What to Eat in November: A Guide to Southeastern Seasonality

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Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us. Thus begins the time for Thanksgiving meal planning, and of course, we recommend you orient your menu around foods that are locally grown and in-season. This list reflects a general guide of what can be found in the Southeast, although it varies. On your next trip to the farmers market, ask what your local growers will be serving at their own Thanksgiving feasts. 

Fruits
Apples
Cucumbers
Grapefruit
Oranges (Valencia and Temple)
Persimmons

By little coincidence, we tend to drink our fruits rather than eat them as the weather grows colder. With this month's bounty of grapefruit, try this recipe for Clarified Milk Punch by Michael Clancy at The National in Athens, GA. 

Vegetables
Arugula
Beets
Bok Choy
Broccoli
Brussel Sprouts
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Collard Greens
Field Peas
Greens
Kale
Lettuce
Mushrooms
Peanuts
Pecans
Spinach
Sweet Potatoes
Radish
Tomatoes
Turnips
Winter Squash

Looking for a decadent dish to win Thanksgiving this year? This Butternut Squash Risotto is a guaranteed hit. 

Kate Van Cantfort + Lotta Mae's Supply Co.

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“They rode up on a bicycle,” Kate Van Cantfort recalls of one of the early days of Lotta Mae’s Supply Co.

It was a late summer day when Oscar Clarke and Casey Magner happened upon the newly opened farm, garden and home shop. Not minutes after they peeked into the small store, they proudly returned with some of “the most engineered, highest quality goods” Kate had ever seen. The professional team mechanic cyclists and childhood friends had been handcrafting practical, durable bags and packs under the moniker Magner Co. during their off-season.

“You think you can sell them?” they asked. “I think you can’t stop me from selling them,” Kate replied.

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Kate grew up in Milledgeville, Georgia, raised by parents who owned small market radio stations in Jesup, LaGrange, McRae, Gordon and Milledgeville.

“Their whole business was about the success of other small businesses, so I’ve always been small business minded,” said Kate.

Lotta Mae’s Supply Co. reflects this attitude in every hand-selected item displayed on shelves built by the hands of one in-town carpenter. On day one, Kate opened her doors to a line that lasted five hours to visit a shop stocked and designed with just local inventory.

This is Kate’s definition of community development – harness the multiplier effect made possible by supporting the local producers and thereby the local economy. “It’s been part and parcel to my life’s work,” she said.

Proudly, Kate already stocks three makers’ goods who have never had placement in a shop before. She’s coached them and helped encourage their brands. It’s only the beginning. The quality of the product is non-negotiable and the story of the maker, just as crucial.

The medley of goods that fill Lotta Mae’s all have that in common, that and the necessity of purpose. An axe is a tool, and if she’s going to sell a clutch, it better be durable enough to be tossed around a dirty truck bed next to a bag of feed.

Kate is a strong, confident woman. She drives a big pick-up truck. She doesn’t hesitate to tell it like it is, or like she sees it. Years of activism wouldn’t allow it. Her tall stature commands attention, and her life’s many turns along the way all somehow led to the space she has created in the semi-industrial corridor alongside the railroad tracks of Barber Street in Athens, Georgia.

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In one of the first photographs of Kate as a baby, you’ll find her wrapped in a carrier with her mother protesting the landfill in Gordon, Georgia leaking into the water supply. At a young age, Kate’s father sent her to record the news at the city council meetings.

“This is what happens when you do this with a child, when you force civic-mindedness at a young age,” Kate said. She grew up with the powerful feeling that she too could press on the levers of change.

In her 20’s and early 30’s, Kate bounced between gut-wrenching social work and quests of personal integrity. She ran a shelter until she couldn’t any longer, then lived in a cabin in Moose, Wyoming with no utilities. She worked for an anti-poverty and homeless organization in Colorado, then went off-grid on top of a mountain in New Mexico doing environmental work.

Through her first marriage, Kate found herself in Kansas. Despite feeling suffocated in the heart of Monsanto, she quickly gained a following as an informal greening guru, a lovingly nicknamed plastics conspiracy freak. In her husband's big agriculture machine manufacturing building, she found her space on Saturday mornings, having carved out a section in the front aisles to sell organic seeds and starts, gloves and magazines for farm wives, and coffee with muffins to be enjoyed while reminiscing on farming life long past. 

“These are crusty ass Kansas farmers, old guys. They would come in and look at stuff. The first few times they wouldn’t say much, just seeing what this Georgia lady was doing,” Kate remembered fondly. “Then they would sit and talk, and it was all memories of what their grandma had grown. They had me tracking down these seriously old fashioned cucumbers and melons.”

Kate was always the one asking what now, and developing community always resurfaced as her way of making an impact.

In 2004, back in Athens upon her mother’s request, Kate bought one of the first new construction homes on Peter and Arch Street, in the heart of the historically poor black “Iron Triangle”. Encouraged instead of scared by the old southern gentleman who warned her of the purchase, she was the second white person living on the block. A self-proclaimed companion gardener, Kate welcomed the afternoons when she would garden and tell stories with the widowed black women who had occupied that neighborhood forever.

“All this time [in social work] I’d been a gardener on the side. I’ve been calling it a farmender – bigger than a garden, smaller than a farm,” she said.

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In 2017, Kate finds herself again in a transitional neighborhood, wedged between a hipster coffee shop and a family shelter, with a chance to lovingly engage with her community and hopefully challenge barriers to diversity of race, age, income and lifestyle along the way.

“The first time you do something different it’s the hardest, and its easier every time after that. If the first time you go in here…and it’s not the perceived notion that its difficult, maybe we’ll make some change happen,” she said.

Before deciding on this space for Lotta Mae’s Supply Co., Kate literally backed her truck in. She did her homework. She researched. Kate Van Cantfort is thorough. While staying true to her vision, a vision she’d been cooking for years, she wants Lotta Mae’s to tap into what this community needs from it too.

“If [my customers] couldn’t pull in a dually to throw in 50 pounds of feed then I wasn't going to have that kind of clientele,” she said. “They needed to feel comfortable driving their truck down the road to get where I was.”

With Kate, the sky is the limit. She is constantly dreaming as she walks through her small, bright square footage, imaging more from classes and workshops, to community meetings, to bee-keeping out back, a tool co-op and maybe even a chicken hotel.

“I want to have functional items that are high quality, that are not for luxury. I balk at [the idea that] only people with certain income have the right to have quality items.”

The brilliant aesthetic of Lotta Mae’s Supply Co. may be accidental according to Kate Van Cantfort, but the positive consequences of one woman’s “second child” will all be intentional.

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Words by Erin Wilson
Photographs by Paige French

Celebrating Atlanta's Bounty at Concrete Jungle's Finders Keepers Dinner

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Take a walk around Atlanta during the spring, summer and fall, and you might notice ripe fruit, squashed onto sidewalks and crushed beneath your feet. It’s a bounty that often goes unnoticed. This verdant “City in the Trees” is home to thousands of fruit trees and bushes, many of which grow untended on residential lots and in public spaces. 

The founders of Concrete Jungle saw an obvious solution for the wasted fruit: Why not harvest it to feed the city’s hungry and homeless? Since the organization was established in 2009, they’ve donated more than 60,000 pounds of produce from neglected trees in the city and throughout North Georgia (as well as what's grown on their own small farm) to Atlantans in need. 

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Their ingenuity is worthy cause for celebration, and on Sunday, November 5th, lucky diners will have the chance to do just that. Local chefs Philip Meeker of Bright Seed, Ryan Smith of Staplehouse and Sarah Dodge of 8arm are working together to serve the Finders Keepers dinner, a 10+ course dinner featuring preserved fruits foraged by Concrete Jungle throughout the year. The meal will also be complemented by wine, beer and cocktails prepared by Julian Goglia of The Mercury and The Pinewood. 

To learn a little more about the inspiration behind the event, we spoke with Chef Philip Meeker.

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The Seed & Plate: What do you enjoy most about cooking with foraged fruits?

Philip Meeker: They have a taste that's different than the fruits you find in supermarkets. The flavor is not always better or worse; it's just different. It's always interesting to find those different flavors. Even on the same tree you get so many different flavors from one kind of fruit. It's interesting to play around with that because you can draw out subtle differences that you don't get from regular mass-produced fruits. For this dinner, the idea is to express the individuality of the fruits as much as possible in each dish.  

S & P: What drew you to work in collaboration with Concrete Jungle?

Meeker: I think the work they do is so cool. They not only try to make all of thsee old fruit trees around town an important part of the landscape; they also use them to help feed people who need food. It's food that would otherwise go to waste. I hate to see food wasted, and it's great to see people taking food that would otherwise just be laying on the ground and rerouting it to people who need it. 

S & P: Is there a particular dish you can’t wait to serve at the dinner?

Meeker: Not really! I look at the dinner more holistically, and I'm just excited about telling the story about this year's fruit harvest through the fruits collectively. But each fruit will be expressed individually within its own dish. I'm excited about each fruit and the way I've preserved each of them.

S & P: When did you begin preserving fruits for the dinner?

Meeker: Either May or April... I started getting serviceberries right around then and started to preserve those in different ways. Every now and again when a new fruit comes in, Craig (who sits on the board) will give me a call and I'll pick up a different bag of goodies from him or from Katherine, who runs Concrete Jungle. 

S & P: Do you hope that people will leave inspired? 

Meeker: I hope that the sparks people's imagination to think about what we can achieve through maintaining a diverse food system. I think food diversity is really important, and garnering support for the idea of having more varieties of fruits and other foods in the marketplace is important. Each one of these different varieties has a different genetic code that enables it to survive and thrive under certain conditions. Especially as weather patterns become less predictable, having these different varieties available to us for agriculture and for creating food — I think it'll be way more important. 

S & P: How did preparing for this event challenge your creativity?

Meeker: I think one thing that's interesting about all the fruits that I've preserved for the dinner is that I haven't made any jams so far in preserving them. Instead I've opted to use salt and vinegar fermentations. So they'll be a subtlety with the fruit that is interesting and uncommon and perhaps unfamiliar to some people. 

S & P: How do the values of Concrete Jungle align with those of Bright Seed, your own business of personal chef services, cooking classes and edible garden planning?

Meeker: I've always valued local food, especially when it's been grown in a responsible way, and I try to use it in my work as much as possible. Most of these fruits, they just grow on their own and they're thriving with little human intervention. I think being a good chef is about highlighting that beauty just as much as it is coming up with inventive preparations.

Tickets for the Finders Keepers dinner are $120 and can be purchased here. A $20 discount is offered to Concrete Jungle members. 

Story by Jodi Cash

Photos by Dessa Lohrey
 

Victory Hemp Foods is a Win for Kentucky

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When the 2014 Farm Bill passed, Chad Rosen knew the provisions for industrial hemp could mean good business. The bill provided that, for the first time in about 70 years, hemp could be grown legally in the state of Kentucky (as well as nine other states, all under a five year research period). The native Californian made a move from San Diego to the Bluegrass State to take root in the open field of opportunity. 

Hemp has long been a hotly-contested crop. It’s a member of the cannabis sativa family, just like it’s more famous relative, marijuana. The distinguishing factor is that hemp has an exponentially lower amount of THC. “Just like all dogs are canines, a lot of those canines have very different phenotypical traits,” Rosen says. “A greywolf has really long sharp teeth, a chihuahua is really annoying and has a sharp shrill bark, so those are phenotypical traits. So just like that cannabis sativa has this one phenotypical trait that we're looking for, which is the amount of THC. And if it's less than 0.3% THC, our government defines it as industrial hemp.” 

This important distinction allowed Rosen to found Victory Hemp Foods, a company that produces organic hemp products like oil, protein powder, flour, and de-hulled seeds. He launched the company in June of 2016, not just seeing opportunity for himself but for all of Kentucky. 

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Tobacco left a gaping hole in the Kentucky economy. The state once economically subsisted almost entirely on family tobacco farms, but between deregulation, buyouts and a drastic change in demand, it no longer offers a livelihood to Kentucky farmers. Between 1997 and 2015, the number of U.S. tobacco farms dropped by more than 95 percent — 93,330 to 4,268. What few tobacco farms still exist are mostly found in the Carolinas and Tennessee. But even before tobacco reigned supreme in Kentucky, hemp was a vital cash crop there, grown for use as riggings on naval ships since the late 1700s. 

In 1936, the movie “Reefer Madness” was released to frighten young people away from marijuana. A year later, as the intended craze swept the country, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, which criminalized the drug. This legislation ultimately meant that industrial hemp production also came to a screeching halt. It resumed in 1942 when the USDA produced the video “Hemp for Victory,” encouraging farmers to resume growing the crop to support the war effort. Farmers in Kentucky and elsewhere produced the crop, which was ultimately used to make parachutes, ropes, webbings, shoes, clothes and other vital products. Farmers who grew hemp for the war effort were dually rewarded. Yet still, in 1957, the crop was outlawed again as part of drug-related legislation. 

Rosen saw the possibilities, and he launched a business named in honor of hemp’s wartime purpose. “I started to see all the different uses for hemp, so that’s how I got focused on the hemp foods, because I saw that it's in 7000 retailers in North America and we import 98% of our hemp foods from Canada,” he says. “I thought that it was just the perfect place for an entrepreneur to sink his teeth in. And also given the potential impact it could have, I knew that if it wasn't done right, it would just be another failure of ag to have an impact where it really could.” 
When Rosen talks about impact, he’s got his eye on several factors. He wants to create products that are sustainable, in terms of how they were grown and how they’re commodified. He wants to offer foods that are nutritious. He wants to educate consumers on the value of hemp. And he wants to put fair wages in farmers’ pockets by providing a supply chain for a crop that could replace the revenue tobacco once provided. He’s only a little more than a year into his business with Victory Hemp Foods, but he’s succeeding on all fronts. 

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“We have such strong potential to create an enormous amount of demand and demand is always good for farmers,” he says. “If demand can outrace supply, farmers would be in good shape, right? And so if we don't talk about it as hemp, and we just look at the nutritional profile, it's absolutely amazing. It's got all nine essential amino acids, and proteins are just amino acids, so it's a complete plant-based protein, it has more digestible protein than, say, soy or flax or chia ... It's an amazing protein.”

It’s a matter of creating a demand for high quality products, made from a sustainably sourced crop. This is how farmers can receive parity, which is fair pricing that compensates for all inputs — something that hasn’t happened in Kentucky since the heyday of tobacco. 

“So, not that I've figured out a way for it to have this great impact and restore all our small family farms, but it definitely has the potential and I think that it's going to come down to the policies that processors and the philosophies that processors kind of build this industry through … I mean we have the most amount of small family farms in Kentucky, and you also have the highest declining rate of small family farms, and so how does hemp fit into that?”

It’s a deeply important question. All of the elements are in place for hemp to succeed in Kentucky: the farmers can grow it; there’s infrastructure for things like dairy farming, but the dairy farms are gone, so the infrastructure can be used for hemp milk; and it can be made into high end, highly-desirable value added products. Aside from oil, protein powder, flower and de-hulled seeds, Victory Hemp Foods collaborates with other artisanal food purveyors to create things like hemp chocolate, whipped hemp heart honey and hemp pasta. 

It’s too soon to say whether hemp will be the answer Kentucky farmers have been waiting for, but it’s likely to play a role in redeeming the rural economy. And Victory Hemp Foods is at the forefront of making that possible.

Story by Jodi Cash

Photos by Ethan Payne
 

Drinking with Literature: Richard Ford and Whiskey Neat

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When I was a first-semester freshman in college, I checked out an enormous hardbound copy of Richard Ford's entire Frank Bascombe trilogy from the school's library (I'm aware it's not a trilogy anymore, but I haven't accepted that in my heart). Every day, I would go to the gym and read Ford while doing cardio. I'm still not sure how I did that without vomiting from dizziness, but my point is that I can't process the brilliance, sadness, and mundanity of Ford without being at once physically exhausted and exhilarated. 

This habit caused a personal crisis. Ford is someone on whom you can think, but should never overthink. Thus to consume this work, you should relax rather than run, and sip rather than chug.

In case you haven't read it (and I really think you should): the Frank Bascombe series is about a man named, you guessed it, Frank Bascombe. He was a married sportswriter at one point, with a son, but he went through a bitter divorce and refers to his ex-wife only as 'X' throughout the series; later, he finds a career in real estate which is thrown out of whack by Hurricane Sandy. The books are very 1980s-2000s New Jersey, though Ford himself comes from a blue-collar Mississippi family. Frank is honestly an asshole, but that's besides the point. Richard Ford has made a life for him in these books (The Sportswriter, Independence Day and The Lay of the Land comprise the aforementioned trilogy; the complete Bascombe works include the fourth book, Let Me Be Frank With You), and it's incredible to imagine that this man exists only in another man's mind. There's no sense in a plot summary, because the books are moved by intimate detail rather than by story. That's something I like; again, that's a sip, not a chug. Feel the way the taste changes in your mouth the longer it sits. How it changes from the front of the palate to the back. You aren't here to get drunk. You are here to taste a drink, a tincture, a preparation.

That being said, I tried to get my grandma to read the series and she gave it up, said it "didn't go anywhere and didn't have a moral." Figures: her drink of choice is Pinot Noir, pronounced in her thick accent as Peanut Noor.

For a drink that you can (and should) drink as slowly and thoughtfully as you read Ford's masterful, Pulitzer Prize-winning trilogy, we recommend Swift Distillery's Single Malt Texas Whiskey, served neat. 

 

Story by Ryan Murphy

Photographs by Jodi Cash

What to Eat in October: A Guide to Southeastern Seasonality

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Autumn is upon us. This shoulder season brings about some of our favorite flavors of the year: baked goods made with warm spices, gourds that flourish in all shapes and colors and slow-cooked stews and soups. This guide is meant to inform your seasonal shopping and meal planning pursuits, though the best way to determine what you should eat this month is to check out your local farmers market to see what they’re selling. 

Fruits:

Apples
Cucumbers
Grapes
Pears

The crisp air of October calls for a change not only to the way we’re eating, but also to the way we’re drinking. In the height of apple harvests, enjoy the Old Man Smith, a seasonal take on the classic Old Fashioned.  

Vegetables:

Arugula
Beans
Beets
Bok choy
Broccoli
Cabbage
Carrots
Collard greens
Eggplant
Greens
Herbs
Kale
Lettuce
Mushrooms
Okra
Peanuts
Peas
Peppers
Persimmons
Pumpkins
Radishes
Summer squash
Sweet potatoes
Tomatoes
Tomatillos
Turnips
Winter squash
Zucchini

This is also the season to begin preparing food more slowly and thoughtfully, as in our recipe for Slow-Cooked Okra, Fennel and Carrots. And if you’re looking to reinvent a roasted vegetable dish this month, try our Turmeric Turnips with Spinach Chimichurri.

Words by Jodi Cash

Photo by Rinne Allen
 

What to Eat in September: A Guide to Southeastern Seasonality

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Here we are at the turning point of summer to fall, a time when fields are still verdant and bountiful but cooler winds begin to blow. The temperatures in September are particularly unpredictable, so as always, it’s best to go straight to the source and ask your local farmers what’s still growing in their gardens. This guide is meant to help you plan seasonal meals this month, and we highly recommend finding sustainable sources in your area for September’s fruit and vegetable offerings. (Naturally, what’s in season will also vary state to state.)

Fruits:

Apples
Cucumbers
Figs
Grapes
Ground Cherries
Peaches
Pears
Persimmons
Raspberries
Tomatillos
Tomatoes
Watermelons
Valencia Oranges

Peaches are on the last threshold of freshness in South Carolina, so be sure to preserve them while you can using our Peach Butter recipe. And while the warm days continue, cool off with our The 5 & 10’s recipe for Scuppernong Sorbet, one of our very favorite frozen treats. 

Vegetables and legumes:

Beets
Bok Choy
Cabbage
Collard Greens
Edamame
Eggplant
Chili Peppers
Chives
Garlic
Green Beans
Greens
Green Onions
Herbs
Kale
Lettuce
Leeks
Lima Beans
Mushrooms
Okra
Onions
Peanuts
Peas
Pecans
Peppers
Pole Beans
Potatoes
Pumpkins
Radishes
Shell Beans
Spinach
Sprouts
Summer Squash
Sweet Potatoes
Turnips
Winter Squash
Yams
Zucchini

With football season in full swing, there’s no better time to whip up our recipe for Classic Boiled Peanuts and win the favor of your tailgating friends. Our Heirloom Squash Pie is also sure to please for those who would rather enjoy vegetables as a dessert. 

Words by Jodi Cash

Photograph by Paige French
 

What to Eat in August: A Guide to Southeastern Seasonality

Foraging for wild grapes might just be our favorite edible activity this season. 

Foraging for wild grapes might just be our favorite edible activity this season. 

Although the precise seasonality of crops varies throughout the Southeast month-to-month (and of course, it’s contingent on the weather which is only more erratic all the time), this is a general guide to help you seek out the right stuff at your local markets. Don’t let this stop you from exploring other options offered by your farmers — when it comes to seasonality, they know best!

Fruits:

Apples
Apricots
Blackberries
Blueberries
Cantaloupes
Figs
Grapes
Nectarines
Peaches
Raspberries
Tomatoes
Watermelons
Valencia oranges

Try those abundant blueberries in our Blueberry-Sherry Vinegar Shrub. This Muscadine Spritz is another of our favorite ways to beat the heat this month. 

Vegetables and legumes:

Butter beans
Cabbage
Collard greens
Corn
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Field peas
Green beans
Greens
Herbs
Okra
Onions
Peanuts
Peppers
Pole beans
Summer squash
Sweet potatoes
Zucchini
Zucchini blossoms


Summer squash steals the show in this Stuffed Summer Squash with Kielbasa Pork. We also love to feast on okra and peppers in this Trinidadian Pepper Pot

Words by Jodi Cash

Photograph by Paige French

The New Stice Wine: From Coast to Coast, Farm to Table

Meet Phil Stice
 
It’s 5 o’clock on the first Friday of January, and Phil Stice is in his element, hosting a wine tasting at Seabear Oyster Bar in Athens, GA. He does events like these from time to time in Athens, where he lives, and Atlanta, where he earns most of his living. Uncorked tonight are some of the hippest new wines to come out of California, establishment-defying Chardonnays and Grenache blends that are setting new standards for what California wine is and what a California winemaker can or should be. Unbeknownst to most of the Athens retirees, University-affiliated yuppies, and young, pretty service industry professionals scattered about the bar, Phil Stice is not only a wine taster and the chief sales representative for a small boutique company called Specialty Wines, but he is also a winemaker himself. He’s spent significant time in farms and cellars and released his first wines earlier this year. So while “Dr. Phil,” as he is sometimes affectionately known, simply charms the small seafood establishment’s patrons and educates them on the nuances of the nouveau Cali juice at their fingertips, he’s also part of the story of what’s changing in California, and an example of the way these changes are helping make American wine more interesting, delicious, occasionally cheap and definitely cool.
 
Stice is good-looking, with clear blue eyes, short wavy hair and an easy smile. He’s quietly confident and possessed with an impeccable palate. He’s also culturally ambidextrous, as easily at home in a crowded bar watching a soccer match as he might be in a high-level wine grape biogenetics lecture in the oenology program at the University of California at Davis. He came to the wine business honestly, if not directly. Raised in Athens, Georgia, he attended both the local public high school and the local public University, where his father is a Ph.D. in the Animal Dairy Science Department. Two cousins, however, are winemakers in California (one at Caymus in Napa and the other at Bohème in Sebastopol, California, near the Russian River Valley). While Stice started out pre-med with a biology major in college, he eventually tacked on a horticulture minor and finished college while doing a Maymester in Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Georgia’s campus in Tuscany. After that experience, he left his medical dreams behind and turned his sights to the California side of the family business. The only “Dr.” in his name may be the one Athens has given him.
 
First he went to work locally at Tiger Mountain Vineyards in North Georgia, just around the corner from Goats on the Roof on Highway 441 near the North Carolina border. In the fields with iPhone buds in his ears, hedging and thinning the grapevines, then harvesting the grapes, then diving into the cellar work of fermentation and aging, Dr. Phil learned the process from the earth up and back down again. That same year his cousin hired him on at Caymus. There, he learned the work ethic of a vineyard field crew, farming alongside the locals from dawn to dusk. He also had the pleasure of a work trip to Mendoza, Argentina to see first-hand a wine operation south of the border. With a solid foundation in the field, he came back to Georgia. Working at a boutique wine shop in Atlanta, he sharpened his palate on the bottles of white Burgundy brought in from the generous clientele’s home cellars for Friday tastings. Then he set out again for the west coast, interning at Rhys Vineyards in a California wine American Viticultural Area (AVA) called the Santa Cruz mountains, where he spent more time in the cellar learning the chemistry of winemaking. This time when he came back, he established the Stice Wine Company.  

The Changing Model for California Wine
 

In theory, there are two sorts of models for how California wine has always been made. The first is the estate model, which is largely the model we think of when we think of Napa Valley: the huge, ornate mansions (and Cabernets and Chardonnays to match them) with rolling, winding hillsides of beautiful vines and paths and irrigation systems, in-house farming operations that operate like clockwork, big tasting rooms and 5-star restaurants. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the grower model — the small, back-to-the-or-never-left-the-land farmers who grow grapes alongside chickens and goats and oranges and make wine with it themselves, day after day, year after year. While both tales have their basis in fact, the truth, it seems, is a little cloudier, more interesting and in some ways more troubling.
 
For example, there are many people and families and farmers in California who have grown grapes for decades and never made a single bottle of wine. They sell the grapes in a variety of ways, either through established contracts with estates or other producers, or through the help of the “grape broker,” who lines up potential buyers, especially for fruit that is unaccounted for toward the end of a harvest. More likely, these growers turn to what Jon Bonné, author of “The New California Wine,” calls the “Big Three:” Gallo, Constellation Wines and the Wine Group. These big California companies are responsible for producing two out of every three bottles of California wine. The five biggest producers after the “Big Three” account for another 20% of California wine (these are names you’ve heard of: Two Buck Chuck, Sutter Home, Kendall-Jackson, Beringer, etc). Together that’s over 80% of the wine being made in California. What’s interesting (or troubling) is that these companies don’t necessarily own all of the land or fruit that 80% of the state’s wine is being made from, but they find a way to access it, and often, to control its production and distribution (and revenue). Even in situations where landed California estates or small, sustainable producers own some of the land or fruit and produce some wine from it on their own, they just can’t compete with the low-cost production of the “Big Three” or the skyrocketing property value of the wine industry it created. What’s more, according to Bonné, the “Big Three” and the other major grocery store brands often don’t have anything to do with farming most of the juice that goes into the bottles you drink — they buy mass-produced grapes from the Central Valley to use for their cheap labels. This stuff comes from vineyards who go heavy on herbicides, insecticides, irrigation, nitrogen and steroids, essentially overproducing their fruit by overstuffing the soil and then packaging the juice up and shipping it out like a truck full of chickens bound for the plant. There’s no time for hands-on farming or winemaking decisions, only a guaranteed profit and a need for more chemicals the next year. 
 
Meanwhile, the remaining 20% of California’s wine is being produced by winemakers and farmers who’ve fought long and hard to buy land, or lease land to grow grapes, or purchase small batches of grapes through brokers to make wines that no one has heard of, unless you’ve gone looking for them. These farmers and winemakers are attached to the land, even if it’s not their land; they are attached to a sense of place and the special kind of wine it can produce, even without maximizing its yield with irrigation or pesticide; they are attached to idea that California wine has something more interesting and more rewarding and perhaps even more sustainable to offer than Two Buck Chuck (full disclaimer: as a cheap graduate student, I bought dozens of bottles of Charles Shaw at Trader Joe’s and drank them enjoyably and without remorse). But when you have the pleasure of spending wine time with Dr. Phil, who quietly yet charismatically and humbly claims that there is something out there that’s a little better, that isn’t necessarily more expensive, that tells a story of its own, that looks past the “Big Three” without attempting a revolution, that focuses simply on making good wine, while empowering the people and noticing the places that do it, why not dig a little deeper, learn a few new things, venture out and take a chance? After all, it only involves drinking more wine.

Phil Stice Makes a Chardonnay

Fortunately for Phil, his family had a built in love for wine and his cousin Kurt at Bohème was the perfect guy to lean on when it came to making wine. Kurt leases approximately 20 acres of land over three vineyard sites and is somewhat of a testament to the ways the wine business is changing in California, charting a different path between or outside of the mythical estate and grower models. Perhaps because of this, Kurt is adamant that the business side of winemaking must be viable: “there are serious costs to managing the entire process of making wine from start to finish, not to mention the extreme overhead just to lease vineyards to farm and harvest grapes”. For Kurt, running a good business is part of the sustainability project, which is part of why he resists the popular trend to get organic certification or turn fully biodynamic. The organic and especially biodynamic aspect of farming can be very expensive and can result in huge losses of grape product if the weather turns nasty or unpredictable, which in California, it does. The key at Bohème has been to follow organic practices and farm over 90% of the vineyards organically but without the certification, reserving the option to spray or adjust where necessary to keep the crop — and the business — alive. Kurt calls it an “organic, yet practical” business approach to reaching the same shared goal: good, quality, clean wine. This practice is also quite common in the Old World, where farming has been largely “organic” for generations without seeking a label or jumping through the necessary time and financial hoops to get the certification. Stice learned to respect these time-honored styles during his wine-shop time in Atlanta, with his boutique distributor, Specialty Wines, and, of course, in the field and cellar with his cousins. With this vision of straddling the New and Old Worlds, Phil set out to make a classic, Burgundian-style Chardonnay with California grapes: full-flavored but not heavy, with acid and fruit and body — a wine, if it met its goal, of “weightless power.”
 
Kurt offered Phil a facility he could use to make the wine, but first he had to find grapes. He knew he would probably be working with the popular “Wente” Chardonnay clone largely used in California, but he didn’t want just any grapes. He wanted the best grapes possible, from the best site possible, with the opportunity to establish a direct relationship with the farmers and farming practices that would determine the core of his product. One of the things that Stice and every other aficionado stresses about wine is nothing new to the wine world: terroir. The word doesn’t have an easy English translation because it incorporates a slew of things that relate to where and how a grape is grown, as well as what is done with the grape once it’s harvested to maintain these characteristics. It refers to the soil type and quality at a particular vineyard site, the weather patterns both daily and seasonally, and the farming techniques used (which could include the type of herbicides or pesticides or nitrogen used or the lack thereof, as well as other organic methods of preventing disease). It can even refer to a winemaker’s choice of which grape varieties to grow or seek out, given weather and farming techniques, or when to harvest certain grapes during a particular season. All of these intricacies are at the forefront of what Stice wants to know about a particular wine that he is selling for his job with Specialty, and so, of course, they transferred over to a particular wine that he was interested in making himself. At last, on a hunch from his cousin, Stice found a patch of “Rued” clone grapes, a Wente subtype of the Chardonnay grape, that were available through the Mengle Vineyard and largely contracted and farmed by a prestigious and independent Russian River Valley farming family. Through the help of a grape broker, Stice was able to procure a part of the harvest for his first wine. In essence, these were grapes that had made great wine before, and he felt good about the way they were farmed, the people and the place, the terroir. The Rued subtype also provided a little extra depth since it is often known for its aromatics and full body, one step closer to the desired “weightless power.”
 
He bought the grapes and set to work at Kurt’s facility. First, they gently pressed the grapes in a “bladder” press, rested it 24 hours to settle any remaining solids (the so-called “heavy lees”) and fed the juice into four barrels he had hand-picked from the cooperage Francois Freres, barrels he’d worked with at Rhys Winery. These barrels were toasted, providing a warmer oak flavor, a “graham cracker thing”. He wanted a long, slow, cold fermentation as is often done in Burgundy. He also chose a unique fermentation process, using lab yeasts on two of the barrels, while letting the other two barrels ferment spontaneously with indigenous yeast, another Old World technique. The first two barrels took two weeks to ferment, while the indigenous yeasts slowly worked their magic over the next six months. Throughout fermentation, Stice and his cousin turned the barrels and stirred the lees in each of them (lees are the byproducts of yeast fermenting grape juice into alcohol that can add texture to wine that ages on them). After fermentation, in classic Burgundian-style, Phil put the Chardonnay through malolactic fermentation, converting malic acid, a tarter flavor, into lactic acid, a smoother acid, enhanced by the byproduct of diacetyl, a compound that imparts a buttery flavor to the wine (this buttery flavor is one facet of what can often set Chardonnay apart from other white wine varietals, especially in California). After this secondary, malolactic fermentation, Phil aged the wine in oak barrels for one year at cellar temperature (~65 degrees). Then, before bottling, he moved the wine (called “racking”) into a tank for cold-stabilization to further avoid contamination and to begin mellowing the wine (cooler temperatures tend to do this while warmer temperatures can reactivate yeasts or encourage bacteria). Finally, after another trip to California where Phil and Kurt did what they claim was officially called “trailer-cowboy bottling” (literally, a trailer that they rented with a bottling line on board), Stice’s first wine was in bottle and ready to age. After a year in bottle, he hosted his first release party at Seabear Oyster Bar in April 2017.


A Georgia Boy in Fine Californian Company

Stice is far from the first person to seek out such these particular characteristics and processes when making wine. The basic grape crushing and fermentation process is almost standard. The hands-off approach in the cellar is a little less common. Many wines, including many in California, are ripened as long as possible to create as much sugar as possible, which then translates into higher alcohol levels. Higher fermentation temperatures or certain strains of lab yeast can also do the same. But there is a growing trend that Dr. Phil has tapped into toward a new sort of California wine, that echoes some of the long held practices of the Old World, but in a California-way. Stice sells some of these wines in his work for Speciality, notably Kenny Likitprakong of the Hobo and Folk Machine wine labels, Ian Brand of the L’Ptit Paysan and La Marea labels, Steve and Jill Matthiasson from the Matthiasson label, and, of course, his cousin Kurt at Bohème. These winemakers are all part of the California wine world and a trend away from what that has meant for the past 25 years. They’ve each started making wine in a very small way, without owning vineyards, without owning winemaking facilities and without a huge amount of expendable capital. They either farm their own grapes, consult on how grapes are grown, or have direct relationships with the farmers who grow for them and the vineyard sites where they are grown. They’ve been focused on making terroir-focused wines, using varieties that grow well in the places where they choose to get their fruit, rather than picking any desired varieties and forcing it into a climate that doesn’t suit it. These people embrace the unique qualities of California terroir without trying to "fix" it with drastic irrigation, changing the soil or drenching the vines in chemicals. 
 
Each of these new California winemakers is also unique in some ways. Kenny Likitprakong started out as “gypsy” winemaker, making wine however and with whatever he could get his hands on, in co-ops with leftover fruit, traveling extensively to learn and taste and try new methods, but now he has his own winemaking facility and four or five labels that he supports with it. Kenny’s Folk Machine and Hobo wine labels have also focused on making affordable table wines, outside of the mainstream of big Napa and Sonoma wine houses and with an aesthetic to a younger, hipper generation of sippers. The Matthiasson family is more focused on organic farming practices with the ideal farm being a completely sustainable organism (not biodynamic or “natural” but sustainable), complete with cover crops nourishing the soil, restrained irrigation strengthening the vines, and the use of unorthodox grape varieties that suit the Napa climate. Steve Matthiasson literally wrote the book on sustainable viticulture in California and still consults for a myriad of farmers and winemakers implementing organic and plant focused farming practices. Ian Brand at P’tit Paysan is apparently obsessive about soil type and quality and goes to great lengths to find the wildest, most unconventional vineyard sites specifically because of their soil quality. This sometimes leads to wine grown in gravelly and granite heavy soils, for example, and creates wine that tastes fun and different while remaining true to place. Most recently, he released a unique and exceptional California Albariño — traditionally a Spanish seafood white — on his La Marea label from a coastal Monterey vineyard whose soil is composed of sedimentary rock and calcium-rich shale (it’s amazing). Phil’s cousin Kurt likes to be hands-on with his land and leases. Bohème’s wines are mostly farmed by Kurt himself. He goes to great lengths to knows his vineyard sites well, paying close attention to the weather and growth in each one, and uses painstaking traditional techniques to trim each individual vine in each vineyard he farms. He also maintains close community relationships with other long-time farmers in the area, making wine from other vineyard sites that he leases from them, and, as we know, occasionally finding fruit for our friend Dr. Phil to ferment.
 
However different these people and wines may be, there is a unique desire to make something both new and normal in their products, something out of the California mainstream but not overtly strange or weird, just good. Not an over-ripened or over-extracted Pinot Noir or Cabernet, or an over-oaked Chardonnay, but aromatic and flavorful wines with individual expression reflective of the terroir that grew them. There is a more nuanced and particular, yet simpler approach to every part of the process. This new approach is a shared creation and vision ofthese new California wine folks alike, normalizing an emphasis on a more vibrant sense of place and a cleaner, more sustainable wine flavor. All of this while focusing simply on each vine and each grape and each wine that comes from them and either intentionally or inadvertently keeping the “Big Three” out of the equation. Now Dr. Phil earns his place among them. 


Story by Hunt Revell

Photographs by Paige French
 

Being the Change: How 3 Porch Farm Takes Responsibility

Steve O’Shea takes his environmental footprint seriously. Alongside his wife Mandy, he owns and runs 3 Porch Farm, an organic flower and fruit farm in Comer, Georgia. From the outside, their life seems glamorous. The couple embodies a lifestyle that’s frequently romanticized — a simple life, living off the land. But farming is strenuous, demanding work that requires tireless attention and effort. And following USDA organic guidelines doesn’t make it easier. Instead, it adds costs and complications, all in the name of conscientiously stewarding the environment — not because it’s easy or lucrative, but because it’s what they believe is right. Their products are beautiful, and they’ve grown a substantial following in Athens, Atlanta and the Southeast at large — and still, they make approximately $4 an hour, with much of their limited income being sown back into their operation (literally).  

But at this juncture in his life, O’Shea has no room for excuses. He began studying the environment and climate change nearly twenty years ago and feels increasingly motivated by what he learned. “I was not only humbled but somewhat terrified by the information I studied and am sad to say that all the climate projections were not only accurate, but what seemed like the most ‘drastic’ models of what would happen in the last two decades have been met or surpassed by reality,” O’Shea says.

He’s right: the last three years have been the hottest consecutive years on record, flooding reached record highs in the U.S. in 2016, the ocean is warming and rising and the occurrence of catastrophic weather incidents is rapidly increasing. All of this poses a radical threat to our health, safety and global stability. 

Farmers see this firsthand.

“As the climate changes further and drought becomes more frequent followed by heavy storms that erode soil and damage or destroy crops, we are on the front line of those impacted,” he says. “More importantly though, as weather systems continue their tendency towards extreme and erratic conditions, crop losses become more common and the world's population of 7 billion and rising will struggle to meet their (our) food needs. Scarcity equals high prices, equals famine and panic, equals conflict. Without unified action from not only governments, but each individual citizen at the daily level, we'll wind up exactly where we are aiming.”

For the O’Sheas, organic farming is the way they can combat global warming and be a force for good. “What started out as pure fear in my early 20s has now morphed into a sense of personal responsibility,” O’Shea says. “This farm isn't an occupation to me. This farm is our contribution to the world.”

At 3 Porch Farm, the O’Sheas go well beyond the call of avoiding chemicals and invigorating soil health. They’re also focused on their energy consumption and corresponding outputs. Inevitably, farms require significant amounts of energy between their infrastructure, use of equipment and vehicles for transport. The O’Sheas use solar power to run all of the facilities on their farm and they currently have three vehicles powered by spent vegetable oil (and O’Shea plans to convert a large delivery van to run on vegetable oil this winter). Aside from this, they’re conscientious of what many of us would consider the little things like turning off lights, turning off the heat or air conditioning when they leave the house and supporting local, sustainable businesses. 

“I think farmers and all citizens really, need to focus on the whole as much as possible.  Doing one positive thing like recycling, composting, or gardening is good, but if we aren't looking at the sum total of our impacts than we aren't getting the full picture,” he says. “Of course, life is demanding and there are limits on what any one person can do, but the danger is in the desire to shine a spotlight on our positive contributions while neglecting to acknowledge the repercussions of the vast majority of our actions. They all count whether we choose to look at them or not.”

O’Shea is a vocal advocate of these practices, and he doesn’t consider a meager farming income to be a sufficient reason not to make these changes. Instead, they’ve sought out resources to make it happen. “I don't think we can stop at organic production and call it good. The USDA currently offers a generous grant for rural farms to install renewable energy systems. The federal tax credit is still up for grabs too. Between the two, more than half of your renewable energy system is paid for in short order. We have used both programs twice.”

And though farming is clearly a passion for O’Shea, he admits that it isn’t what he always wanted to do, or even what he’d do if not for feelings of moral obligation. “I've discovered that living in line with my worldview is far more important to me and my sense of well being, than pursuing a more immediately enjoyable craft, or one that pays well. I've happily made that trade and am quite glad to have done so. Creating and sustaining this farm checks off every other box on my personal values list.”

In the wake of the recent election, there’s more cause for all of us to take individual responsibility for the environment. The incoming administration threatens to derail the EPA and to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, which would undermine all hope that our federal government will promote vital environmental protections. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with a man whose life’s purpose revolves around sustainability.

“With virtually every other world leader and 97% of all climate scientists on the planet in agreement that humans activities are aggressively changing the earth's weather patterns in a way that will lead to greater global instability within the next 10 to 20 years (think Miami underwater in 2030), it is an absolute shame that our government is pledging to block efforts to prevent things from getting out of hand,” he says. “This is not a political issue and no other country on earth is treating it as such. Natural disasters, starvation, unparalleled extinctions, mass migrations and increased military conflicts don't care who you vote for. It's not political. It's about sustaining our life support system so we can all live another day to have our petty self-centered arguments.”

It’s obvious that O’Shea isn’t alone in these sentiments. But the danger is that he’s among the few who will actually take action. To so many of us, taking responsibility for the greater good feels too ambitious. We sit around and wait for the world to change or for policies to change and then maybe we’ll fall in line. All the while, the world is in an undeniably precarious environmental state. Climate change is real. It is already taking a toll on weather patterns and crop production — a frightening reality in the face of a growing world population. 

O’Shea offers us a sobering call to action: “Many of us tend to complain about the state of the earth and the looming threat of climate change and we like to point fingers at this political party or that nefarious corporation, all the while we neglect to take stock in our own ability to have an impact and the cumulative effect that billions of individuals can have to make change now. Our criticism of others bears little merit if we don't apply those same standards to our own lives. Our stated values don't matter if we don't act on them and live by them. Be the change, don't just talk about what needs to change.”

To be clear: you don’t have to drop what you’re doing and become an organic farmer to be a part of positive change. Instead, you can evaluate how every element of your life impacts the environment — whether you’re contributing to waste or conservation, whether you’re being cognizant … “There's a hundred things we can all do every day to reduce carbon consumption if we are mindful of our impacts,” he says. O’Shea recommends beginning with the following:

  • Solar on the roof if you are a homeowner and an electric vehicle or hybrid vehicle are some of the most impactful things you can do.  
  • Insulate and seal your home.  
  • Turn the lights off when you leave a room.  
  • Turn the heat a few degrees cooler and put on a sweatshirt or blanket and snuggle.  
  • Turn A.C. and heat off when you aren't home.  
  • Walk or bike short distances instead of driving.  
  • Inflate your tires to increase mileage.  
  • Switch your light bulbs to compact fluorescents or better yet, LED's.  
  • Hang your clothes out to dry.  
  • Cut down on beef and dairy and make sure to buy grass fed local products when you can.  Shop at farmers markets or join a CSA to get your groceries from within 50 miles instead of the 2000 mile average.  
  • Support restaurants that do the same.  
  • Use the toaster oven instead of the big oven for smaller items.  
  • Choose Energy Star appliances.  
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  
  • Filter your drinking water instead of buying disposable bottles. 
  • Advocate for renewable energy.  
  • Speak up to elected officials and your power provider.  
  • Plant some trees.  
  • Buy carbon offsets for your air travel. 
  • Attach an aftermarket bidet to your toilet to minimize paper waste, logging and milling.  
  • Buy local flowers instead of roses imported from Ecuador. 

“There are no good excuses to not take immediate action,” O’Shea says. “If you are a conservative, then it's time to conserve. If you are a creationist, then it's time to respect God's creation. If you are a leftist, then for crying out loud, put your money where your mouth is. If we don't actually step up, extend ourselves further into positive actions that benefit the greater good and not just our own personal interests, then we are the problem. If you hurt and fear, do something good. If you are happy with the election, then help make America great and protect it from instability. We need everyone on this and we need you immediately.”

Thank You Bird

It’s on a brisk morning the Sunday before Thanksgiving that he whispers thanks solemnly into the ear of the heritage tom he has raised with care for over a year. With its feathers fanned, a chevron pattern in coal black and amber brown frame its fleshy head, knotted in bright blue and red. Its age is clear from the size of the spur on its reptilian leg, about a quarter inch, and the modest beginnings of a beard on its inflated chest. He grabs the breast, swooning over the fat development he can feel with the hands that fed this gorgeous bird. These are free-foraging, pastured birds that are absolutely fresh.

“They’ve got one bad day, and it’s today,” says Clay Crowder of Five-C-Farm.

A group of twenty has arrived on his family farm to select their Thanksgiving turkey. Varying widely in age and background, they have all chosen to play a greater role in bringing the centerpiece of the meal to their table this year. They are interested in learning about livestock production on a small farm. Many are trying to make farming a business for themselves; others are just looking to move toward a more self-sustaining lifestyle. And of course, they all want a really good turkey.

The big toms are 18-20 pounds of muscular flesh, while the hens are smaller, between 12-15 pounds, with more tender meat. On Thursday, it will take added time to prep and cook these free-range birds, ideally starting with a 48-hour brine to breakdown strong connective tissues and then a low and slow roasting in the oven.

 “[But when you taste this meat,] it just kinda screams out—that’s turkey! It’s not a gamey turkey either. There’s a flavor to the fat and a sweetness to the meat. When you compare it to a store-bought bird, it’s fundamentally different.”

The workshop has an intentionally modest setup that demonstrates how to humanely process turkeys on a very small scale. There are just four stations—two metal killing cones suspended on a simple wooden frame, one large copper pot filled with the scalding water and set atop a log fire, chairs arranged in an arc around a tarp for the plucking, and a sterilized stainless steel work table for the evisceration. After purchasing a bird, each person moves through the stations, using his or her own hands to take back the production of meat, to close the gap between meat in the supermarket and animals in the field. This small group of people humbly gives thanks to the living creature that will nourish their loved ones in just a few days.

“This is careful work. It’s like the difference between white bread and a handmade loaf of sourdough that’s fermented for 3 days, and it’s just beautiful.”


 

Words by Erin Wilson

How to Host an Oyster Roast

If there’s something to be celebrated in the brisk days and long nights of late fall, it’s the height of oyster season. This time of year beckons communal eating over open fires, and what better feast than an oyster roast? Although these bivalves suggest the kind of decadence that feels out of reach for the home chef, there are few meals more rustic and approachable than an oyster roast.

Noah Brendel, co-owner of Seabear Oyster Bar in Athens, Georgia, has had extensive experience roasting these exquisite mollusks. Between hosting backyard parties and refined supper clubs, he’s worked his roast practice into something of an art.

Pulling together an oyster roast is easier than you might think, Brendel says. And as in all cooking, the first step is prep work.

Begin by gathering your materials. Brendel’s essentials are:

  • wood for a fire
  • burlap sack (“easy to source from local coffee roaster”)
  • 5 gallon bucket of water (“what you soak your burlap in”)
  • piece of sheet metal that you can lay across the fire (“assuming you don't have a proper rig, you can always use a piece of sheet metal and some rocks or cinder blocks laying around the yard”)
  • shovel (“a spade with a square head is what I prefer for ease of scooping”)
  • table top to put oysters on (“it will get messy, so I would suggest not using an antique table”)
  • yard gloves (“nice to have but not imperative”)
  • large cooler (“for storing the oysters before you roast them”)

But what’s, perhaps, most important? Cold beer and plenty of it. If possible, setting up a makeshift bar is also highly encouraged.

The process of purchasing oysters in bulk is one of the more daunting aspects of hosting an oyster roast, but Brendel says it’s doable even if you don’t own an oyster bar. “I would say the easiest way would be to contact your local restaurants that do carry or sell oysters and more often than not they will help you out (we always help out customers looking for roasters),” he says. “But if that doesn't work, you can always find an excuse to drive to the coast and grab a bushel or two from the docks.”

And if there’s not a seafood restaurant in town and it’s infeasible to drive to the coast, Brendel also recommends asking your local grocer to place a special order for you.  

So, now you’re ready to place an order, but what exactly are you looking for? “Cluster oysters work well for roasts,” says Brendel. “If you have to use singles, then I would suggest an oyster with a little more body or size so that you don't end up with tiny little steamed oysters.  Anywhere along the coast where you can source oysters is a great source but specifically I have had luck with Blue Points, Rappahannocks, or any gulf oyster for that matter.”

oytser_roast (26 of 27).jpg

The real trick is in knowing how many oysters to buy — it’s a fine line between overspending on a fairly pricey meal for the masses and, even worse, leaving your guests ravenously hungry. Brendel says estimating how many oysters to purchase is always the hardest part, but he typically orders one-and-a-half to two dozen per anticipated guest. And in this case, a little bit of diplomacy goes a long way. “More often than not you will have the guy that eats 60 in a row, but his buddy ‘doesn't eat oysters’ so it's always a little bit of a crap shoot ...  It's also about knowing your crowd, and don't be afraid to ask your intended guests what they think they will eat.”  

When the big day has arrived and you’ve gathered your tools, your oysters and your lucky guests, it’s all about execution. And this is where it actually gets easy, Brendel says.

“I tote the above listed equipment and supplies, I usually start the fire early — a hot bed of coals goes a long way when doing a roast.  You learn that lesson fast. I set the oyster table up, shuckers, towels, gloves, cocktail sauce, crackers, hot sauce and trash can somewhere within tossing distance of the table. Not much to it really.”

The work of creating a perfectly roasted oyster, like anything takes practice — even if that practice takes place just before the roast kicks off. “Not all oysters roast the same, take some time before your guests arrive and do a test batch and get your timing down, so that when it's time to put the show on you look like a seasoned salty dog. No need to overthink it, it's simply a matter of heat, steam and time,” he says.

And what are some rookie mistakes to avoid? “... Sometimes your sheet metal, depending on how it's placed, will leak onto the fire, ultimately putting it out and making it hard to keep the fire hot. So make sure if you are roasting on an open flame that there is a little bit of an angle to the metal and that if falls clear of the fire off to the side. As I mentioned earlier the fire is the key element, you want it hot, so you obviously want to source your wood from a reliable source to ensure it's properly seasoned and burns well.”

Now that the oysters are roasted to perfection and thrown across a table for happy guests to indulge, there are a few accompaniments you’ll want to have on hand. (Although the real sign of success, is an oyster worthy of enjoying unadorned.)

“The standard oyster roasts accoutrement to me are saltines, cocktail sauce, hot sauce and maybe horseradish” Brendel says. “I always prefer cold domestic beer (whatever your flavor), and depending on the season either a gin, or whiskey cocktail. To me this is perfection. Full disclosure, I often find myself eating oysters right out of the shell without any sauces, but they are definitely nice to have.”

Words & photos by Jodi Cash

Sweet Grass Dairy Co-Owner Jeremy Little on Taking Success As It Comes

In restaurants and boutique food shops around the country, Sweet Grass Dairy cheeses are a lauded feature on menus and shelves. With five staple products, as well as seasonal items, the cheeses represent a variety of styles and flavors. Two of the cheeses (Green Hill and Lil' Moo) have won highly competitive American Cheese Society Awards. 

But the real success for Sweet Grass Dairy is not in its accolades or esteem, its in their commitment to sustainability and their diligent pursuit of good food from ethical sources. In 2010, Sweet Grass opened their first iteration of a restaurant in Thomasville, Georgia, where the cheese plant is also located. The restaurant was closed not long after launching, and in its place they developed the Cheese Shop, a market of artisanal goods — and most notably, their line of cheeses. When the restaurant re-opened in the Cheese Shop four years later, it was with a clearer vision and refocused passion. 

Now Sweet Grass Dairy continues to evolve as it remains a centerpiece in the quaint town of Thomasville, as well as a beacon in the world of artisanal food at large. We talked with Jeremy Little who owns Sweet Grass with his wife, Jessica, about what growth looks like for them. 

How did Sweet Grass Dairy get its start?
Sweet Grass Dairy started in 2000 by Desiree and Al Wehner, my wife Jessica's parents.  They had been dairy farming unconventionally for just shy of 20 years, producing milk that was higher in quality as well as utilizing a method of dairy farming that was better for the earth, and the animals, but were not able to show anyone that their methods yielded a better milk.  They set out to show people their efforts produced a very high quality milk, so they looked for a way to show people through food. Cheese ended up being the right balance or art and science, and continues to be our primary vehicle for our mission, which is to educate and inspire people on the true origins of their foods. 

How did the experience with the previous restaurant in the Cheese Shop's space influence what you hope to accomplish now?
To say that was a learning experience would be horribly incorrect.  It was one of the worst time's in my life, but it taught me a great deal about a lot of things. We got distracted from our initial vision, made a bunch of mistakes, and ended up doing the exact thing we started out to do. Our original plan was to do the exact thing we are today — simple food, with great service using "storied" ingredients. The influence was the importance of having a clear vision and sticking to it. 

What do you hope the Cheese Shop contributes to the Thomasville community? What do you hope it offers to visitors?
The Cheese Shop is our local vehicle for our mission — to educate and inspire people through food.  Our brand and our cheeses offer that on a larger platform, and it has allowed us to frame it for our local community through the Cheese Shop.  I hope it provides a reprieve to local and visitors alike from the craziness of their day to day and enjoy themselves.

What's the greatest challenge of making cheese sustainably?
The milk supply. Most people do not really think about where there food comes from, other than from the "store." It's part of our mission to change that perspective. Its incredibly intense to sustain a farm that used a rotational grazing method. You are always a few days from running out of food for the cows if the pastures are not properly managed. That's an incredibly stressful situation, and really challenging to do well. 

What's the biggest reward?
Feeling like you are making a difference with your actions.  

How do you hope the restaurant showcases your products?
I hope it better connects people to where their food comes from.  The more people know about the origins of their food, the better educated they will be to make good food choices.  In a world where products are marketed with such a plethora of buzz-words and tag-lines, its hard to know what the truth really is. 

How do you envision Sweet Grass, as a whole, continuing to grow?
Our mission challenges us to be better on a daily basis. We continue to get better at what we do each day, so my hope is that we'll see the fruits of our labor in all we do — both internally and externally — as a business.  My hope would be to provide better opportunities for our team members, as well as better products for our consumers. 

What's your favorite thing to eat at the restaurant?
 I like to try new things, so my favorite is the next new thing we are working on. 

What about your favorite Sweet Grass product?
It's my job to be critical of our products. I am in constant pursuit of how to make our cheeses better, so I would say I have favorite things about each of the cheeses as time passes. Right now, the flavor and texture of our Georgia Gouda is really nice, and I love how the Green Hill's texture is showing as it matures/ripens. We are still working on all of them, and probably always will.  

What's your day-to-day work like?
Unpredictable. I take our kids to school in the morning, and try to catch up with Jessica for a few minutes. After that, its really just a matter of catching up with our team. I make the rounds, see whats happening, and do what I can to keep us moving forward. 

What's next for Sweet Grass Dairy?
We are in the process of expanding our facility, with a few new product thoughts on the horizon. The new facility will allows us to be more consistent in our product offerings, as well as give us more opportunity to develop new products.  

Where are your products available?
Our products are available nearly nationwide in select markets and cheese shops. If not readily available locally, you can always order directly from our website. We just launched a new website, so please check it out. 

Story & photographs by Jodi Cash

What The Turnip Truck is Bringing to the Georgia Urban Ag. & Outdoor Expo

In anticipation of the Georgia Urban Ag. and Outdoor Expo this weekend, we talked with Michael Schenck, founder and COO of The Turnip Truck about the importance of creating access to good, fresh food in urban areas. Schenck shared with us the mission of The Turnip Truck, as well as how events like the expo empower them to continue innovating ways to get food from farmers to consumers.

The Turnip Truck works with more than 50 small, local farms to get their fruits, vegetables, dairy and other products to Atlanta area restaurants, schools and institutions. By tackling the challenges of storage and distribution to deliver products, they bring local, sustainable food to businesses with ease, advancing the cause of slow food and local food in Atlanta. In their first five years of business, they put 1.9 million dollars in the pockets of their local farmers.   

You have a background in the kitchen. How does that experience influence your business?

We really pay attention to what chefs are looking for and have an eye for quality and consistency in what we buy from our farms and deliver to our customers.  We are also structured in a way that emulates traditional food service distribution, so the ordering and delivery system is what they are used to and makes it as easy as possible to incorporate local items into their menu. 

Appreciating local food and developing confidence in the kitchen seem to go hand in hand. How do you explain this connection?

I think a strong emphasis on local food really pushes home seasonal cooking and utilizing the season's strong points in your menus.  When young chefs first experience a truly local, fresh off the vine heirloom tomato, it is like a light bulb going off.  You start to understand what many of the masters strive to teach, which is that you can do whatever you want to to your ingredients, but if you start off with the freshest, best possible products you're going to be head and shoulders ahead right off the bat.  Simply put, you don't have to do much to this food since it comes out of the ground ripe, ready to eat, and tasting incredible.  I think learning that can be a huge confidence builder, providing you know where you can get these awesome products!  

What are your goals in looking ahead to the Urban Ag Expo? What message do you most hope to spread to attendees who might stop by the Turnip Truck booth?

We are very excited to let the food-interested public know that all of the incredible ingredients that their favorite Atlanta chefs have had access to for years are now within reach for them on our new website, www.turniptruckga.com!  From local vegetables and fruits, to dairy, cheeses, grains and grits, to honey and sauces, they can place orders on our website for pickup at our shop or delivery to their door.  We are also very excited to partner with the GA Farmers Market Association for their new Norcross market and we hope to help them increase exposure and buzz around the starting date with our display of fresh produce, eggs and other products for sale at the expo. 

Local food is so often tied to an image of a small time farmer. What has been the most exciting thing about being a larger player in the local food system?

The most rewarding thing about what we do is being able to work with these incredible farmers and food producers, and to help them take their dream of producing good, wholesome food from a small seedling to a thriving organism. We aim to help them grow their operations to meet demand and create efficiencies to make their lives easier and to increase the reach of their food.  We are very excited to see some great interest from a more broad sector of the public, it's not just the "foodies" or high end chefs that are calling these days.  Consumers in general are very interested in eating healthy, GMO and pesticide free food produced in a sustainable manner, more interested in where it comes from, and in supporting local food systems than ever. 

What are you most looking forward to at the Georgia Urban Ag. & Outdoor Expo?

We are excited to participate in the Urban Ag Expo.  I strongly believe that small scale food production and the sale of it in the community is a transformative system that can change our communities and economy for the better in a way that almost no other daily transaction in people's lives can.  If you think about it there really aren't many areas in life these days where we actually know who produced the goods we consume or where it actually came from, and I think the opportunity to experience that with something as important as the food we fuel our bodies with every day is incredibly powerful. 

Photo via Flickr/Tim Sackton

Neither Shaken nor Stirred: Uncle Sam’s Mint Julep

There is much lore that surrounds the first Saturday in May for many southerners, wealthy young people and racing aficionados. The Kentucky Derby marks the first leg of the Triple Crown, the “Run for the Roses.” It’s the chance for jockeys to get their colts off on the right foot. It’s famous for its hats, its horses and its history. There’s the dirty, debaucherous infield where the cheap seats more closely resemble a mosh pit than a genteel estate. The brass band always plays “My Old Kentucky Home.” And it’s the day that made the mint julep famous. 

I’ve no real attachment to the aristocratic heritage that the Derby represents, the lineage of old white money, small brown jockeys and decades of horse breeding in search of the perfect star; but as a southerner, or perhaps as a drinker, I do appreciate the excitement of a remarkably short sports event whose hallow hangs on the aroma of a particular drink. 

The only drawback of the julep is the toll on the bartender. This person is asked to muddle mint and crush ice to a please a customer who mostly expects an over-indulgent, syrupy-sweet cocktail that is more reminiscent of a mojito than whiskey rocks. As soon as someone in the bar sees or smells what’s happening, everyone in the room wants one. 

But let’s not allow this over-investment of effort in a crowded bar setting to tarnish the cocktail itself, especially given the strange tradition to which it is tied and the fact that it can be quite delicious. In fact, it makes it all the more important to take the julep a better way, something my great-uncle Sam used to do in his day.

Uncle Sam’s julep recipe came down our family tree through my grandmother, his sister-in-law. Once spring was in full bloom and the green jacket awarded at The Masters—a calendar milestone when you grow up in Augusta, Ga.—my parents would dig out a pile of faded yet meticulously handwritten notes for the mint julep. The mix was simple, but it was the way Sam put it together, and perhaps who he was, that made it special.

Samuel Thompson Redgrave Revell was a revered family doctor in Bedford, Virginia. No one questions the fact that he loved and dutifully served his patients. Once he’d retired and no longer had anyone to look after but himself, Sam embraced the curmudgeonly war veteran-type. He was perfectly content to walk the beach naked in early morning and happy to tell you his unfiltered thoughts on a range of topics from medicine to politics to religion to sailing. Yet we loved him for good reason, as he was fond in his way of the grandchildren, and we shared an ardent if not equal love for my grandmother, especially after they’d both survived her husband, his younger brother.

My first Derbies and Uncle Sam’s juleps were with my father, a man who prefers a good cocktail and enjoys any opportunity to relish family traditions. He was also the favorite of his mother, which put him next in line for the julep recipe. I can remember him making juleps each Derby Day, preparing the syrup and crushing the ice with a careful hand. Even as a small child, I knew the importance of the julep cup. These were given to my siblings and I as youngsters, each engraved with our initials. They sat on our desks for years collecting change until we were old enough to go to war, impatiently awaiting the day when they would be called upon to do their duty, honor their family, and serve Uncle Sam.

It wasn’t my first, but my best memory of the mint julep was one year in my early twenties, fresh back from a semester in Costa Rica where southern culture was far from my mind and college years in Athens had pushed back my memories of watching dad honor the tradition.  I was out of school by May and at my parents’ house with a special lady visiting from the Pacific Northwest. She was charming and lovely in her smart, tough way, but she was far from a southern belle or a determined whiskey drinker I was to find. My family lingered as we do after weekend lunch at the house that first Saturday in May. I noticed the ritual begin as my mother dug out a folded and stained receipt from its crevice in a recipe book and my father gingerly gathered and washed the family julep cups, silently lining one up for each of us.

It was a slow but steady ritual, perfectly timed to prepare us for the best two minutes in sports. The television was already on the correct channel and there was no rushing about in search of the right ingredients. In New York one year, my tendency toward disorder resulted in a basil julep, which was delicious, but quite embarrassing for a southern boy who should know better. When the volume on the TV went up and the jockeys and horses were brought in, Dad made the cocktails.

 

In preparation…

Make a mint simple syrup.  You can easily find any number of recipes on the internet, but the key is not to be shy with the mint, the more minty the syrup, the less need for tedious muddling. The next thing to do is crush ice. Gather your ice in a bag or handkerchief or bandana and smash it with a mallet. Give yourself an excess of crushed ice so you don’t worry about using it later.

Then…

Load the julep cup with crushed ice to cool. After icing the cup, empty it and dry muddle 6 - 8 mint leaves at the bottom. Dad always thinks along the lines of a sophisticated New Orleans barman, the idea is to seduce the mint, not to punish it.”

Fill the cup overfull with more crushed ice. Some people like to make a domed top with the palm of their hand; the Revells prefer it a little more ragged looking. But never be short with the ice. 

Add ½ oz. - 1 oz. of mint simple syrup.

Fill your julep cup to the brim with bourbon whiskey or other whiskey of the American variety. Early Times was popular from the start being sponsored by the Kentucky Derby itself. They now promote Woodford Reserve, which may be a strike against it. Uncle Sam and my grandmother preferred Evan Williams, even the green label, but they happily used Jack Daniels. Other pricier bourbons work great, but there isn’t much need to overdo it.

Finally, add a large sprig of mint to the top, for flair and fragrance.

 

What happens next in my mind is a moment of simple genius, the profound effects of which I felt that day in May and can recall on moment’s notice. Uncle Sam had one rule about his julep—it was neither shaken nor stirred. While the crushed ice creates an arctic chill for your hand on the julep cup and a touch of sweet mint syrup patiently waits at the bottom of the drink, the first several sips of Uncle Sam’s mint julep are pure, cool whiskey. And it burns. As the horns start the theme to “My Old Kentucky Home,” the whiskey sinks in, your vision blurs just a bit, your soul turns a bit sentimental, you take another sip or two, barely beginning to detect the hint of something sweet…and they’re off!

Two minutes later that day, I looked over at my special lady from a distant land and realized she was plumb drunk. And I was well on my way too. That was the year they put down the Derby’s first filly right there on the track after she broke a leg crossing the finish line, nearly winning. That sad moment, the music, the roses, the family, the South—well yes, it left a definite impression. And if it weren’t for Uncle Sam’s take on the classic julep, I may never have the seen it from the right angle at all.


Story by Hunt Revell

Photograph by Paige French

It Takes Time

It starts with leaving a warm bed on a cold morning. When the overwhelming majority of your friends are only halfway through their night’s rest or maybe even just winding down to hit the bed, that’s when you get on the road. 

At 5 a.m. Saturday morning, cruising through your vibrant town that lives for the night makes you think that perhaps it’s all an illusion. There were never people there. There can’t be. Because now on this crisp Saturday morning, long before the sun has risen, all their young souls lie in rest. 

Who chooses to get their groceries this early? I do. And thus, my multi-day “grocery trip,” as it were, continues.

When I arrive to the land of opportunity, I strike off with only the essential equipment necessary to complete my task. Oh, the strange fears found wandering through the woods in the dark! Each tree becomes a bear. Every shrub becomes a man. Every scurrying nocturnal beast leaves me a little unsettled.  

Squeezing its way ever so methodically, the sun begins its warning. Having missed my turn on the trail, I must use instinct alone to find my stand. The pressure of the pending sunrise pushes me more recklessly through the woods; until there! I spy my hide in the sky.

Up to this point I’ve waded through a maze of dark brambles and bushes, but the true challenge, climbing the icy stand in the darkness, is my final test before I sit.

Twelve feet? It’s not that high I tell myself as I dangerously hang off the tree, trying to negotiate with a questionable branch how I will get to the other side. I can see the seat. And as I maneuver around the tree I land safely to the arse-busting metal grate that I will sit on for the next 4 to 5 hours. Let the cold settle begin.

Try not to move. I challenge you.

This is where some sort of primal patience that is all but lost in our modern world must be conjured. 

Patience, my friend — when was the last time you very consciously and thoughtfully practiced patience? 

A single deer hunting season is possibly the longest that anyone will wait for some ground chuck or sausage anywhere in the first world. 

I once watched my grandpa walk about 20 feet in 30 minutes. Yes, he was old. But his lethargy was due to the fact that he was ever so precisely approaching a squirrel that we needed to bag to have squirrel pie for dinner. This is patience! 

So now I sit in my adulthood, with hopefully more resolve than I had at age 9, waiting for a deer to amble past my stand.

The morning is a crisp, cool one. In autumn, deer go through their rutting phase — an intense display of sudden sexual frenzy. Coincidentally, this is one of the best times to see a mature buck with large antlers foolishly gallivanting through the woods. Something about a doe that wants to breed makes bucks lose their mind and the majority of their logic driven cortex. I’ve also found that deer are more active on cold days. 

I see a doe running about 100 yards to my left. A little suspicious, so I keep my eyes on the line of her trail. As if prescribed, here comes a young buck following her trail. He is too young for my liking, so I let him pass.

I hear some movement behind me. I turn very slowly. A beautiful, young 8 pointer is sniffing and checking a scrape he has made. I decide to pass on him as well.

Shortly thereafter, a doe walks about 20 yards in front of me with her yearling in tow. They seem a little wary. Once again, a small buck is following their trail hoping for a good time. I pass on all three deer.

By 8 or 9 a.m. it’s not quite so cold, I’ve thawed out, and I’ve passed on about seven different deer. At this point I feel a twinge of regret on passing on all the deer I have seen, but mainly, I feel fortunate to have witnessed such a wondrous, natural display. 

BOOM! From the down the road the signal sounds. I wonder if my comrades have bagged their fancy. My patience starts to seem irrelevant as I hear two more shots. 

Around 10:30 a.m. my legs are stiff, my butt is cold, and the deer have stopped moving. I decide I shall tender my resignation. I stand in a wobbly, uncertain fashion, and after another awkward dance between gear, tree, stand, and fool, I am back on the ground. I cautiously sneak my way out of the woods in case of a run-in with some late morning deer.

As I approach the other hunters and vehicles, I remove my cartridges and accept my defeat.

Luke killed 2 does. Ryan killed a small 8 pointer. Robert slept in. 

I congratulate them without hesitation knowing that I practiced restraint, a skill that’s perhaps more difficult than spotting a deer or killing a deer. But for each man, his obligations to provide differ — Luke has a large family, it’s Ryan’s first hunt this season, and Robert always chooses sleep over sustenance. But I have only to feed myself and my wife, and we have a few packs of meat left over from the previous season. Thus, the process is extended.


In the middle to late portion of deer hunting season my willingness to simply observe deer weakens and my lust for a successful hunt intensifies. I’ve done my fair share of watch and wait, but as I see my freezer’s innards increasingly diminished, I feel the urge to offset it. 

I believe that if you head to the woods with the intent of killing any beast, then you might as well be a songbird watching. You will not see the animal that you came to hunt. The first and last thing you will see is your car. I swear to God.

So I head to the woods with little ambition other than to enjoy a glorious sunrise on an unusually balmy November day. I sit on a high ridge crowned by an oak-hickory forest. The chestnut oaks and white oaks seem to have dropped a wealth of acorns, the perfect diet and attractant for white-tailed deer. 

My stand allows me good visibility of the entire ridge and optimal mobility.

To my right I catch a glimpse of a brown flash and a subtle noise. No squirrel moves so quietly or conservatively. I raise my binoculars and scan where I saw the flash. It’s a small buck. I’ve decided I am not shooting any small bucks, so I continue to watch through my binoculars. He seems a little preoccupied with his surroundings. He is not alone. I then see several more shapes materialize. A yearling makes itself known. Then just behind the yearling a long nosed mature doe cautiously steps forward. She is a beautiful specimen and precisely what I am after.

I raise my gun and pick out the cleanest opening in the undergrowth that she is walking towards. She slips into the opening, and I take the shot. Bam! The woods are brought to life! Deer that I couldn’t even see are running in every direction. My targeted doe stumbles down. I know that I have made a clean shot and now my multi-day quest is fulfilled.

I must now be quick and thoughtful so that I waste nothing. I am thankful for the opportunity to have harvested an animal that will provide me with 40 to 60 pounds of lean meat for the next year.


Field Cleaning, Cleaning, and Meat Preparation

The beast lay at my feet, a picture of a distant past. My purpose and goal of the preceding weeks is finally laying at my feet, and coincidentally, a more time-intensive and time-sensitive portion of my process has begun.

When you have harvested a large animal there are several options on how to proceed. The first is the simplest: you take the animal to a butcher (or in this case a “deer processor”). I’ll be the first to agree that you may be able to handle the hunting and harvesting of a deer but not the butchering itself. And that is quite alright, innumerable professional deer processors can be found on country highways throughout the Southeast.

Butchering your own deer is not for everyone. However, this is the option I generally prefer, which of course is doing it yourself. 

Hopefully harvested with a clean shot, I walk up to the doe on the ground. I approach from its rear just in case. It appears that I have successfully and thoroughly harvested the animal. 

Now for the following paragraph, I suggest that only medical students and hardy Americans continue reading.

I make my primary incision in the inner thigh of the deer, thus puncturing the abdominal cavity without puncturing any organs that would spoil the meat. I run two fingers into the incision, and with my hand facing upwards and my knife cutting from inside the abdomen, I run the knife the length of the abdominal cavity to the sternum. Cutting from the top through the hair would quickly dull your knife and doesn’t allow you to control what you might cut down into. It’s also key to use your non-dominant hand as a guide and barrier between the guts and the knife. If all goes well, nothing in the abdomen has been shot or punctured. Next, I cut through the diaphragm to the chest cavity. The heart, lungs and vital organs are found here, and for an efficient kill, they should be thoroughly disrupted. With care not to puncture anything, I remove the vital organs, the abdominal organs, and the digestive tract. At this point, I have effectively field dressed the animal.

If you are lucky you get to field dress the animal in the daylight, otherwise, you may find yourself doing this whole process in the dark. And in case you are wondering, I have transported a field dressed deer in a sedan, mini-van, SUV, small truck, and luxury vehicle. A large truck being necessary for hunting is a redneck legend and most simply an excuse to buy a beautiful, big truck.

The next step is to skin and quarter the deer. This is easiest and most sanitarily done somewhere you can raise the deer from the ground and with access to a hose. It is generally easiest to hang the deer by making an incision in its hind legs between the bone and the large tendon. I skin the deer from the rear legs down to the head. This can be hard work without the assistance of a wench — no pun intended. 

Once the hide and head are removed, the animal finally looks like the carcass that you might imagine hanging at a butcher’s. I simply start cutting away from the carcass in steps by removing the backstraps, the tenderloins, the shoulders, neck meat, the roasts from the hind quarters, and all of the good pieces for grindings found all over the body.

I generally prefer to keep the backstraps and tenderloins whole. They are wonderful steak like cuts that are best grilled or pan seared. The roasts that are removed from the hind quarters are great for a crock pot slow cooked roast. The majority of the other meat goes into the grinder for sausage and burgers. 


I walk through the woods. It's cool and beautiful in its early blues and blacks. This is a unique feeling, like Whitman says, "the feeling of health...the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun." I see myself, as an old man, taking my time and doing this again and again. 

Story by Gresham Cash

Photographs by Jodi Cash

From Consumers to Producers: The Homestead Atlanta

On a chilled morning in late fall, The Goat Farm in Atlanta feels deserted. Twisted vines climb old brick walls and the only sign of life is the droplets that coat windowpanes, hinting that some warmth dwells inside. Stepping through a white unmarked entryway, a metal cage reveals itself. Eight students stand alert at their anvils, watching the instructor etch in chalk the details of today’s lesson. 

Mark Hopper is teaching a beginner’s metalsmithing class this morning.  It’s part three of a campfire cookery series offered by The Homestead Atlanta, a roving hub for affordable workshops that explore practical sustainability and forgotten heritage skills.

Kimberly Coburn started The Homestead Atlanta in early 2013 with the goal of creating a network of skill-based experts and a community of people eager to reconnect with their hands.

“I don’t have a background in any of this. I just love it all,” Coburn says. “Part of the reason I started this is because I wanted access to it.”

Classes are available in a range of subjects from knitting to foraging and aromatherapy to rainwater harvesting. The diversity keeps it interesting, and the level of knowledge required to sign up for any class is zero.

“One of the biggest things all of these [programs] are about is reintroducing people to their capacity for creation,” Kimberly says. “Our birthright as humans is the ability to create and be problem solvers and make things that get us by. Reminding people that they can be producers instead of just consumers is key.”

Jessica Collins is a student and an assistant to Mark Hopper at the GoatnHammer metalsmithing shop. She’s seen that moment of change in people that Kimberly hopes to cultivate — she watches participants realize they can do something now that they couldn’t do before, and it’s powerful.

“Did everyone get that down in one heat?” Hopper asks as his students hammer with speed and deliberation, hoping to make the next curve before the iron cools. “That’s okay. You’re using caution. Saturday morning and the coffee hasn’t kicked in.”

For all the hammering clamor, this kind of work requires finesse. Intentional force and a delicate aim are required to succeed in the process of bending and shaping metal.

“Be sympathetic to the form you are creating,” Hopper urges. It’s critical to follow the line of the anvil.

Coburn seeks out experts like Mark Hopper to teach the wide range of classes she offers. She also seeks to connect future apprentices to their teachers.

Hopper stands tall in steel-toed brown leather boots. His pants are held up by black suspenders coupled with a belt fastened by an anvil-etched brass buckle. In his pockets are a blue kerchief for sweat and a knife in holster, around his neck an intricate silver choker. The details give tell to a deep respect for metal.

Hopper never succeeded in school, so when he was 15, he decided to start travelling the world. He apprenticed with blacksmiths across the globe, only to return to Atlanta seeking the purpose and the community he would later establish at The Goat Farm.

Hopper and Collins became acquainted while pursuing separate passions at The Goat Farm. One day Hopper came to her with a revelation.

“I think I found my life’s work and that’s to develop a very concise and lineated curriculum for blacksmithing,” Hopper says.

The GoatnHammer launched about 3 years ago. The curriculum Hopper offers in collaboration with The Homestead Atlanta takes a less precision-oriented, more object-oriented approach to metalsmithing. Fittingly, it’s more the approach of an agriculture-smith, one who makes only the objects he needs on the field to get by.

“Only 40 to 50 percent [of students] had swung a hammer with intent before,” he says. The students are most often people who work in offices, not carpenters and builders.

“It’s people who don’t get a lot of time to work with their hands. I think that working with our hands is something that humans really have to do,” says Collins. “They crave it. They need it. And this is an outlet for that.”

One older student came to the class because his father and grandfather were both trained blacksmiths that had to become house painters instead to support themselves. They encouraged him to do something else, so he became a professor of math and statistics. Now he finds himself drawn back into the work of his elders.

Another student’s wife encouraged him to take the metalsmithing course after she attended weaving courses offered by The Homestead Atlanta.

“I kind of joke that I’m brainwashing people one craft at a time,” Coburn says.

Creating a community based in cultivating human skills is the goal The Homestead Atlanta hopes to achieve.

“I want to make sure that people don’t think this is nostalgic, you know, or backwards looking. Just because something was done two hundred years ago doesn't mean it’s any less relevant today. There’s that element of trying to protect those [practices] from being lost because people don’t have to do them anymore,” Coburn says. “[These skills] are going to move us all into a more sustainable future.”

Overhill Gardens: A Place to Grow

Alissa was in love the first time she heard Avi Askey’s voice. 

She’d seen an ad in the paper that he was hiring help at his plant nursery. She was on her way to a job in Canada teaching kids how to survive in nature, the whole bit, but she needed quicker cash than a trip to the depths of the Canadian wild could yield. So she called him. 

Avi didn’t answer. But there was something in his tone and his candor, even on the machine, that she couldn’t resist. 

“I heard his voice and I was just like I. Love. You. I hung up the phone and was like I am going to marry this man!” she says. “I went and wrote a banjo song about him and I was just obsessed.” 

He returned her call days later, and this time she missed it. He left her a message asking her to come in for an interview.

“I played that message like a hundred times. I’d be at a party and go into the back of my van, and I’d crouch down real low and listen.”

Arriving in Vonore, Tennessee the day before her interview, she drove around and past the nursery, searching for signs of a man she already knew she loved. 

When she met Avi finally the next day, he wasn’t exactly what she’d expected. 

“But his voice and the way he walked, it was just like I was hooked,” she says.

She was immediately hired upon interviewing. They made an arrangement that she’d stay in the barn loft on his verdant holler property, but she never spent a night without him. Just as soon as she’d committed to working his land, they were talking marriage and children. Three weeks later, she was pregnant with their first boy, Jonas. 

Life quickly changed for all of them. 

“It was quick, it really was, and it was a heck of a way to meet somebody, but we’ve done alright,” she says.  

Avi was drawn to Tellico Plains through similarly supernatural means. 

He felt drawn to go South from Pennsylvania, and he trusted his gut as he wound through mountain roads without direction. He knew he wanted land. He knew somewhere down here he’d find it. He turned left when he felt he had to. He turned right as his instincts instructed. He found land for sale on Citico Road; he made a bid, and he bought it. 

Avi Askey was far from the first person to discover this fertile Eden. It was a mecca of Cherokee history. They flocked to the land after being displaced in every direction by 18th century European settlers, only to be forced onward again years later. 

Alissa’s own Cherokee heritage is in Tennessee, a place she never imagined herself (and a fact she didn’t know) until she was there. Her great, great grandad was the Raven of Choctaw. Now she finds arrowheads and remnants of Cherokee pottery every time they till.

In his first two years of living on the land he called Overhill Gardens, Avi lived in a teepee. He wasn’t unaccustomed to living less-than-conventionally. His parents are self-described “back-to-earthers.” 

“You wouldn’t call them hippies, because politically they weren’t hippies at all,” Alissa says, “but they were into that whole back to the roots kind of thing, you know?” 

His mom is the kind of woman who made cheese everyday from scratch. His parents raised cattle and grew their food. They bought a dilapidated farm house and made it their own. They believed in knowing where their food came from long before it was a thing to do. 

“[Avi’s mom] is a hard woman to live up to,” she says. “This woman is getting double knee replacements, and she’s working 50 hours a week here in the nursery squatting and doing all kinds of stuff -- she will not complain at all, and if she ever does complain, you need to be looking at ERs or something. If she’s like, ‘yeah i’m not feeling that great,’ I’m like ‘we’re going to the hospital.’”

Avi’s parents joined them on the rolling Overhill property, first in a trailer and now in a home that sits just up the dirt road from their children and grandchildren. 

In the face of whatever intimidation Alissa is confronted with, she continues to move forward. Together, she and Avi envision more for their family and their property. The two are intertwined.

In time, she’d like to create more space for other people to stay, in renovated airstreams, teepees and a cabin that has its foundation already laid. 

“Sit for a second and dream with me,” she says, tucked into the booth of the bright red Shasta airstream that sits on the pathway from her house to the woods. Her boys play sweetly in the loft. “Everybody thinks this is a dream,” she says, “but you have to beat back the land all the time.”

The work at Overhill is ceaseless; that’s the catch of a “simplified” life. With no one to rely on but yourselves, there’s a big, less-than-glamorous difference between simple and easy; the Askies know that first hand. 

“Avi’s work is non-stop -- he works until he goes to bed,” she says. “It’s so exhausting and there’s no money in it. You have to love the lifestyle or you’ll just go crazy.”

And for where there is challenge, there is sincerity. The Askies do what they do because they believe in it, not because they think someone might be looking or maybe because fate had a hand in it.  

When Alissa and Avi met, she’d been an adventurer, traversing from her home in Florida to the Pacific Northwest, searching for anything but permanence. She’d grown lavender and raised alpacas, biked the coastline into Canada and traveled to island farms by sailboat. 

When she heard Avi’s voice for the first time, she wrote down her dreams: that she’d live on a farm, raise children and love the man on the other side of the line. 

After she came to the holler, she never left. 

Now she’s surrounded by three growing boys, Jonas (age 6), Asa (age 4) and Callum (age 2), and a husband she loves, respects and admires. They fill her life with purpose and beauty that can’t be described but only experienced. She and Avi aren’t sure what they want for their boys -- whether one or all of them will take the land as their own, or even if they want them to. 

"Our kids spend May through October foraging for wild foods (many of them in our yard),” Avi says. “And it’s one of our biggest joys as parents – to have them grow up with that being the norm."

Believe it or not, there’s a school bus that makes its way out to Overhill Gardens. Alissa cried when she watched her oldest boy step onto the bus as it pulled him away with dust swelling in its stead. 

Story & photographs by Jodi Cash

Oasis in the Wild


Robert Rankin first laid eyes on the Snowbird Mountain Lodge in the 1970s. An avid hiker, he had emerged from the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in serious need of a bath. The innkeeper charged him five dollars for a bar of soap and the use of an outdoor shower.

“I fell in love,” he said. And the love affair has not since ended.

In 1941, the Wolfe brothers established the Snowbird Mountain Lodge just outside of Robbinsville, North Carolina, and their original vision remains strong under Robert’s proprietorship. They created a space designed to surprise with every aspect, to exceed expectations, to be an oasis in the wilderness.

Today, lodges built on mountaintops are rare.

The original drive ascends in a curve that mimics the feeling of climbing a mountain. As you are about to crest, all that appears in your view is a pure blue, wide-open expanse of sky. It’s not until you round the final bend that the majestic Unicoi Mountains and the lodge itself are revealed in full form.

It’s been 21 years now that Robert has owned the Snowbird Mountain Lodge. “The Lodge was condemned when I bought it,” he said.

From that moment on, he has handpicked every detail in the place. The authenticity gained from that care is felt by each guest, from the first step onto the mountaintop property until the final goodbye, assured they must return.

Robert says about 80% of his guests come every year. And that is a sign that he is doing his job right.

“I think people are looking for something authentic,” Rankin says as he hunches over his well-stocked bar. He is highly engaged in conversation, but you can tell he is attuned to everything happening in the room. He cannot and will not let service falter.

The Snowbird Mountain Lodge exists somewhere between elegant and rustic. Truly, it is comfortable, and it is a retreat.

We are always connected in the modern world, but Robert questions to what. He says we are instead assaulted by the technology that rests readily at our fingertips and surrounds the daily human experience. We are tethered to a digital world.

“There’s a peace that descends on me when I enter these mountains,” he says.

Robert floats around the Lodge most days because his presence is part of his philosophy. He wants guests to know that the person that did all of this is actually here.

“With inns and bed and breakfasts and the like, you’ll find that if the owner fits the place, it’s phenomenal,” he says. “If the owner doesn’t fit the place it’s kind of like that missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle that kind of looks like it fits but it doesn’t really fit.”

Tonight, Robert is bartending. As he expertly tours a guest through his large bourbon selection, she coyly asks,  “How did you become such a connoisseur?” He frankly replies, “I drink a lot!”

Every convenience has been considered at the Snowbird Mountain Lodge.

Offering 23 private rooms that are equally historic and modernized, the Lodge can host a maximum capacity of 46 guests. The whole experience is designed for couples to connect and for people to enjoy a retreat to nature.

It’s the level of service that allows that freedom.

Not only are all meals included, but they are first class. Your packed lunch order is taken at the seated dinner you’ll reserve personally with maître-d at check-in. They source food locally, even though it’s not the easy way, nestled deep in rural Southern Appalachia in a large county with only 7000 people. 

“We know everybody and we depend on everybody,” Robert says.

That means that tonight’s menu will be completely different from yesterday’s. The trout comes from local rivers regarded for fly-fishing, beef from Brasstown Valley, and pork from Nantahala Meats. Robert finds himself in Asheville twice weekly scouting produce at farmers markets if the two local farms he sources from—or the neighbors’ front yard garden—cannot supply his needs.

“We take pride in that we know who we are buying from,” says Robert.

Robert also takes pride in his staff of 24 – 30 employees who receive a yearly salary despite the two months of winter closing. The genuine care for service is felt from the top down, and the drive to be the best possible, in life and in work, is a mantra that resonates throughout the Lodge.

In the early nineties, when Robert found himself at a crossroads in his professional life, he found himself fly-fishing on the Nantahala River with his father. Standing on the bank with this man who had worked passionately at his career for his whole life, Robert was given the best gift a parent could give. His father said, “whatever your passion is, you find it, you follow it,” because money will never lead to happiness, just stuff.

“I told him I’d always wanted to own an inn and be of service,” Robert said, “and he laughed and said, ‘well, when are you gonna do that?’”

In the Snowbird Mountain Lodge, Robert has found career and solace. His idea of success lies in the guests he serves, and the small things, like watching a couple drink coffee in their pajamas in the lobby or taking off their shoes because this place feels like home.

“Being able to reconnect with each other on this level and with nature and the ground and the earth that we walk on and the food we eat is really important and that’s what this place is about.”


Story by Erin Wilson
Photographs by Jodi Cash

Drawing Closer the Farmer: An Evening with Outstanding in the Field


In the brightest sunlight of the day, a crowd of strangers approaches a piece of unfamiliar farmland. There will be a tour of a barn most likely, maybe a look into a greenhouse, certainly a walk around a property that has seen hard work, and the definitely the opportunity to hear from the voice of a farmer.

This is an event outside the norm. As instinctive unease wears off and the hunger for a good meal grumbles, the table is revealed.

“From the artistic perspective, I’m always thinking of the composition of the table in the setting, like an artist looks at a canvas or a piece of music,” says Jim Denevan, founder of the travelling open-air pop-up dinner series Outstanding in the Field. “I go way overboard with placing the table in the environment.”

Jim Denevan is a chef and an artist in his own right, and those creative pursuits feed directly into his work with Outstanding in the Field .  

“My artwork is about place, and especially time, where the compositions would be erased by tide or waves or the rain and the wind,” he says. His art is large format, temporary and tied inextricably to place.  

In the 1990s, Jim worked as a chef in his hometown Santa Cruz, California, just five miles from his brother’s organic farm. Riding his bike to work everyday along the ocean, he simultaneously became excited about sharing the stories of ingredients’ origins and about drawing in the sand.

“I quickly became obsessed with making artwork on the way to work as a chef,” he says. “I was late to work a lot.”

But once Jim made it to work, he was fiercely dedicated to telling the stories of local agriculture. At his tiny restaurant Gabriella Café, the menu was handwritten daily with the names of the farmers written beside their produce. He invited the farmers to the restaurant.

“I just sort of sprung them on [the customers]. I wanted to make farming as interesting as it could be. I wanted to tell a story through the menu,” he says.

Thus, Outstanding in the Field was born in 1999.

Jim’s menus as a pioneering chef at Gabriella Café and the collaborative menus between guest chefs and host farmers at Outstanding in the Field dinners have always spoken to the season and the growers. The food on the table lingers on the meaningful relationship between the natural world and the social world that is easily lost.  

“When we started there was no phrase farm to table, it didn’t really exist,” Jim says. “We had a lot of convincing to do.”

In 2015, Jim and his team will serve almost 12,000 people. In the history of the project, they have now traveled to over 10 countries and all 50 states, setting the table almost 100 times each year on the beach, under the apple orchards, on the hillside—where ever the food beckons.

Outstanding in the Field personally hosts the farmers, winemakers, foragers and artisans who are purely connected to the ingredients on the table. These are the stewards of the land that the general public must reconnect with; this is the point of it all. Being able to invite farmers to sit at the table alongside the general public is a built-in component of the price.

“It’s incredible to hear the stories of farmers across the country,” Jim says. “It’s very personal when someone is talking about the land they’ve worked on.”

Jim recognized from the beginning that there are more and more people, especially young people, who are getting into farming, and he needed to be part of supporting that growth. Outstanding in the Field set out to pay farmers just as much as share their stories.

“We were going to pay everybody for everything,” Jim says.

He is firm in his stance that this is not a charity. When farmers can’t feed themselves even though their work is about growing food, he sees a wrongdoing.

It’s all about getting more people, more consumers, to devote their dollars to small organic farmers. “You don’t have to convince anyone to participate anymore. That’s a cool change in culture,” he says with some pride. “There was a whole period of time where people were taken away from direct experience and simultaneously technology gained power.”

People are finally pushing back; there is an upsurge in yearning to be present. In the groups that dine with Outstanding in the Field, there is a tangible desire to use their senses in the physical world and to really know about the places where they live, from the best route to walk downtown to the farmers that supply their food locally.

Jim has seen this deeper sense of connection ignite in his guests. It’s the building of communities of diverse yet like-minded individuals that makes his events powerful for people across the globe.

“The interesting thing is that [Outstanding in the Field] does translate to other countries and that is related to greater questions of why people want this right now in our culture,” Jim says. “[The Japanese] love sitting communal style with strangers, finding that they have common humanity. Real connection really touches people.”


Story by Erin Wilson

Photographs provided by Outstanding in the Field

To attend an Outstanding in the Field dinner, visit the website here.