East Coast chef Dan Barber has been making the circuit, promoting his new book – which is really an old idea. Barber is the co-owner and executive chef of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and the author of the forthcoming book, The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food. His NY Times editorial and spate of media interviews focus on using the whole farm. Not the whole hog, but the whole farm. How chefs and consumers cherry pick the best of the farm, purchasing heirloom tomatoes, but bypassing the less “moviestar” crops that are part of the crop rotation that contribute to the tomato crop.
Crop rotation is the centuries old agricultural practice of a series of crops (plants) that keep the soil healthy and in place. The rotation concept is that a diversity of crops contribute different nutrients, weed suppression and erosion control to the entire farm, so we were using nature and time to replenish nutrients into the soil. A traditional rotation included the money crops of corn and soybeans along wiith a three year planting of alfalfa or clover, with oats, rye and wheat taking sequential turns before going back to corn or beans.
The same is true on an organic vegetable farm like JenEhr. That beautiful broccoli, succulent tomatoes and luscious strawberries that Farmer Paul grows each year are the movie star fruit and vegetables. The rotation that leads to those crops include at least three years in clover chicken pastures, seasons where quick growing items like radishes are harvested and the rest of the season the field is fallowed, allowing weeds to grow and be chopped back into the soil – using up more of the weed seed bank and using the chopped weeds as green manure back into the soil. What Barber is saying is that those fallows don’t make the farmer any money, actually lose income but prepare the soil for the moviestar produce, which might or might not make more money for the farm, but has a greater potential market.
Enter CSA – One answer to the whole farm conundrum. CSA is about the rotation, its about B-star items like Hakuri turnips and mustard greens alongside tomatoes, romanesco and asparagus. CSA members contribute to the profitiblity and health of the whole farm: the necessary crop rotations, production abundances along with weather and insect induced failures.
Chef Barber is advocating that more chefs, as food rockstars, lead the way in this whole farm approach, developing menus and appetitites for the less glamorous produce grown on each farm. I personally think that its CSA members like you who are the real heroes, working with your farmer to literally eat the whole farm, through all the vagaries of weather, insects and consumer whims. Thank you.