I started this quest months ago when I first made contact with David at Pepperfield. I had yet to realize my own intentions for joining the Pepperfield Project; in fact all I knew was that I wanted to learn where food came from – in essence to grow it myself.
I read the various sections on the website and began to develop an understanding of what I could learn – still quite unaware of what the possibilities really were. Within days of arriving I knew I had made the right decision. Tucked away in a valley was the expanse of over a hundred acres at my disposal to learn, create and grow. David and I spent the month of April – entrenched in snow – discussing the agenda for the year. Still in the tentative stages, Pepperfield hoped to collaborate with two local chefs to produce to ethnic themed dinners. The sights were set on a Palestinian meal and a meal featuring the cuisines of Central America, specifically Southern Mexico and Oaxaca. Even in the snow we got to work each day trafficking flats of baby brassicas, eggplants and peppers from the seed room to the hoop house to get some warmth and natural light. Within my first few weeks we were planting tomatoes, 35 varieties, some for my education, others for seed renewal and a small crop of native Central American varieties to use in the meals.
It wasn’t until we visited the Schwartz’s that I began to realize what I was doing here. Over that fabulous lunch Jerry volunteered something profound, “You are planning all these meals; growing them from the ground up.” I wasn’t at Pepperfield to just sling manure, pull weeds, learn about horticulture and expand myself. There was still a deeper mission, maybe subconsciously, that I had chosen to participate in. I had taken my one liner – I’m here to learn about food from the ground up – and transplanted it in my life. And I began to address a key component of my food philosophy: develop and maintain a strong food ethic that include avoiding participation in the industrial food industry. I was literally planning a meal from the ground up. I was an extreme end of the culinary spectrum, disconnected from industrial agriculture and the food system supported by it. My hands planted, tended, managed and created the dishes from start to finish; I was involved along every step of the way. Granted, it’s taken me quite some time to vocalize this, my purpose – still developing – has become more clear. My intention wasn’t just to learn about food; I wanted to work with it along every step of the way.
I am still experiencing – much like the garden – explosive growth in all directions. Each day lends itself to something new: a fact, a recipe, a idea or the expansion of my food philosophy. Participating with food on this level has left given me such tremendous satisfaction, gratitude and ambition that I wake up each day invigorated to continue. Maybe that’s the secret: shoveling shit is so sweet when you know what comes out of it.