Posted by kurtwood on December 9th, 2011
It is a beautiful morning here on the farm; briskly cold, dry and quite cloudy. But the cows are happy, eating their morning hay while I snap their picture.
Off to the make-room to work on Dinah’s Cheese. Thankfully it is a toasty 72′ in there.
Posted by kurtwood on November 1st, 2011
I find that I have been misunderstood. Wouldn’t be such a bad thing except that I fancy myself a writer. The whole point of writing is to communicate thoughts clearly. If I am unable to convey ideas properly, then I should just go back to the barn and muck out the stalls and be done with the whole book writing thing.
The misunderstanding I am referring to is people thinking I believe in local foods as being intrinsically superior to mass produced foods. I doubt that I have ever written that or said that because I do not believe that. I believe in eating the very best foods, made in the very best ways. Oftentimes that is a small local grower / farmer / producer, but it is not necessarily always the case.
There have been two notorious cases of problems with small creameries in Washington State in the past few months. Both Sally Jackson creamery and Estrella Family Creamery were small local cheese producers. Both had trouble with the regulators for possible contaminations. Both are shut down. These are great examples of local is not necessarily better.
Would I want a strawberry in December from Chile? Not at all, I love a great, local strawberry picked from a small farm in my area. But possibly a wedge of Cheddar from Cabot Creamery in Vermont is a good bet for a cheese fix. Cabot Creamery is a fairly large producer, a factory if you will, but they make exceptional cheese.
The way that this recently came up was because I posted on Facebook encouraging friends to go to Amazon.com. Critics were outraged that as a promoter of local foods I should therefore be an advocate of their local bookstores. I like the small book stores. I shopped in them for years and still do when I am in town. I also shop on Amazon.com.
I was recently on book tour in San Francisco and did a reading at Omnivore Books in San Francisco. It was without a doubt the most amazing bookstore I have ever seen. It is tiny, maybe four hundred square feet, with a beautifully curated inventory of primarily cookbooks. From now on, whenever I am in San Francisco I will stop in there to buy a book or two.
The largest and most successful book store in Seattle sells my book. I was the second highest seller of non-fiction books at this store in the month of February just after my book was released. I packed the reading room the night of a book reading and people left because there was not enough room. They sold out of my book that night. Let me repeat that: people came from across town, parked, came to a reading and could not buy a book. I now stop in once per week to check to make sure that they have books. Twice I have showed up and there were no books in stock. I was told that they were in the basement and had just been delivered. How do books sell if there aren’t any on the shelves? I love this book store. I buy books there, but it is most frustrating as an author to stop by and to see the shelf with none of your books. This is an example of local sometimes just isn’t good enough.
Amazon is headquartered in Seattle. I have many friends and farm customers who work for Amazon. They also want my support. I think they do an amazing job. They always have my book. People can always buy it. It is cheaper than in the stores. And they link my book to others in a generally very good way. And they sell the vast majority of my books across the country.
The issue of price is a tricky one. It is similar to buying cheap food. I never advocate for buying cheap food. Something is just wrong about that. It makes for poorly managed land, poorly paid farmers and out poor health. I believe that books are different however. ‘Growing a Farmer’ that you paid $16.77 on Amazon is exactly the same book that you paid $24.95 for at the small bookstore. There may be repercussions in the publishing world because of their pricing, but the book is exactly the same.
So, I hope this clears things up a bit. Buy local if it is great. Buy not so local if they do a great job. Look for quality — quality of product if it is strawberries and quality of service if it is something like a mass produced book.
Posted by kurtwood on September 8th, 2010
I just got this email. I love it. It made me smile. Made me realize that it is a small world and oftentimes a difficult world and that little bits of glee help so very much at times.
I used to work at the Heinen’s on Route 306. I loaded groceries into cars. It was a shit job, because we were paid awfully (pretty sure I made $3.15/hr), had to belong to a union, couldn’t get any tips, and people were generally ungrateful.
I lasted about four weeks until I walked off the job in the beginning of my shift in the middle of a rainstorm (I’ve always assumed, obviously incorrectly, that I was meant to do something useful).
It’s the kind of thing where I’d prefer to say I never had to go back to that Heinen’s again. I can’t. I’m there at least once every time I come home. This time, I went back to look for some wine. Ohio makes some terrific wine, but fuck me if I can find any of it for sale besides versions of pink catawba, a style of wine so horrible that adding carbonated buttermilk would be a significant improvement.
So I looked through the aisles, couldn’t find anything I really wanted, decided to buy some mass market wine sparkling wine, and then discovered, of all fucking things, a picture of Dinah’s Cheese. On a magazine. At this fucking grocery store in a shithole town in Ohio.
It made my fucking day.
Posted by kurtwood on August 21st, 2010
This past Tuesday I was in the city. Seattle, that is. I needed to leave the Island for an appointment, even though it was the height of summer and I am loathe to leave my sunny spot of a farm. As I had a few minutes to kill, I walked over to the Frye Art Museum, a few blocks from my tardy meeting.
The Frye is a relatively unique museum. It was founded at the turn of the earlier century by a wealthy Seattle industrialist. Actually he sold a lot of pork products. His new found wealth gave him the ability to purchase a trove of European paintings: some quite good, others rather dull.
Upon his death he willed his home and art collection to be a museum open to the public. Only a century later did it become an interesting vibrant place. Now it is my place of refuge in the city; calm, quiet and filled with some lovely paintings.
I spent the mid day walking among a great exhibition. I relished the Sydney Lawrence views of Alaska, enjoyed the lush Bougereau and was rather bored by the lesser Renoir. And then I stepped back into the middle of room and pondered the message as a whole.
Here were a dozen beautiful paintings — essentially no different than paintings created over the past thousand years. They represented our collective Euro culture. Scenes of daily life, the artists impressions of the world around us, snapshots into feels, emotions and vibes.
What I am most curious about is if this chapter of history has been eclipsed by our present digital, ephemeral world. I am trying to imagine an artist spending days, weeks, months creating a single, one off image. Even more unlikely is the idea that we will save and catalogue and display those unique, single images and cherish their vision.
We have moved to a time of scaling; of distributing information to the broadest possible audience, in the quickest amount of time. As I sat there in the middle of the gallery, the idea of a museum of our present generation looking anything like these fine canvases seemed distant and unlikely.
My pondering fiinished, I left the cool, calm Frye and headed back to the city, to the ferry and back to my verdant pastures.
Posted by kurtwood on August 3rd, 2010
It has been a dry summer even if it hasn’t been particularly sunny and hot. The pastures have dried up and the grass growing is slowly down. As I have eleven cows that need to be fed daily, I have stepped in and begun to feed them hay, to save the remaining pastures from over grazing.
I have decided, however, to leave the three cows in milk in the pastures so that they can have the last remaining fresh grasses to eat. Seems like a good plan — the milkers on the high quality pastures, the dry cows in the barn paddock eating hay.
The three milkers — Baby, 4×4 and Dinah 2.0 — think otherwise. Their ability to reason and view a complete scenario is limited. They are presently standing at the fence line staring at the rest of the herd locked in the barn eating last winters left over hay. They have been stationed there for the past four hours, bellowing loudly. They feel that they have been cheated; that they got the short end of the stick. In reality, they have ten acres to roam and find great, fresh, pasture grasses.
It is tempting to fall into the old axiom of ‘the grass is always greener…’ but I will try to steer away from that. I am myself often that milker standing at the fence line looking forlorn at those beasts locked in the barn. It looks so nice. It must be better than the pasture under my feet.
The thing that I have taken from this morning experience is not that you think it is better on the other side of the fence, but rather, even though you eventually learn the truth, it takes a bit of time to do so. The trio of milkers will eventually get tired of complaining and turn around and begin to forage for themselves. It will take some time though. They could have been eating their bellies full all morning long.
And so I am trying to appreciate the pastures beneath my feet. Sure, that barn looks great from a distance, but in reality it is the distance that makes it appealing.
Posted by kurtwood on July 26th, 2010
It is hard for me at times to keep from looking at ever more grander farms. This morning I found this gem advertised on the New York Times.:
This is an extraordinary property: 147 acres near New Paltz with stone barns and a beautiful old farmhouse. I could live there, raise a larger herd of cows than I now have and make a tremendous amount of fine cheese.
I most likely will stay here on Vashon Island however. I have been here for the past twenty years, the herd is excellent, the cheese fabulous and the cheese cave is nearly complete. It is hard not to look at pictures of old stone barns with ten times the acreage I now have and imagine living there. Thankfully the $1.9 million price tag will keep me based in reality.
I do wish I could master the art of reveling in the present, instead of looking for a grander future. The present is damn nice.
Posted by kurtwood on July 22nd, 2010
I love the internet. Really I do. I could expound on the ways that I use it at every hour of the day. I panic if I don’t have my iPhone on me at all times. I love the connection to the world.
But then, I get a glimpse of our former ways and I revel in it. Last week a reporter from the Seattle Times came out to the farm to interview me about cheese making. We spoke for a bit, the next day a photographer came out to take some photos; the next day a videographer. I knew that there would be an article coming out sometime this week on the small farms of Vashon, but I really didn’t know when.
Early this morning I received the first email from people who had read the morning paper. I did what I have done a few times over the years, I hopped in my truck and drove to the grocery store to buy a paper. Not yet showered, not having finished my morning chores, I got to the store soon after it opened.
I bought a few copies of the morning paper, quickly thumbing through them in line, hoping to see how it looked. Then, in the parking lot, my dog bored in the passenger seat, I opened up the Times to read the article. Most pleased, I drove back to the farm to a complete review.
I enjoy this. The early morning paper buy. The small stack of copies. They will go into the box in the attic with others from the past three decades. In the dim winter months I often paw through the box, reminded of past stories, past photographs printed in this paper or that.
I just don’t get the same excitement from the web. I don’t get up early to see if a web site includes a mention, a photograph, a video of me or my work. I might notice the mention days or weeks or months later, with little fanfare. I never print out a blurb or a link or a blog post. That box in the attic has little added to it in the past half decade.
I enjoyed the early morning parking lot read especially today. I get a big smile on my face, even if my dog Daisy would have preferred to stay in bed a few minutes longer.
Posted by kurtwood on November 2nd, 2011
I tend to be quite the homebody. I rarely leave the farm and even more rarely eat food that I didn’t grow. Sure, every Wednesday I travel to the city to deliver cheese and I always have lunch out and usually dinner, but it tends to be nice, precious, local food. And rarely do I eat meat from a source that I don’t know.
This does not come from a place of arrogance at all. Simply I have cows that need to be milked daily, there is a tedious ferry boat between me and any tasty restaurants. And I have a freezer or three filled with great meat.
This Wednesday, I went a bit out of bounds. I was meeting friends for dinner and I took the responsibility of choosing the restaurant. Usually it would be the latest, newest, sustainable boite. The day before though I had been reading Fuchsia Dunlop’s book Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China. I rather like the book and decided I needed Sichuan food for dinner. The designated dinner spot was now Sichuan Cuisine Restaurant on Jackson Street in Seattle. I usually only go there on Christmas Day but it sounded like a nice change on a hot, sunny evening..
(I must note here that there is no way I will every be one of those sad food bloggers that snaps of picture of every course and every plate, only to post it the next morning with their tired commentary.)
There is really no point while eating at a restaurant like SCR to be all pissy about the provenance of the food stuffs. It is tasty. Spicy usually and always interesting. It also tastes nothing like the Euro-centric food of my white-boy table.
The kicker though was the end of the meal. The rather charming waiter brought out a small dish of Sichuan peppers. Somehow I had never eaten these by themselves. All around the table we chewed on them, letting them explode in our mouths, numbing our collective tongues and cheeks and throats. It was truly a revelation. Not because it was a unique feeling necessarily; the attorney next to me commented that it reminded him of gumming coke in the eighties, but rather because it was a different sensation. More profound that just great buttered broccoli, or beautifully braised beef, or a gooey, ripe cheese.
I drove back to the farm that evening, watching the sun set from the ferry boat and realizing that sticking with the same great, healthy, well raised, food is great and all, but it just isn’t that exciting. Sichuan peppers exploding on my tongue: thats exciting.
Posted by kurtwood on July 1st, 2010
I must apologize for being so tardy in writing a new journal post. The web site was being re-done and there were other things going on. All excuses, mostly I just forgot.
I did want to share this bit from Monday though.
Frederic, the Frenchman who built the barn, the roof of the Cookhouse building and the roof over the wood fired bread oven, stopped by unannounced Monday afternoon. He was driving his work truck, a large 1956 Dodge flatbed truck with questionable mechanical abilities. Years ago he replaced the standard flat bed with a French timber frame base. It is a sight to behold. There is this great contrast between the rusting out, smoke bellowing, dented old Dodge truck and this beautifully crafted wooden frame. The past twenty years of weather have only given it more grace.
On the back of the truck was a large mound covered with a silver tarp, held down with thick web straps. He pulled up to the barn and let me know that he had something for me. Most intrigued, I went up to the truck to peer under the covers.
Frederic had decided to cut his pasture around his wood shop with a scythe, dry the grass and bring the resulting hay to my barn to feed the cows. Vashon might be a bit behind the times, but this still is a rare occurrence. He is certainly not a mow the lawn every weekend with a riding lawnmower kind of guy. A scythe make much more sense for his character.
Together we pitched the large pile of beautiful green loose hay into the hay room of the barn. I must explain that we didn’t use pitch forks from the local hardware; bright colored ergonomic spongy handled types, but rather perfect worn pitch forks. He brought two of the most beautiful forks I have ever seen. The wood was burnished from years of use, the prongs still sharp and bright, the curve and shape elegant.
When we had finished, Frederic loaded up the two forks, the tarp and drove back down the driveway to his wood shop in the old, creaking Dodge truck, the bed bouncing about as he navigated the pot holes in my drive. Tomorrow the cows will get a bit of the beautiful handmade hay in their mangers. I doubt that they will appreciate the whole process, but I certainly will.