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Beth Chatto


From the Garden

(originally posted February 24, 2010)

Writing about gardening last week I felt overwhelmed with the space restrictions of this web-blog WTF format ~ not to mention what I can fairly expect of your attention span when I suspect most of you get dozens of newsletters a week. I lay in bed wondering: Did I make it clear that while I believe growing food may be the most sensible thing you can do in the dirt, it might not, does not, have to be the trigger to get you started? I feel almost guilty with how much time and energy I’ve spent indulging my passion for growing flowers and vines over the years, but there you have it. The life cycle from seed to wilt of almost any non-hybrid flora can get me jonesin’ like almost nothing else ~ god (or Irving Penn) only knows why.

The renaissance in back yard food gardening we are witnessing is a truly powerful thing. Transforming lawns that suck water like drunks on holiday can give you something approaching ultimate security. “I can feed myself’ is probably the most empowering sentence in the English language, especially now that “I am rich” as a marker has thankfully imploded (somewhat). But. The nourishment you will get digging in your garden over the years does not necessarily have anything to do with literal sustenance. Something else is afoot but don’t look for it. Spend enough time in your garden and it. will. find. you.

When I first moved to Healdsburg seven years ago I certainly wasn’t looking for new friends. One of the few real benefits of being older is that you don’t have to truck in euphemistic social bullshit anymore, your toddlers don’t need friends and hopefully your work life is based upon what you produce, making business socializing passé. But when the eldest called me up one day a few weeks after he had followed us here from England and said “I met a woman you have to know,” followed by “she has an incredible garden,” I jumped. Why?

I have honestly never met a true plants woman I didn’t want to hang out with. Irascible, yes, opinionated, most definitely, but you always have something to talk about with farmers and gardeners. Turns out Bonnie Z was all of the above, and dragonfly wasn’t a garden so much as seven acres of rose filled heaven. As has often happened in a blessed life, the garden interests soon lead to real friendship. Same thing when I moved to the ridge. The kids were little then and I was looking for friends for them as they were going to be stuck on a mountaintop, out of the city, for the first time in their lives. I befriended the woman down the road who had just moved to Philo as well, and had two of the most unaffected charming kids I’d ever met. Over the past three decades I have watched Karen Bates grow The Apple Farm in Philo into one of the more superlative farms ~ with flowers gardens ~ in the country. She and Bonnie work their acreage full time, while I do not, but I have grown through knowing them in ways that friendships not based on shared passions are at a loss to match.

I’ve picked both their brains for the shortlist below of our must read garden tomes ~ some very odd titles perhaps but books we return to for inspiration over the years. Lucky you….lucky me.

Happy reading.

Jil’s Short List: The Metamorphosis of Plants Johann Wolfgang von Goethe The Well Tempered Garden Christopher Lloyd In Your GardenIn Your Garden Again Vita Sackville West Green Thoughts Eleanor Perenyi Down the Garden Path Beverly Nichols Planting Diarmuid Gavin & Terence Conran Chefs Garden Terence Conran Allotment Handbook The Royal Horticultural Society The Dry Garden Beth Chatto

Bonnie Z’s Short List: Vintage Pellegrini Angelo Pellegrini Honey From a Weed Patience Gray Cooking From the Garden Rosalind Creasey Green Thoughts Eleanor Perenyi Compost Preparations and Sprays E.E. Pfeiffer Great Garden Formulas Rodale Press Book edited by Joan Benjamin and Deborah Martin The Worm Digest




Karen’s Short List: In and Out of the Garden Sara Midda Painted Garden Sara Midda The Unprejudiced Palate Angelo Pellegrini   Everything by Penelope Hobhouse



Speed Dating with Fork & Shovel in Healdsburg

(originally posted March 3, 2010)

Writing about gardens last week all my reference points seemed to be pulling from old friends and dead writers? A bit maudlin, no? Luckily, on Tuesday night Barndiva hosted Fork & Shovel’s annual get-together ~ a speed dating evening between the county’s best sustainable farmers and the chefs who rely on them. It was (excuse me for tempting fate) a hopeful evening in the extreme. Screw maudlin.

Fork & Shovel is primarily an Internet grange, but once a year we face off, flirting shamelessly about our varieties, heirlooms and breeds. A barn dance, without the music. A chance to build a definition of sustainable that can’t be co-opted. This is a crowd that doesn’t just know its food, it grows its food. Then cooks it.

But we really do live in different time zones. Think the Early Bird & the Owl on bio-dynamic crack.

The evening started a bit awkwardly ~ with everyone soaked from the rain and fumbling with name tags with either a fork or a shovel stamped on them. There were loads of new (young) faces. Luckily, Spencer had filled a huge punchbowl with one of his vodka and blood orange concoctions (this one held about 80 portions) and before long the drink wasn’t the only thing flowing. The evening officially began with a hilarious improv between Deborah Walton (Canvas Ranch) and Sondra Bernstein (Girl an the Fig) ~ issues of pricing, and delivery and how much mud a commercial kitchen can handle were deftly raised, then put to one side as farmers took to the podium, one by one. They had 30 seconds to charm chefs, tiny pencils hovering above Fork & Shovel pads.

John had brought the wood burning Rosso oven and before long crispy-edged pizzas laden with examples of the produce we’d just heard farmers singing the praises of started arriving on the bar. Even Mr. Hales, who is not known to enjoy anything he can’t eat with a knife and fork, seemed to be tasting one of each. (One of the nicer moments of the evening for me was sharing the Rosso energy under the makeshift tent during a sudden deluge ~ the smell of warm crust, wild mushrooms, arugula, chorizo, fontina was transporting).

We drank many bottles of wine ~ this is a great BYOB crowd ~ they bring it and they drink it. Bellwether contributed three gorgeous mounds of their new ricotta to taste, there was Big Dream Ranch Honey, Apple Farm Cider and Syrup and toward the end of the evening Doug Lipton opened bottles of his exquisite Home Ranch ’07 Muscat Blanc. If all that weren’t enough, everyone brought an old fashioned dessert ~ double stacked platters of cookies and fruit bars, spice cakes, cheese cakes, Hungarian “these are the walnuts I grow” layer cakes. Somewhere in heaven, Fanny Farmer was smiling down.

We are a Gossipy crowd: doll sheep, who already has tomato starts in the ground (lots of dubious eyebrow raising), how long before Sofia’s plow horses would be fully trained, and whoa, what to make of the sudden interest in classes on how to butcher whole animals? By the end of the evening Barndiva’s contract planting list had doubled, we had finally made it onto Liam Gallagher’s baby lamb allocation list, Karen agreed (though I doubt she will remember) to sell us a pig and do a cooking class with it in the new studio space, and I had collected the names of several goat farmers that swore they would serial call Chef Ryan. (My repeated efforts to bring this lean, light on the land source of protein to Barndiva’s menus have not, up to now, been successful.)

Fork & Shovel is about farmers and chefs working together to create an honorable business model that brings our enthusiasm to the public through increased sales. But we also share a landscape, a view. We are all trying to survive, to thrive even, in this difficult recession, growing beautiful food and cooking it with commitment and passion. We ended the evening with a promise to launch a series of First Sunday Fork & Shovel Dinners across the county.

I suppose maudlin serves a purpose, but what keeps me going in this business does not reside in looking backward. It is knowing that everything these farmers plant tomorrow, any animal they raise, might eventually land on a plate somewhere in my kitchen, eye to eye with Chef Ryan, to be blessed by his talent before being sent out for you to devour in the dining room. “Eat the view” is the most heartening three words in my vocabulary.

Here is the list of Barndiva’s fellow speed daters on Feb. 23, 2010.

Reminder: even if you were born to it and have your parent's experience to pull on, farming is crazy hard work with very few pots of gold at the end of the day. (Pots of poop is more like it. Which is gold to them). Support these sustainable farmers by frequenting the talented chefs who feature their food.

(The list below represents about half our membership. For a full list, visit and become a supporting member!)

Fork & Shovel Farmers who speed dated Tuesday Feb. 23 @ Barndiva

Bellwether Farms, Big Dream Ranch, Blankety Blank Farms, Canvas Ranch, Cultivating Impact, De Vero, Dragonfly, Early Girl Farms, Eastside Farm, Foggy River Farm, Gleason Ranch, Gretchen Giles (editor of The Bohemian), Healdsburg Eggs, Home Farm, Jim Leonardis Organics, Linda Peterson (representing Farm-Link), Mendocino Organics, Mix, Nana Mae Organics, Owen Family Farm, Oliver’s Market, Paula Downing (F&S Steering Committee, SR and Sebastapol Farmers Market Director), Quetzal, Sky Saddle, Sonoma Meat Buying Club, The Philo Apple Farm,Weed Farm

List of Restaurants Chefs they flirted unabashedly with:

Barndiva, Boon Eat & Drink, Cyrus, Dry Creek Kitchen, Inn at the Tides, Jimtown, Mateo Granados Catering, Mayacamas, Nick’s Cove, Park Ave Catering, Ralph’s Bistro, Relish Culinary School, Rosso Pizzeria and Wine Bar, Santi, The Girl & the Fig/ ESTATE/ The Girl & The Fig Cafe, Vintage Valley Catering, Zazu, Zin

All text and photography, Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted)