Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Behind the Scenes at Barbee Farms...

You know I'm a huge fan and proponent of eating local and supporting the local food producers the best I can and whenever possible, right? And, if you've read a few blog posts back, you'll remember when I visited Barbee Farms earlier this year for a private tour. Brent Barbee showed me around before things started coming out of the ground. The grounds were empty, cleaned and ready for planting. An amazing site to see.

Fast forward to yesterday and things on the farm look MUCH different now. The once cleaned and dormant grounds are now bustling with corn, squash, melons, beans, okra, peach trees, and so on! It's mind blowing to think how much work these people have to go through to fill these acres with all this great stuff! They make their living on this, which puts it in perspective for sure.

I asked to help out back during my first tour and, of course, they were more than happy to take the free labor, lol. It excited me to be able to see another "behind the scenes" look of what goes on at a local family-owned farm.

My day started off at about 9 am at the Barbee's farm stand they have on the farm itself. The stand is open Monday through Saturdays at 1o am. People can come visit to pick up fresh picked produce, just minutes old in most cases, and enjoy food grown with love and hard work, the way it should be. Seems a lot of us have gotten away from that sort of eating, which is a shame. Anyway, moving along...

I was then taken to a green house where the seeds begin their journey in planters. We planted a couple kinds of squash and some lettuces. These will be planted later this year for the fall season. After they were watered in, we were off to the next project.

On our way to harvest some giant sweet musk melons, passing by the 7 foot corns stalks, an ear of corn called my name! I asked them to pull over and ripped a corn cob off, peeled it and revealed this bright white sweet corn. It's always been said that corn right off the stalk is really sweet and can be eaten raw. Well, I bit down and...wow...it was like eating corn-flavored-sugar. So good. I munched on that for a few minutes and started picking some melons. The taste of sweet corn stayed on my palette for a long time, yum. Later that night I roasted some whole cobs in the oven for dinner, but that's for another blog, lol.

Picking melons was a lot of fun. Someone drove the four-wheeler that puled this 20 year old trailer that's been patched together a million times, lol, but hung in there while we piled a few hundred pounds of cantaloupes on top of it. Three of us picked the nice sun-warmed, vine-ripened orbs and threw them like 10 pound footballs at our catchers who gently placed them into the trailer. As we walked the length of the rows of melon plants, the four-wheeler, trailer and catchers followed along with their eyes on us, waiting for the next beast to come flying. Occasionally someone would toss a rotten one and get the catcher full of rotting melon goo, pretty funny.

I could've have stayed their all day and helped out, but I had to get going to finish a few projects around the house. It's amazing what goes into running a small family farm. From planning to planting, to crop rotation to feeding, watering, picking, selling...hours and hours of back breaking work just to make a living. It makes more sense to me now why local food generally costs just a little bit more than the flavorless hockey pucks we get shipped from California!

Next time you visit a farmers market and buy from a vendor that actually grows, harvests and brings the food to market, just remember what it takes to get that ear of sugary white corn to the stand. How much sweat it takes to grow that heirloom tomato or white peach should be worth at least a few more cents a pound.

The very short time I helped out can't compare to the hours, days in and days out of back breaking labor it takes to support a farm. I had a great time though and I hope to do it again!

Seems sad to think that we as Americans have become more focused on saving a few cents at the grocery store to buy mass-produced flavorless foods or meats that are full of chemicals or from badly treated animals. I think we should revisit the "old days" and get back to out roots. Buy local and meet a farmer, it could change your life.

Do a comparison for yourself. Buy a tomato from the grocery store and buy a tomato from a local farmer. Cut them open and taste the difference, you may see what I mean. Words cant describe the difference.

Check out these pics:

Pick/ tossing cantaloupes

Corn fields

Taking a bite out of the sweet white corn! (yum)

Watering in the seeds

Week-old broccoli, cuties :)

Watering in more seeds...

Holes ready for seed receival (is that a word?)

Seeds are falling!

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

The monster we call "catering"!

Since I began this great new job as Chef for a crazy busy restaurant/ catering company , my HEAD'S been spinning with the numbers of people we've been feeding out of this little catering kitchen! With a tiny staff, we're knocking out numbers upwards of 500 people and boy are people talking!

I've never thought that I would be sitting here telling you, my loyal reader, about my crazy life in catering I've had these past two months. The owners tell me this is their "slow month" lol. Wow.

If there could be one word to describe the catering business as a whole, unpredictable would be that word. You prepare for 500 people and only 350 come so you're left with oodles of food left over. Or, worse case, you prep for 25 people and they eat like 50 and you run OUT of food, pissing everyone off in the process. Sucks. One thing I've learned in the short time I've been working for this company is that it's better to lean towards making too much food than not enough (at the same time, trying to keep food cost to a minimum, either way, its tough to please everyone).

Believe it or not, throughout all this crazy circus, I am working on a new restaurant menu to be used in both the main restaurant and the ever crazy comedy club. The new plate samples arrived, experiments have been done and its a great work in progress. In order to take full advantage of some great feedback, my target date for the tentative menu completion is August 8th. I will then spend the following 3 weeks tweaking and costing for a new-menu-roll out date of the week after labor day in September. Its pretty exciting and I'm blessed to have this fantastic job.

Sad thing is, though, I'm finding out how terribly out of shape I am physically. I hurt all over, especially my hips, back and arms (specifically my right arm where I do most of my knife work). Goody's Powder is getting me though this, lol.

Keep in touch for more fun and excitement here in my world.