May 31, 2014 |
Meet our Garden Guru – Brad Agerter
Though he did not originally consider a career in farming, Brad developed a keen interest in the environment at an early age, which led him to study Environmental Sciences at University of Oregon. After college, Brad was experimenting with a vegetarian lifestyle when he discovered that the majority of store-bought produce was lacking in flavor, which effectively made vegetarianism more difficult. By a happy accident, he was introduced to Shone Farm, an organic farm run by the Santa Rosa Junior College where he learned the secret to growing flavorful produce was organic practices. Brad spent four years at Shone Farm, building on his educational foundation, gaining valuable experience, and developing a passion for sustainable farming before a position opened up at Chalk Hill Estate. Eight years later, Brad can be found in the upper or lower gardens, eager to share his newest produce with us."
FFWS – What is in season right now?
Right now we have been harvesting beets carrots, broccoli, fennel, leaks, and spinach amongst other leafy greens. We have also been exclusively harvesting young Fava beans for Chalkboard. These beans are unique because they grow two shells which means they need to be double peeled when they reach maturity. Generally Fava beans are harvested in the fall, but we picked them early for Chef Shane because the beans have a unique flavor profile at this stage that compliments a few of the new dishes at Chalkboard.
FFWS – What kinds of projects are you currently working on?
Currently, we are in the middle of planting new seeds and transplanting herbs. The new vegetables we have been seeding include eggplant, cucumbers, beets, carrots, turnips lettuces, beans and peas. We’ve been transplanting a few types of herbs into smaller containers that get sent over to Chalkboard. This is farm to table in the most basic form – Chef and his team are able to pick the herbs directly from the plant and include them in the dishes. This way, they are able to use the freshest ingredients and the without sacrificing flavors in transit from the garden to the plate.
FFWS – Are you growing anything new and exciting for 2014?
One of our most exciting projects for 2014 are the beehives we have introduced into the upper and lower gardens. We are in the experimental stages right now, but we are hoping that within a year, the hives will provide us with honey for Chef Didier as well as Chef Shane. If this project goes well, we will bring more hives in and hopefully start producing enough honey to sell in the tasting room.
FFWS – How has supplying produce to Chalkboard Restaurant affected the Culinary Gardens?
Our output volumes have increased quite a bit over the last year and we harvest more frequently, but the restaurant is still small enough that the change of pace is not overwhelming. I have really enjoyed working with Chef Shane and providing for Chalkboard Restaurant – he has a great team and they do an amazing job of using all of the produce we supply to them. The mentality at Chalkboard is very experimental and less traditional, so it’s fun to see how their innovation translates to new and fresh recipes. On the flipside at the gardens, we have gotten to seed new plants that we wouldn’t have otherwise worked with, and so it’s fun for me because I get to experiment as well.
FFWS – What do you like best about the Culinary Garden?
My favorite part about working with in gardens is entertaining our tour guests. I like being able to share the newest produce and plants from the garden in addition to showing guests how much we have grown over the past three years. It’s exciting to educate guests on key sustainable practices and inspire them to grow and care for gardens of their own.
I have also really enjoyed working with Chef Didier and Chef Shane because we customize the garden based on the dishes they create in kitchen. It’s interesting to experience the produce that we have grown and see the chefs translate it into a culinary masterpiece that showcases the flavors to the fullest extent. The beauty about working here is that the pressure of a conventional farm doesn’t exist – the focus isn’t on turning yields into sales and so that gives us more freedom to experiment with different kinds of plants, sustainable practices and learn what works and what doesn’t.