Week 32: Final Reflections

This is the end of one journey but the beginning of another.  My time here at the farm has felt brief but as I consider my final reflections the experience seems profound.

The nature of Pepperfield effortlessly introduced me to a new collection of connections.  As a result, I met local producers, food and hospitality providers, community leaders and countless others.  Each one, touching on my journey and – knowingly or unknowingly – leaving a lasting impression; each new connection fostering the growth and development that I sought for so long.  Decorah was, and still is, a receptive, welcoming community that took me into the fold without hesitation. This last 32 weeks threw me into the active social scene in Decorah. I attended more parties and social gatherings than ever before.  Likewise, the people of Decorah have created something special: a progressive, loving community aware of each other and their surroundings. Similarly, it was this same community that acted as the conduit for so many unique culinary adventures.  But it wasn’t just food centered experiences that occupied my time.

During my time here I encountered work (and play) so fantastic that it’s hard to recall all of it.  But I do remember how fast it all started. Within months of arriving I had already secured a few jobs around town.  And soon after, even more. I saw the whole gamut from weddings to parties – and trust me everything possible in between.  Meanwhile at the farm, I was busy working away. Nearly 150 varieties were represented in our grow out this year and I had a hand in each one.  Farming isn’t an easy job and by the end of this season I had amassed some pretty impressive figures. In a two acre garden I managed to haul over 8300 pounds of manure, transplant 2577 times, plant over 4139 seeds and mulch 2863 square feet of ground.  This was exclusively the work I completed; these values would be much higher if tallied for the entire farm. My point is, I was quite busy. Simultaneously, I was still able to enjoy the nature around me. I took on foreign tasks like foraging for mushrooms, slaughtering a chicken and eviscerating animals to be used for eating.  The combination of experiences were truly rewarding as a person but also as a chef. (I can’t nearly cover everything from this season, but you can check out the happenings of all 32 weeks here!) Moving forward I will cherish these experiences but also everything that I learned in the process.

At its roots, coming to Pepperfield was always about learning.  From the beginning, my purpose was to learn how to grow food from the ground up.  Likewise, I hoped to take some time to myself and readjust my mindset. As I look back at what I learned at Pepperfield, it’s hard to imagine that I managed to learn all that I did.  Each day brought lectures from botany to esoteric philosophies challenging me on all fronts to observe, learn and retain. As a result I made one of the most profound discoveries of my life: food is a means of connection.  Not only does it unify us as people, but it brings us closer – physically, mentally and spiritually – in one way or another, no matter how abstract. And, as I explored these possibilities of food, I began to feel awake, alive and almost transcended.  

What started as a quest to slow down evolved into something even greater; changes to my body, mind and spirit, began to materialize.  Then, I began to achieve a more relaxed lifestyle. The tension, built from so many years of pain, anger and frustration began to melt into a serenity within that I can only describe as internal compassion.  I became aware of my choices and their consequences; I found peace with my mistakes and shortcomings. Similarly, I began the process of forgiveness with myself and began to reach out to share this with others in my life.  I felt an immense amount of liberation as I began to identify the origins of my problems and charted a new course to resolve them. I may be leaving Pepperfield, but I hope to continue feeling as creative, relaxed and motivated as I had previously.

Don’t forget, we’re on the road for the next week touring various BBQ shops across the nation.  More info on that tomorrow from the road. Stay posted, stay hungry (but not for to long)!

Week 31: The Penultimate week at Pepperfield

If you missed out on our recent update about some of our future developments, we encourage you to check it out here.  As I began to realize that this was my penultimate week at the farm, the whole experience I shared with the people and nature seems almost surreal.

Monday started with an early trip to the hospital garden.  I worked on cleaning up some of the beds while David harvested kale.  When we returned we took a quick break for lunch and then I worked on making some squash fettuccine.  It was nearly three pounds of pasta and took me the rest of the evening.  David and I worked on leftovers for dinner before calling it a night.  The next day I made a tomato sauce.  As it simmered away on the wood stove, I worked down in the garden pulling gourd vines off the fence.  Afterwards, I transitioned to the main squash patch and worked on pulling vines off the fences.  Then I switched to cutting down the old Jerusalem artichokes.  I took a quick intermission for lunch and then headed to town for my shift at work.  Things were dismally slow.

 

Wednesday morning I continued down in the squash patch.  I finished the last of the fence cleaning and then moved onto raking up the debris and weeds leftover from the growing season.  This ate up the rest of my morning.  I took a quick break for lunch before getting ready for town and my final shift at the job.  Unfortunately it wasn’t very memorable as we closed nearly an hour early after only serving 15 tables in six hours.  The next day I finished the clean up in the squash patch.  Then David and I went to the hospital so I could have a meeting with the nutrition director about an upcoming knife skills class.  It went pretty swiftly so I went out to the garden to help David tidy up a few things before we left to go back to the farm.  David and I finished the last round of leftovers and finished our day with a session in the sauna.

Friday was pretty laid-back.  I went to town midday to bring my car to the shop.  Meanwhile, I presented a 45 minute lecture and demonstration for the Winneshiek Medical Center kitchen team about knife skills.  Afterwards, I made use of my time at the hospital to work on cleaning up a few more beds.  I got back to the farm sometime in the early evening and decided to go to town to get some food.  I made a quick stop at the Armory and grabbed some tacos before heading back for an early night of sleep.  The next day I started my morning by stacking the final load of wood in to the wood shed.  Shortly after, I ran over to the neighbors with David to pick up some chairs they had borrowed.  David went to town for the evening and I stayed behind at the farm.  I did some work on a few projects before calling it another early night.

Sunday morning started late.  Mid-morning I made lamb braise and let it simmer away on the wood stove.  I spent time reading and relaxing while it bubbled.  Later in the afternoon David and I went to concert feature macabre music.  After we went to Carina’s to catch up and have a glass of wine.  As our conversations streched into the evening, we were invited to stay for dinner.  Carina put together a great meal of roasted chicken, sweet and sour cabbage and roasted vegetables.  This meal and time with both Carina and Micah was refreshing and fun.  It was a great ending for the week.

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Week 30: My Thoughts About Fall and More

Some people love fall; I do not.  The changes of the seasons might bring cheer to some but for me it’s rather undesirable.

leaves in the fall

 

Monday I put on my lumberjack gear to continue cutting wood.  As I worked away stacking and hauling wood for next year I began to reflect.  Observing my surroundings, I found it hard to see the beauty in fall, the changing leaves or bare trees.  Everything around me was dead or getting ready for winter.  No more lush trees, no more bountiful gardens, just dead plants and leaves everywhere.  Maybe I’m just the odd one out, missing the beauty of the nature around me.  I  believe I’m just not fascinated by the transition of nature into dormancy.  We worked until lunch on firewood and then took a break.  Afterwards, we continued working for a few hours.  When we finished, David and I got changed and went out to see the final performance of The Clean House, presented by the Commonweal in Lanesboro.

The next day David and I picked up where we had left off.  As we hacked away at the wood pile my mind began to wander.  Not only has this fall season been nature’s physical transition for the next season, it also has been a great time of reflection for me.  Even more so than spring and summer, I have been able to spend time reflecting on thoughts and ideas as I do – almost – mundane tasks around Pepperfield.  I understand they need to get done as part of the fall operations of the farm, but I came here to learn about food growth and processing, not Firewood Acquisition 101.  (I guess the sentiment I’m trying to express is disappointment or frustration.)  Not only has fall been the time for clean-up and changes, it also has acted as my jarring snap back to the reality of my life and the choices I make.  Unlike the plants, I’m just getting started.  Woodcutting took up most of our morning and afternoon.  After a quick lunch break, I left the house for a busy night of work.

making pasta in fall

Wednesday – that’s right, you guessed it – brought more woodcutting.  As I stacked, I began to think back to the beginning of my journey.  I have made so much personal growth and have this urge to continue.  Pepperfield has acted as a great catalyst for these changes.  Meanwhile it has provided an equally fantastic conduit for this growth.  But now, as my goals have shifted, so have my needs.  At the end of the day, I don’t mind cutting firewood or working on garden clean-up.  But I’m struggling to meet my goals and objectives as I sacrifice my time and energy here.  I am excited and anxious to get a jump on some of my upcoming projects.  Unfortunately, limited internet and cell service, busy days and early nights, among other things, make this nearly impossible at the farm.

Thursday was the last day of woodcutting.  Thankfully David and I had developed a decent rhythm so we only spent our morning on this project.  Things slowed down for the day and I did some computer work until I left for town.  The night at work was insane.  The next day I started my morning with clean-up around the house.  I threw a pot of goat stew on the stove to reduce while I puttered around.  Meanwhile, I finished the house chores by sweeping the floors and cleaning the stove top.  I left for work a few hours later for another busy night in town.

Saturday started to look a little more exciting.  After breakfast, I set my whetstone to soak for sharpening.  Then, I made a lemon poppy seed cake to use up some extra products we had around the house.  As it cooked and filled the house with a great lemon aroma, I worked on sharpening the kitchen knives.  I had forgotten how relaxing it was to just sharpen knives.  I made my transition to work mode as the afternoon progressed.  Then, I left for town to work with Ruth and Trout River Catering.  Ruth was catering a Luther College reunion and wanted me to help plate.  After a solid shift, I grabbed a beer and then called it a night.

Sunday I slept in until 10.  Afterwards, I got up and started my day.  David didn’t have anything pressing so I got to spend my morning working on some personal projects.  It was during this time that I really began to think about plans for Pans & Perspective.  I’m sure you’ve noticed (don’t think I haven’t) that the frequency of posts has begun to decline.  I don’t like to make excuses but I feel over-committed at this point.  Between my work here and in town, I have found increasing less time to work on creating quality content.  This is not permanent.  My time at Pepperfield is nearly complete; I’ll be bringing you an explosion of new content once I get settled back in Florida.

Thank you all for following my journey this year.  Personally, I am thrilled to be able to document my time and share a glimpse of it with all of you!  Don’t forget, next Wednesday will be our October AMA session; you can learn more about it here.

Week 29: Fall Clean-Up and Firewood

his last week has been full of outside work.  We have been stockpiling firewood in preparation for winter.

stacked firewood

The week started slow with some outside clean-up.  I spent my Monday working in the back pulling out dead plants and taking down fences.  I started by pulling out melons and eggplants.  Then I turned my attention to sunflowers and tobacco plants, both taller than me.  I tidied up the rest of the area by pulling the calendulas and weeds and then headed inside for dinner.  The next day I worked in the hoop house while David got organized for the day.  I cut two, five gallon buckets of squash for the baby goats before hopping the truck with David.  We went down the drive way and worked on cutting downed trees for firewood. After a few solid hours of work, I took off to town for an evening at the job.  Things we’re dismally slow.

Wednesday brought more wood cutting.  Much like yesterday, David and I worked until lunch gathering downed trees.  After lunch we headed over to Highlandville to help a friend of David’s dig potatoes.  She was thrilled and cooked us dinner.  We spent a great evening with her catching up and hearing about her life.  The following day I worked on getting some meals ready for the rest of the week.  I prepared a goat and vegetable soup and set it on the stove to simmer away.  Meanwhile I worked on a tomato sauce and some miso and cabbage.  I pulled my stuff off the stove for a little and went with David to pick up some chicken feed at a neighbors farm.  After that, I got myself ready for the evening and went to town for a steady night of service.

calamondins ripening as we cut firewood

Friday I started my morning with some more cooking by preparing a vegetable soup with the last of the peppers.  While that cooked, I worked on cleaning up the kitchen and around the house.  David and I ate an early lunch and then moved outside to work on splitting some of the wood we had gathered.  I took off a few hours later for a very busy night.  The day after I started my morning with some clean-up in the main garden.  I pulled the last of the amaranth and then moved onto cutting down the Jerusalem artichoke.  I continued to work in the garden finishing a few more projects before heading to a busy night of work.

David and I dedicated Sunday exclusively to firewood.  I worked on stacking and hauling wood to various areas while David ran the splitter.  We spent nearly our whole morning and afternoon cracking wood before heading to a neighbors farm to drop off our baby goats.  Afterward, we got a quick tour of his property and then headed back to our farm to finish some more wood.  Later, we enjoyed a warm fire as the evening dissolved.

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Week 28: And Just Like That, Snow…

We are now experiencing true autumn weather.  Our week ended with a small flurry of snow giving a beautiful appearance to the grounds of Pepperfield.

David and I began our Monday as usual.  After a quick visit to the hospital garden we spent some time in town running some errands.  Afterwards, we returned to the farm and worked on cleaning the last of the green amaranth.  Then I worked on getting a few items ready for dinner.  Korbin dropped in for the evening and we spent time enjoying good food and each others company as we caught up.  She brought a great gift of black trumpet mushrooms making the meal even more special.  The next day I started my morning by organizing squash.  We have an excessive amount, so I spent my time moving them to their final winter resting spots.  David and I spent the rest of the morning picking volunteer squash from around the farm.  Once we got done with that, we moved onto harvesting celeriac for winter storage.  I worked on cutting off the tops, while David cleaned up the roots.  This took a good portion of our morning and we took a quick lunch break just after.  I left for work a few hours later and spent a slow night in town.

Wednesday I worked on getting some meals ready for the week and an upcoming dinner.  I started my day by setting up a lamb braise on the wood stove.  While it simmered away, I focused on preparing some items for dinner.  I started by roasting red and white peppers for a roasted pepper topping.  After that I moved onto making a pear pickle.  Around mid-day, David discovered a massive hen of the wood mushroom growing up near the cabin so I took a quick break to help him harvest it.  Our dinner guests arrived shortly after and I worked on a few finishing touches.  The dinner involved five courses and started with a late garden salad.  Then I presented corn and zucchini pancakes with roasted peppers, pear pickle, squash butter and caramelized zucchini.  The next course was a Seminole squash risotto which was followed by braised beef over fettuccine.  Dessert was raspberry sorbet with some almond cookies and acted as a great closer for a fun meal.  The following day I worked on preparing the hen of the woods mushroom for drying.  This took about an hour and once I finished that I helped David dig up cabbage roots for next years seed crop.  Afterwards, I took off for work a few hours later for a decent night.

Friday, I focused on garden clean-up.  I started by helping David dig and clean amaryllis bulbs.  After that I pulled tobacco, pepper and rue plants that were done for the season.  I managed to get a fence rolled up before I left for town too.  We got slammed at the job with a huge push near the end after the football game got out.  The day after, I worked on some more clean-up, this time inside.  I focused on tidying up the kitchen and fridge before working on cutting up squash for the goats.  Then I setup some braised cabbage and left for the evening.  Work was quite busy again with a huge night of business.

It seems that my Sundays are restful.  After sleeping in, I stumbled out of bed.  I helped David make a pie for a party we were going to and then whipped up a quick ice cream to go with it.  David and I spent the day mostly in relaxation before heading to his daughter’s for the evening.  There was lots of pie – sweet and savory – and great company, crafting a great ending to a busy week.

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QotW 11

I don’t mind paying, but give me some food.
Professor Carlson, Culinary Institute of America

The Purpose: Why I Came to Pepperfield (Revisited)

This is the recent featured story on Rettlers. After some edits, I have revisted this post to make it more comprehensive and concise.


It’s hard to place the origin – both a time and the foundation – of my purpose for coming to Pepperfield. But, it began quite some time before my arrival and has evolved constantly. From its inception, this trip was intended to expand my knowledge of food. I desired to learn the origins of the ingredients I was intimately familiar with from my time in the food service industry. Additionally, I hoped to further develop my respect for food. Likewise, I wished to participate in all the steps – intensive labor and intimate care – required to propagate plants, specifically fruits and vegetables, but also animals. Furthermore, I hoped to begin a healing process that I had neglected or maybe ignored for many years.
Being in the industry for the last seven years, I believe that I began to lose sight of these origins. It’s easy to become disconnected from food when its acquisition is boiled down to a basic interaction; rather than going to a store or market to look at products, I would just pick up the phone and place an order to one of the purveyors. I wanted to correct my mindset: food doesn’t just come off the shelf or off a truck. It takes people, hands and care, or in some cases compromises of machinery, fertilizers and chemicals. Pepperfield acted as the medium for me to see the requirements and sacrifices of growing food. Likewise, it helped me realize why our food systems operates as it does.
I learned that hauling manure in wheelbarrows, turning the Earth by hand and meticulously weeding the gardens were only a glimpse into some of the components of producing food. If you substitute these inputs or actions with huge tractors and combines, petro-fertilizers and glyphosate – Round-Up – it became apparent why commercial agriculture could easily produce inexpensive, cheap products. My appreciation for organically grown and small scale agriculture skyrocketed as I connected the dots; this was the reason a case of conventional tomatoes cost the same as a dozen of its organic, heirloom counterparts. I wasn’t just learning what it takes to grow the food, I was learning the cost – physical, financial and mental – of producing food.
This trip was also to act as my sabbatical. I noticed – unfortunately later than desired – that the high stress, toxic environment of the industry was beginning to transform me into someone else; a person who promoted this very same environment, creating a cycle by demonstrating that anger, negative reinforcement and ego were the mainstays of kitchen culture. But – for better and worse – through my time in the industry I developed and grew. It helped me learn a tremendous amount about myself and the world around me. Unfortunately, this was at the expense of my happiness and that of my co-workers and acquaintances. Through Pepperfield, I hoped to begin a healing process that was much overdue. I yearned to find emotional balance, channel and refine my passion in a positive way and identify and fight my internal conflicts that had been impacting my life.
And, as I took the 1600-mile drive across the nation my mind began the transition. A combination of reading and thinking helped me realize that I wanted to make changes in my operation as a chef, but as an individual too. Subconsciously, this was where the refining of my food philosophy commenced. These thoughts perpetuated even further during my brief stay at my Uncle’s for Easter. While I prepared the evening’s meal, I shared my methods and thought processes with my Uncle as he observed. It was here that I began to understand my love for food that I hoped to share through education. But it wasn’t until the actual meal that I began to observe the potential growth I could achieve. Sitting among people from a lawyer, theoretical physicists, writers, a naturalist, and a clergyman – all new acquaintances – the evening unfolded into discussions about food, politics, religion and philosophy. I remember saying to my Uncle, “I don’t think I ever have participated in conversations stimulating as those.” I realized I was in an intelligent environment where I could learn about food and life.
But that wasn’t the end. The next day I drove out to Pepperfield and my spirit began to settle in. I was given a warm greeting, with some delicious snacks, by David founder of The Pepperfield Project. We proceeded to talk for the rest of the day about my history and what I hoped to achieve while here. I told David my goals and left it open ended by stating, “I don’t know what else I want to learn, I’m here to take it all in.” The week that followed was where my ideas about my future were rocked to their core. David asked me brilliant, thought provoking questions that caused me to delve deeper into my conscious than I have previously. He made me question my beliefs, the natural – and unnatural – universe, my predispositions, strengths and flaws, and my capacity in the food and hospitality industry; simply put, the path I hoped to lead. My understanding of what I hoped to learn began to broaden and my mind and spirit have never been more open. I knew that Pepperfield was where I needed to be.
The slowest, but equally rewarding, part of my growth has been the healing of my body. Pepperfield promotes “working meditation”, where individuals like me can work hard and see the direct results. Planting a row of baby kale or clearing a patch of weeds helped me create a direct connection with my actions and their results. Additionally, reinforcement of “a job well-done”, through praise and gratitude from the plants and the people has created a healing dynamic that feel satisfying on many levels. My time in the dirt, among the plants and in the sounds of rural nature has allowed me to be introspective and begin to address my inner conflicts. And, while still a work in progress, each day my body feels more relaxed and peaceful but also invigorated.
Nearly five months ago I was excited to learn about the intricacies of food through direct participation. I desired to learn about, understand and respect the creation of food. Likewise, I was thrilled to begin the process of defining who I was and identify who I hoped to become. But at the same time, I was anxious with anticipation to see what my future holds. I sought to find balance in my life and rejuvenate myself. While that still is true, during my time here at Pepperfield, I have discovered that I wanted even more. My purpose for coming to Pepperfield will continue to evolve, like it already has. Each step of growth leads to, what seems like, another staircase of possibilities. I have felt more relaxed, grounded, open and happy then I ever have. I have concluded that my only real purpose is to – as the Pepperfield mission states – grow my body, mind and spirit.

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