I have a fascination with small scale artisan farms, ranches, orchards, and where food is raised and grown. What actually goes on and how do daily operations actually work? It may be a desire to “feel” more connected to the food that we use, but in truth I’m just curious about what makes one place more special than the next. Do local producers and small farms grow superior food than commercial farm food found at the mega-grocery store? Or is it just cachet? We always talk about the joys of eating something grown in the garden and being picked right off the vine, but that equates to one or two strawberries a week... How are farmers able to produce the quantity and quality that you can get from your own garden?
To really see and support a family farm that I believe in, I asked my friend Damien of Bautista Farms, if myself and a fellow chef could come visit his farm. As a fully operational farm with staff mainly consisting of family members, I was surprised to hear his excitement of showing us what he does on a daily basis. I shared this eagerness.
About 10 miles south of San Luis Obispo, tucked away in Arroyo Grande, Damien leads in front of us to his family farm. Damien makes a right turn onto a dirt road and I see the farm’s logo; two strawberries painted on a white sign. A hill borders one side of the property, guarding the farm from harsh winds and creating shade, while running along side the hill is a creek that flows between the hillside and fields. Simply put, this place is beautiful and inspiring mecca for a cook.
Damien shows us around his fields and explains the difficulties and pressure placed on himself and fellow farmers to pursue the “certified organic” status, even while practicing organic methods, to growing produce that customers expect and not necessarily something that is interesting and unique, and to manage the added costs of packaging that customers are unaware of.
I enjoyed most about the visit was that there were no secrets to growing great produce. Any question asked, were answered honestly. There were no tricks or shortcuts to farming or cultivating methods; just tending to the soil, rotating crops to ensure nutrition of the soil, and meticulously observing the final product. Just simple and traditional farming methods. Bautista Farms uses no pesticides, and although it is a battle to protect their crops from bugs, Damien told me, “if the bugs won’t eat it, why would I feed it to my family, or anyone else”.
Despite the idea that local/organic/etc. is elitist, these people truly deserve an elevated title. The carrots are sweet and tender, the wild arugula is nice and peppery, and the salad greens are flavorful and unique; even the weeds are beautiful. The produce is really better. Thank you Damien and Bautista Farms. Can’t wait till Summer harvest.
“All great cooking comes from great ingredients. And great ingredients come from great farmers”
-Dan Barber, Blue Hill Restaurant and Farm