil. You also want rains to moisten the ground enough to work it and rains at the right time to germinate the seeds. Planting too late might expose seeds to cold that slow germination or kill the young plants.

Here I am in December and its getting pretty darn cold. I decided to put in seeds that don’t mind, possibly even like, the cold: Red Fife and Spanish Spelt. Of course, seeding posed its difficulties as well.

Plan:

  1. Confirm horse-drawn seeding a week before
  2. Prepare seeds for planting
  3. Secure all-purpose seeder

Outcomes:

  1. Horse driver cancels day before confirmed planting due to urgent developments
  2. Spelt seeds have hulls and beards
  3. Seeder can’t run seed with hulls and beards

Thankfully, the horse-driver hooked me up with Luke Frey of Frey Vineyards who came out with his no-till seeder. Unfortunately, the spelt couldn’t pass through the individual accordion tubes that led to to the ground. My partner and I had to sit on the back of the seeder, pushing seeds down the tubes, milking the accordion tubes. Have you ever played whack-a-mole? It’s like that, except you use one hand to whack and the other hand to pull them down and they pop up simultaneously.

We finished by 4 PM with bloody and bruised hands and arms. The golden hour set in and rain drizzled from the sky. There’s no more to do, nothing to plan. It’s time to wait.