For me, one of the greatest things about being a chef is working with local purveyors; meeting them, seeing how they work and think, and ultimately tasting and working with what they have grown. I have often said that they are the real super heroes and as I recently had a chance to sit down and chat with the owner of Aurora Farms, Lori Ann David, I can attest that she is no exception.
Can you tell us a little about your journey? How’d you get into farming?
I grew up in a sort of amazing renaissance Italian family that cooked and made everything. Because of that upbringing I’ve always been very nature and outdoor based. When I went to college I decided to study marine biology and save the world through algae. I have always been very into nutrition and natural-organic foods which are one of the best ways to eat in a healthy way. Sourcing local nutritious food is one of the best things you can do for yourself and the planet. I started farming on Lopez Island in 1976-1977 and began the traditional agricultural journey. Since then I have just continued to grow and learn and research and experiment.
What inspires you?
This might sound odd but I guess the thing that inspires me is idea of being a part of my community through food. The world has become so out of balance with mega populations in concentrated areas that people have forgotten what it means to be a part of a community and that the most important part of community is food. We also have to remember that the most important part of food is it’s source and supporting local farmers, orchardists, fishermen, animal husbandry, and ranchers.
For example; people have become so accustomed to getting strawberries anytime of the year that now there seems to be little concern that they are being shipped all over the world at a massive cost to the environment. It used to be that you waited for a crop of asparagus in the early summer or the special pixie oranges at Christmas time. That is not to say that you can’t have them at other times but just in a different way such as sourcing locally and seasonally then canning or preserving etc. in a natural way to enjoy those products throughout the year.
I couldn’t agree more. So how does the idea of community through food differ from farming on San Juan Island and farming on the mainland?
Having done both for many years what I can tell you is that here on the island you have to be way more in touch with the market demands of your community. On the mainland, that is, the real world (laugh), there are so many more buyers that you can grow how much you want, whenever you want and you can always find a market for it. When you have an easily accessible population center only an hour away and 50 acres to grow or raise something it is easier to find a market. Whereas here I have to know who is growing what and how can I sell what I am growing.
You mentioned having lived, and farmed, in a number of different places, what brought you back to San Juan Island?
In 2009 we lost everything in a wildfire in Santa Barbara. San Juan Island chose me. I have lived
and worked all over the country so when I was looking for farms or land to resettle on this area just spoke to me. When I saw it I knew I could make it as big or little as I wanted and allow me to scale the operations based on staffing and demand. I also just love it here.
Can you tell us a little about your operations?
We are an Organic Polyculture farm. We rely heavily on the interdependence of growing and producing multi-species plants and animals. This combination results in the best soil. We rotate our goats, sheep, pigs and chickens around the farms which helps keep down parasites and disease. By doing this we don’t have any need for antibiotics, hormones, pesticides or insecticides. We also use integrated pest management which is an organic natural control system for caring and maintaining health of the soil and plants. It is one of the best ways to maintain healthy organic soil and plants to produce the healthiest best food we can.
At Coho Restaurant we often have people ask where they can find your produce?
We grow year round and offer CSA, community supported agricultural, memberships. During the colder months we typically have between 5 to 15 and during the summer as many as 30 memberships. We also work with the food Co-Op here in Friday Harbor and we also have a Farm Store located on our property.
What are your plans for the future?
To try not to work as hard before I am a hundred.
I am sure we can all agree with that.
I am hoping to have a few more green houses and to really nail down our winter production. I’d also like to do more winter beans as opposed to peas in the summer. I used to travel and train people on agriculture so I am looking to streamline the farm just a little more so I can do more of that education part. This includes helping people that want to start a farm operation all along the process from securing the land to planting your first crops to paycheck.
You know at Coho Restaurant we have a series of cooking classes lined up for this year called “Kitchen Bootcamp.” We also have a fair number of readers and customers that are amateur green thumbs asking for advice. Any growing tips for these folks?
Expand you palette. Anytime of the year I can bring someone around the farm and show them 50 or more things they wouldn’t have considered because it isn’t mainstream or what they have been accustomed to buying from the grocery store. There are amazing things you can do with a couple heads of fennel or broccolini that is more than just the florets. The succulent juicy stems and leaves are fantastic and so nutritious. The flavor is just out of this world. I love to use them in just a simple sauté or braise.
What’s your favorite thing to eat right now?
You’re going to kick me when I tell you. The new owners of my orchard from Santa Barbara sent some pixie oranges they grew. I have to say though I am just crazy for citrus. In fact, in my greenhouse here, we have planted 22 citrus trees and this year I have already been able to harvest about 25 pixies, Meyer lemons and there are probably two dozen more out there.
Any favorite crops?
Honestly, everything. I love food and feeding people. I also just love to eat.
Final thoughts to share with our readers?
I love working with chefs that care about where the food they prepare comes from. So, I would say that when you visit a restaurant that displays where they source their ingredients take the time to visit the farm and go to as many farms as you can. Learn about the food you eat and you will have a better understanding and appreciation for it.
A very special thanks to Lori Ann David and Aurora Farms for taking time to chat with us. For more information about their farm or how to sign up for their CSA’s you can visit them at http://www.aurorafarms.org, call them at 360-378-0233 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.