This past Friday we took a trip to Casitas Valley Farm, over the pass to Ojai. Originally, we did not know what to expect from the farm. We knew they made a couple farmstead cheeses, which are great, but that was basically the extent of our knowledge of the operation. Little did we know, Casitas Valley Farm has a whole lot more going on!
Casitas Valley bases their farming practices on permaculture, which is a seemingly simple but actually very complex way to approach growing. In short, permaculture emphasizes creating productive agricultural systems that mimic natural ecosystems. One key aspect to permaculture farming is growing foods that offset each other. So take the classic growing combination of beans, corn, and squash for example–these three crops benefit from growing in close proximity to each other. Corn provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for beanpoles; the beans restore the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants utilize heavily; and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight and helping to prevent weeds. The squash leaves also act as a mulch, creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil. This growing technique has been practiced for over 5,000 years, but many other techniques are being created now by farmers practicing permaculture that lead to efficient, resilient, and holistic farms. There’s a lot more to permaculture than this, and I’m not doing justice to the approach with this short blurb, so if interested check out this talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CxP0Thljr4
Anyway, about three years ago, I (Julian) was exposed to the idea of permaculture. It made a whole lot of sense to me, and for awhile I thought about ditching this whole chef thing and becoming a farmer. I never did that, but I did incorporate some of the ideas of permaculture into my cooking. Mainly, I started creating dishes composed of ingredients that grow well together. Beets grow especially well when grown near mint, so I often try to pair those flavors. Same goes for grapes+basil, peas+carrots, and garlic+root maggots (kidding, we’re not serving maggots). Pretty much every plant has preferred companion plants that allows them to thrive, and typically those plants that grow together go together from a flavor standpoint. It’s cooking and growing that simply makes sense, and which is based not on what crops the market demands, but rather on what the natural environment dictates. With both permaculture and our style of cooking, what happens naturally is the basis upon which we apply human ingenuity and creativity.
Back to the farm…Casitas Pass Farm practices this permaculture stuff, which is rad. Their pigs are fed the whey from the cheesemaking process, along with whatever else might be seasonal (right now they’re eating strawberry mush leftover from a larger scale commercial application). And just looking at the pork, you can tell the quality is there. In addition to the cheese and pork, they’re producing a wide variety of other crops, helping to restore what was once a avocado monoculture. Everything works together holistically. Seeing all of their plans for the future is truly inspiring.
We are really excited to partner up with Casitas Valley Farm. Their offerings will constantly be changing, but the fact that the food is grown with such thought and consideration will guarantee delicious product year-round.