Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category
Posted in Interview | Thursday, April 23rd, 2015
Barb Burwell went around the table, asking all of the students who had arrived at the Cultured and Fermented Foods Class at the Portland Homestead Supply why they had signed up. There was a wide range of answers stretching from mere curiosity about the culinary tradition of fermenting to wanting to gain skills to put to use in a professional kitchen. Barb, who is a holistic nutritionist, discussed the advantages of fermentation from the vantage point of nutrition and introduced the students to myriad recipes they could try at home. I interviewed Barb about how she became a fermentation expert, tips she has for beginner fermenters, and why fermentation is important. Check it out below!
When did you start fermenting things, and who did you learn from?
I learned by trial and error. About seven years ago, I decided I was going to make sauerkraut for my husband for Christmas. I googled how to do it online, made it in a little jar, and stuck it in his stocking. I didn’t follow the directions quite well, and the sauerkraut seeped out of the jar and into the stocking…That was my first foray into fermenting! A few years later, I was taking nutrition classes, and one of the requirements for becoming certified was to complete a community project. Some classmates and I taught fermentation classes for this project. I realized how much I loved teaching during that time as it gave me the excuse to create a laboratory of fermentation and try all different kinds of experiments.
What do you teach in your fermentation class?
I usually teach an introduction to the processes of fermentation and how to make simple projects like pickles and kimchi. I’ve also taught a class that focuses on fermentation, digestive health and building immunity. The class I am teaching today is focused on fermented foods from different cultures. I want to expand upon this idea by teaching an Asian pickle class, which would highlight different chutneys from India to Japan to China to Vietnam. That’s keeping me busy so far.
Can you explain the process of fermentation?
In fermentation, your goal is to get the lactobacillus bacteria to eat the sugars and carbohydrates and convert them into lactic acid. According to the Cultures for Health website, “Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. Beyond preservation advantages, lacto-fermentation also increases or preserves the vitamin and enzyme levels, as well as digestibility, of the fermented food.”
You can ferment any kind of vegetable or fruit. Fruit tends to ferment quicker because it has more sugars. You can ferment dairy, alcohol, meat, beans and grains. You can do little quick ferments by adding whey to your oatmeal or guacamole. There’s an interesting movement in composting that I want to look into where you take a barley grain and add that to food scraps and ferment it as a composting means. There’s this one woman in Brooklyn who goes around and collects peoples’ food garbage and turns it into fermented compost.
Do you have any pro-tips for people who are just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to jump over the fear factor that some people associate with fermentation. You will know when something has gone rouge. There will be really icky looking mold, like black or pink mold. There will be no question. Digestion begins with your eyes. If the projects you are working on don’t look appealing to you, go with your gut.
Start your fermentation journey by making small batches and later working your way into bigger batches. You can experiment by creating flavor profiles. If you experiment in small batches, you won’t waste a lot of food if those batches go array. Every batch will be a little bit different. I think it depends on the weather, and I really believe it depends on your mood too. I think that when you are happy, your food reflects that.
Another pro-tip is that when things are fermenting, make sure they are submerged in a brine. Keeping oxygen off the food prevents mold and yeasts.
Are there any resources about making fermenting things, online or printed, that you would suggest?
I would suggest Sandor Katz’s book The Art of Fermentation. Two other helpful books are Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Fermented Foods for Health by Deirdre Rawlings. If you want to look at websites, check out Weston a Price Foundation, Cultures for Health, or The Kitchn.
I also want to express how grateful I am to The Portland Homestead Supply for letting me have these classes in their space. I love being able to interact with different members of the community and share the knowledge and passion that I have acquired about fermentation.
What is your favorite thing to ferment? What’s your go-to?
I will always love kimchi. My other favorite is fermenting white cabbage with apple, shallots, and tarragon.
What are common challenges people face when they are just starting to learn how to ferment things?
One challenge might be not adding enough salt, which will slow down the fermentation process. Another common mistake is embarking upon to many projects at once! You have to keep it simple because you are trying to keep alive lots of miniscule, live cultures. Once, I got overwhelmed and had to give away a lot of my projects. It was like having pets in the house. I was always having to feed them. When I wanted to go on vacation, I was thinking, “Oh my god, who’s going to look after the kombucha?”
So, just experiment with small, manageable batches and have fun with it! Throw caution to the wind – put jalepeño in your project! Write your process down. Keep a date book, make notes, and label everything. Keeping track of what you have done is necessary so you can repeat the process if it comes out well.
As a holistic nutritionist, I believe in taking control of what you eat and how you eat it. You can make anything that you can buy in the store. I don’t like the direction that big agriculture is going, and thus I am place the production of the food I consume into my own hands. This year, my goal is to grow as many vegetables as possible. One year, my family spent twenty dollars a month on groceries because we were growing so many vegetables. I want to do that again this year!
How often do you offer classes?
I try to do at least two classes a month. If people are interested in having private classes at their home, I am available for that too.
What is your next step in your fermenting endeavors?
At some point, I want to create a holistic center where acupuncture, massage, nutrition classes, yoga, and private counseling are all available. I want to be the fermentation person at this center. I am also interested in writing and publishing about fermentation.
One contemporary writer has said, “We eat so much corn that, biologically speaking, most Americans are corn on two legs.” What if, instead of eating the byproducts of corn, we began consuming corn again in purer and more delicious forms? What if we gave corn back some dignity? Three Sisters Nixtamal, an organic corn masa and tortilla making business based out of Sellwood, has just this vision. Read the interview below with the owners, Wendy Downing and Adriana Azcárate-Ferbel, to learn about how they incorporate the tradition of corn in the Americas into their business and how you can incorporate the power of corn into your own life.
How did you meet each other and form the idea of Three Sisters Nixtamal?
Wendy: We met in prenatal yoga ten years ago in Sellwood. I have a chef background, and Adriana has a naturopath background. Adriana went to Mexico six or seven years after we had become friends and inherited her aunt’s tortilla cutter and bought a small stone grinder when she was there. Upon her return, she asked if I wanted to go into business with her. We starting selling our products in July of 2012 at the People’s Farmer Market and not long after at the Portland Homestead Supply.
Is that tortilla cutter still in operation?
Adriana: No, but I still have it. It’s a simple cutting machine— we picked up the tortillas off the belt and cooked them on a flat-top grill. Now, we have two machines that do all this in one.
Where did you learn to make corn masa and tortillas?
Wendy: We learned this process by researching on line and in books and then going to businesses in Portland, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and in Mexico that are still making their tortillas and fresh masa the traditional way.
Adriana: Nixtamaliztion and tortilla making has been done for thousands of years in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras. The cooking and soaking whole dried corn kernels in water, salt, and lime (an alkaline, calcium hydroxide, not citrus lime) is a nutrient-enriching process discovered over three thousand years ago by the Indigenous people inhabiting what is now southeast Mexico and Guatemala. Everyone used to cook corn at their house and grind it by hand or take it to a local mill, but with modern times and the industrialization of the food system, people are mostly buying masa or tortillas at grocery stores or tortillerias and it is becoming more prevalent to use the dried tortilla flour instead of fresh masa.
Adriana: You see, they’re cooking blue corn, white corn, and yellow corn in these vats. She’s mixing the corn so that it will cook evenly. We can’t digest the nutrition in the corn without this cooking process; it unlocks the nutrients.
To cook it properly we have to taste it, check the temperature, and check how it feels to really say if it’s ready or not. When the kernels are cooked they soak overnight. The next morning we drain and rinse the corn and put it through a wet grinder. Our “Molino” has one fixed stone and another stationary stone so you can adjust the stones for the coarseness of the grind. We do custom orders for restaurants or individuals based on their desired grind for the corn. After we grind it, we mix it in the mixer. Masa needs to be mixed for the starches to join together. We then add water and a little bit of salt, and then it is ready to be made into tortillas or packed into blocks for people and restaurants to make their own.
Where do you source all of the corn?
It varies depending on what is available. Our blue corn typically comes from New Mexico and Mexico. The white and the yellow corn come from Illinois or Texas. We used to get it from Southern Oregon and Northern California, but the quality varied and that particular distributor preferred working with larger companies. It can be challenging for small companies to find a constant source of organic corn since the corn is harvested in the fall and then stored for the rest of the year. Sources have to change as the availability varies.
Most people now use masa harina or maseca at home, which is an industrially-made dried tortilla corn flour. The flavor and texture is not the same. We cook the corn kernels, grind them, and do not mix them with any flour. Most tortilla companies use this dried tortilla flour because it is easier, more consistent and takes less labor and expertise. Some companies mix the dried flour with fresh masa for a more standard and cheaper product. We use only 100% freshly nixtamalized organic corn masa with no added preservatives— just four ingredients: whole dried corn, water, lime (calcium hydroxide), and salt. Our way costs more. Corn production is subsidized by the United States and the company that makes the tortilla flour is subsidized by Mexico so there are two subsidies, and it’s really, really cheap. People might choose the tortillas from maseca because it’s less expensive, but once people taste the difference between our tortillas and the others, that’s when they are like, “Wow, this tastes better!”
Do you supply specific restaurants in the Portland region?
Yes! La Taq, La Panza Café and Stella Taco use mostly our masa and tortillas. We are also on the menu at two of the ChaChaCha! restaurants, Blossoming Lotus, Pono Farms at the Portland Farmers Market, Irving Street Kitchen, Bijou, Groundbreaker, American Local and Paragon. Our tamale masa is on the menu at Por Que No and Sarah’s Tamales at People’s Co-op Farmers Market.
There is a new food cart here in Sellwood, D.F. Fresh, and they are making tlacoyos, which almost no one makes in the United States. Tlacoyos are usually made with blue corn masa, and they are stuffed with beans, Mexcian ricotta, and favas or nopales. D.F. Fresh is making market type quesadillas out of our masa. It’s not easy to find 100% nixmatal.
A lot of people buy the tortilla flour masa and have a hard time getting the right consistency for making tortillas. It is easier to achieve the right consistency and a softer tortilla with fresh masa. If you have a tortilla press, you put the ball of masa between two plastic bags in it, press it as thick or as thin as you want, and then put the tortilla on a preheated griddle on medium to medium high heat. Put your tortilla on the griddle for thirty seconds. When the edges began to turn up just a bit and the color becomes more opaque, it is ready to flip the first time. After that, you wait a minute and then flip it again, and usually it puffs. If the tortilla hasn’t puffed, you should keep it on the grill for a bit longer. When you are preparing tortillas for tacos, you want it to puff because the steam inside the air bubble is going to keep your tortilla moist and softer. If you can cook a pancake, you can make a tortilla. It just takes one extra turn.
Can you use a rolling pin instead of a tortilla press?
Yes, it will just be harder and less even. When I lived in Spain, I didn’t have my press, so I used to press my tortillas between books. You can also press it by hand, but it will be thicker, more like a gordita or sope.
Masa is used for more than just tortillas. Its flexibity is the best thing about it! You don’t have to do just tortillas, you can make sopes, gorditas, tlacoyo, use it with other ingredients for tamales or pupusas. You can do so many things.
How often do you teach classes at the Portland Homestead Supply?
Once a month. We teach participants how to make tortillas, sopes, and gorditas. It’s really fun because we bring beans and salsas, so you get to eat everything you make! In most cooking classes, you sit down and observe. Here, no, everyone is making their own things because I want them to be able to go home and do it.
Is your masa available at most markets that sell your tortillas?
The fresh masa is more perishable than our tortillas and people are not familiar with it or sometimes don’t want to take the time to make their own tortillas. About half of the stores stock our masa as well as our tortillas. Portland Homestead was the first store to sell our products so you can find it here or if you can special order masa if you would like a larger quantity or a coarser grind for making tamales.
How long does the masa last?
Ten to twelve days. Longer if you don’t mind it fermenting a little bit. It’s ok if it’s a little fermented. We make fermented masa and corn beverages in Mexico like tequino.
What is your next step as a business?
I would love to be more accessible to some Latino stores in the community. We are reaching out to make connections to church groups so they can provide healthier food to their communities. I wish that we could be slightly subsidized so we could supply healthier food to a wider customer base. Some people shy away from the word organic, but it is better for the planet and the people. Our people have been eating tortillas for thousands of years, and now they are ingesting all of these chemical preservatives in their tortillas and eating non-organic. I would love to be able to provide something healthier for them.
Our goal is to provide great food and bring the spirit of the corn to everyone. Some people in the U.S. have a preconceived notion that they don’t really like corn tortillas. When they try ours, they say “Oh, wow, I didn’t even know that they tasted that good.” Our tortillas have a better texture and taste better because we don’t use chemicals, and we are treating the corn the way it has been treated for thousands of years. In Mexico, we have songs that say without corn, we are not people. We are not a nation without corn. So part of our business is bringing respect to the corn again. We would like to educate more people about why we are doing this and why they should choose this product.
Corn is a grain of the Americas. Learning to utilize it the way it should be used is bringing back who we are. We are teaching people how to use the fresh organic corn masa so they can use it to make their own food at home and teach their children. Our kids love making their own tortillas. I have customers who tell me that making tortillas has become an activity that brings their family together.
We want to teach people that making tortillas is something you can do! It’s not that hard. That’s why we began offering the masa. Not only is it more economical, once people try it out, they discover that it’s not that hard to prepare tortillas at home. Our traditional tortilla making process is bringing back knowledge that has been lost through the industrialization of our food system.
I sat down to wait for Isla at Grand Central Bakery in Sellwood. She walked in with effervescent exuberance, greeting each Grand Central employee by name and then proceeding to ask with genuine curiosity about each of their mornings. For those of you who frequent the Portland Homestead Supply, you have probably had the chance to interact with the lovely Isla; she works the front desk on Tuesdays and teaches the candle making classes at the store. The pleasant surprise is that she is not only an employee, but also a vendor! Isla is the proud owner of Wee Mindings, a small business that sells heart-felt gifts like candles, lotion bars, lip balms, and soaps. Read below to find out more about Isla, the inspiration for her business, and helpful candle-making tips.
When did you start making candles, and how did you learn?
When I was living overseas, I bought several books on candle making. I would read about it, but also would buy a candle every time I went shopping. As soon as we moved to Sellwood three years ago, I signed up for a candle-making class with Kristl. I was in one of the first candle-making classes taught at the Homestead Supply. I fell in love with it! I got home and decided that I needed to learn all the nitty-gritty about candle-making in order to make it into a business for myself. I started my business in January of 2013.
Tell me the story behind Wee Mindings.
Wee Mindings means little gifts in Scottish. When I was growing up, my granny used to come to boarding school and give us little treats. She would come and say, “Here’s a wee minding for you to cheer you up!” We shared a love for potions and lotions, so she would usually drop off little hand creams at school for me. My granny passed away about eight years ago at the age of 90 after a good, long life. We were really close, and I wanted to honor her in some way through my business. So that’s the Wee Mindings. I also think it’s hard to find affordable but good quality little gifts. My concept is to make really high quality products that are affordable for a big section of the population. When I used to go shopping for nice candles, they were in the $30 range, which is ridiculous for a candle. We all need little gifts on hand that won’t break the bank!
Is making the candles affordable a big challenge for you?
It’s not. I’m lucky that I can obtain most of my ingredients locally. I get many products through the Portland Homestead Supply store. The challenge is not making the candles affordable, but is finding stores where my products fit. A lot of the stores think that good candles need to sell for $25 or more, and I think there is a big market in Portland for people seeking natural and nicely packaged gifts in the $5 to $20 price range.
Where else do you sell, besides online?
I sell at a wonderful fair trade shop on Mississippi called PDXchange. They carry many of my products – candles, lip balms and bath sachets. The Sellwood Dog Supply also carries my candles!
What are common challenges beginners face in making soaps or candles? Do you have any “pro-tips” to share from your work?
One of the cool things about candle-making is that it’s a journey. Maybe one day you’ll do something and it turns out great. The next day you may have a big sinkhole in the top of your candle. People get frustrated that they’ve done everything according to the instructions, and it hasn’t turned out just right. I like to say that the best thing to do is to take notes. Write down what your pour temperature is and see how that effects the overall look of your candles. That way, if there are any issues you can adjust the temperature accordingly. I give out lots of tips in the candle making class on how to create soy and beeswax candles at home, and how to fix any imperfections. My key point to share is that if you want to have consistent results with your candles, you need to be measuring temperatures, and practice makes perfect!
What types of wax do you use for candle making? What are the pros and cons of the waxes that you use?
I use both soy and beeswax. I love beeswax because it’s a natural, renewable resource and it makes the longest burning natural candle you can make. Beeswax candles burn about twice as long as a soy candle the same size. The only con about beeswax is that you have to find a melting pot to dedicate to beeswax, as it doesn’t clean up easily. It can also be trickier to find the correct wick size when working with beeswax.
I really enjoy working with soy because I personally love fragrant not overpowering candles, and soy holds fragrance really well. Soy is a very clean burning vegetable, so it’s easy to clean up, unlike beeswax.
Soy burns twice as long as a paraffin candle the same size. Paraffin candles are what you see in most stores like Target and World Market. Paraffin is the cheapest wax you can buy. It is created from the sludge waste when crude oil is refined into gasoline. It contains a lot of dodgy chemicals, mainly formaldehyde and benzene. When you burn paraffin, it is emitting those chemicals into the air. I chose to work with soy and beeswax because I want to create natural candles that are not toxic, and are safe to burn around the entire family and pets.
Different soy waxes exist for different applications. You would want a low melting soy wax if you were using essential oils with a really low flash point, like lemon or sweet orange essential oil. You couldn’t add those essential oils into a 150 degree soy wax because they would just evaporate.
For people that are just starting out, where would you suggest getting materials or doing classes?
All are available at the Homestead Supply store! We have people come from out of town, the Gorge, Oregon Coast because they find us online and know we have everything to make candles from start to finish. We have the wicks, the tabs, the wax, the molds, the containers.
What is your favorite “wee minding” that you have created over the years?
I set up a booth at the Scottish Highland Games last summer. It was really nice for me to see who bought my products and why. Most people are drawn to my logo and to the Celtic script. What I loved about it most was that they wanted to share with me tales of their Scottish heritage. A lady bought a candle at the Highland Games and went back to North Carolina. It was a ‘Secret Garden’ candle that smells of sweet violet and lime. She emailed me right before Christmas and asked if I could use the candle fragrance in soaps so she could wash in it! She told me that she suffered from depression her whole life and that the fragrance made her happy. That would be one of my favorite customer stories!
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
Unlike some of the other vendors who are selling items that you buy to help create something, I am actually handcrafting goods for the gift category. I operate in kind of direct competition with people who come in to create their own candles. I hope that for every person that wants to do that, there is another who says, “Oh, here’s a candle ready made up, and I’m going to buy it.” Similarly to other homesteaders, I go by the premise that I like to use ingredients that are beneficial to your health and skin. Sharing my candle making skills with others in the candle class gives me a lot of joy, and helps me be more of a homesteader!
What is your vision for your business five or ten years down the road?
My immediate goal would be to try to expand into a couple more stores that I love in the Portland area. I’ve met with New Seasons and Whole Foods about getting my products into their stores. Unfortunately, right now, I don’t have the manpower to sell there, should I be fortunate enough for them to express an interest, because I create and package everything from start to finish, which is really time-consuming. Unless I expand and hire people, being in a big retailer would not be feasible. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t like that down the road, but I’d need to do a lot of thinking. In the immediate future, selling in small boutique gift shops in the Portland metro area is my goal.
For the people that read this on the Homestead blog, I’d love to say a huge thank you to everyone who has purchased a Wee Minding for themselves or as a gift, or attended a candle class. Thank you for supporting my business and I wish all of you a new year filled with light and joy!
And last but not least, thank you to the Portland Homestead Supply – the first store in Portland to carry Wee Mindings. I’m so grateful for everything you have done for me.
You can browse through Isla’s products at her website – www.weemindings.com.
On a rainy Saturday, I came upon Neil Bohne’s booth at the Portland Saturday Market. Holiday shoppers teemed around his booth, bestowing praise upon Neil’s unique handmade wooden and acrylic razors. Neil has a magic hand for all things wooden and sells not just his distinctive razors at the Portland Homestead Supply, but also soap molds and molded beeswax. After beginning to sell soap molds for the Homestead Supply, Neil took a soap-making class and now only uses handmade soap in his own home! Read the interview below to learn more about Neil, his unique art, and how he sees himself fitting into the homestead movement.
How did you begin making handmade shaving razors?
A few years ago, I was selling cutting boards at the Saturday Market. There were so many other artists selling cutting boards, so I thought I would change it up. I had made my Dad a razor set for Father’s Day, and it was a hit, so I started producing and selling shaving razors for the Saturday Market.
I am active in the Air Force, which is what brought me to Portland. I’ve got seventeen years in and three years left to go. I get home at 5:00 at night, work in the garage until about midnight, and sell on the weekends on the Saturday Market. When I retire in three years, I’ll be doing this full time.
It is a badger hair brush. The reason I use the badger hair brush is because it holds the most amount of water, and it’s all natural. The brush is used to stimulate the whiskers before a shave.
Are there other people who are occupying the same market niche as you currently?
Absolutely not. I am the only person in the Portland area that’s doing these handmade razor sets. There are people doing them in other areas, but I’m trying to differentiate mine by making unique designs, like the deer antlers, natural woods, and acrylics.
Here at the Saturday Market, there’s a lot of jewelry and clothing, but there’s not many gifts for guys, which has turned out to be a niche that’s good for me.
I have a lot of different materials that I craft my razors out of. My favorite and the more popular design is my natural-shed white deer antler razor. The antlers are from Montana. I go out in the woods and find them myself in the spring, so they are naturally procured.
I go to the scrap bins for the wood that I make my razors out of. So instead of throwing wood away or burning it, I turn it into something that’s going to last a lifetime. On some of my razor handles, I mix acrylic and put it in the voids of the wood. Those turn out just beautiful as well.
I make beeswax wood conditioner that I sell at the Portland Homestead Supply. It is all natural beeswax that I filter myself, and then I mix it with mineral oil. It’s 100% food safe for conditioning wooden cutting boards.
In terms of the process, how do you go about making the razors?
Everything starts out as either a piece or a block of wood. I cut the wood to a square size that I need, and then I drill a hole inside that for the razors, and then I turn them out. Once I get them to where I like them, I sand them down to about 1000 grit, and coat them with superglue, which makes them 100% waterproof.
When did you learn to work with wood?
I started out making cutting boards. Nature is amazing with the different types of woods and designs and styles she can make. Woodworking gets my mind off of other things and get’s me into a world of my own. I learned many of my skills watching YouTube videos. A lot of artists share their abilities and ideas on YouTube. I learned through them and through trial and error.
Have you ever taught woodworking classes?
I’ve been asked by WoodCraft to teach people how to do the acrylic work because it’s an art to work with the acrylic and get different colors. You have to get things just right. I mix the colors all myself. I make my own molds for the acrylic, then pour it in, and let it harden.
What is the purpose of a soap mold for those of us who have never made soap?
Soap molds hold soap into a form when you are making homemade soap. People use wooden soap molds because they hold heat well. If you are doing a cold process soap, you need to be able to keep heat in for twenty four hours so that the saponification can occur. If you do a hot process, the wood also holds the heat, but acts principally as a form to mold the soap.
How do you feel like your work contributes to the larger homestead movement?
The shaving razors are bringing people back to more of the pioneer days of using double edge safety razors and badger hair brushes. The soap molds are imperative because they allow people to make their own soap for use at home. The beeswax conditioner allows them to keep wood products they own from cracking or drying out.
What’s your next step for your business?
Right now, I am the sole proprietor. My shaving sets have become so popular that I’ve had a lot of local businesses ask me to do wholesale. As soon I retire from the air force, I am thinking of getting some local employees, producing more, and going wholesale with my items.
Danny Perich, owner of Full Plate Farm, farms and harvests food for 85 winter CSA shares on a small piece of land in Ridgefield, Washington. The land belongs to his wife’s parents and his wife, Michelle was born and raised there. I am one of the lucky participants of the vegetables that Danny nurtures and watches over all winter long. The first share that I got last week had a golden beet the size of my face and sweet carrots that made me realize that the grocery store carrots I have been consuming for years are as flavorful as cardboard.
Wendell Berry’s famous line “Eating is an agricultural act,” reminds us that our food choices have larger effects than simply filling our stomachs, but rather are political acts that reinforce different food structures and systems. Danny has labored over his piece of land in Washington to be able to bring nutritious, unique varieties of vegetables to his shares and to support his family (including his very new twins!). Portland Homestead Supply is one of the drop-off sites for Full Plate Farms’ amazing winter CSA. Check out the interview below to learn more about Full Plate Farms and to benefit from Danny’s suggestions for cooking winter vegetables common to the NW.
When did you first get involved in farming, and where did you acquire the skills you have now? I went through the organization WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) to New Zealand and hopped around volunteering at different small farms. When I came back, I starting working on a small family farm in Wisconsin that raised sheep and goats and made cheese. They had four kids, forty goats, two dogs, seven cats, a pony, and a couple sheep, and a bunch of vegetables. I was twenty-one that summer and fell in love with farming then, the hard work, the animals, the family, the life. After that, I looked for opportunities around Portland to come back home. It’s been a good journey so far.
Tell me the story of Full Plate Farm. How did it come to be? Michelle, my wife, was born and raised here. Michelle’s parents had always said, “You’re welcome to use our land if you ever want to.” I would always look at it and say that doesn’t seem like great soil out there. It’s not like, “Oh yeah, let’s farm out here in Ridgefield.” A lot of it is clay with a low PH, which you have to cover crop intensively to bring the PH up. It takes a lot of time, money and patience to bring the soil up to what it should be to grow vegetables off of. A few years ago, we were living in Portland, but Michelle wanted to live out in the country eventually, and I wanted to farm and have my own place. So we took up her parents offer, moved to Ridgefield, and started to farm on their land. The first season the cover crop barely grew. I soil test every year and try to dial the soil in closer and closer in order to achieve the optimal growth for the vegetables.
Was the difficult soil part of why you chose to specialize in winter vegetables? It was. I thought I could do a summer CSA at first, but it was too hard to get anything started in the spring because the soil has a higher water table here, which doesn’t allow you to get established that early. If we were ever going to do a summer CSA, we would have to start in July rather than June, so it just wasn’t worth the struggle or the headache.
Also, we were extremely busy in the summer because we were remodeling our house and I was managing Meriwether’s Skyline Farm. I wanted to start something slow and low key at home. So we started a winter CSA with a little over a dozen folks the first year. Every year, we kept doubling our output, growing for 24 folks the second year, 50 the third year, 85 the fourth. This year, our fifth year, we have around 85 folks again. We are getting close to using the land as much as I want to.
I hadn’t heard of a winter CSA before hearing of Full Plate Farm, how unique do you think that is, either in Portland or nationwide?
There’s a good handful of folks that have been doing it year round or having seasonal CSAs. Pumpkin Ridge Farms out in Beaverton has a year round CSA. 47th Ave Farm located in SE Portland has a winter CSA. Growing in the winter can be risky in a lot of ways, even if you do know what you’re doing. The weather can still go crazy. Last winter was a pretty hard winter. We had plenty of carrots in the end, but had a gap in our kale harvest, which is rare for us. It’s not like the summer when you can say this crop totally failed, let’s hurry up and plant another round. Everything in the winter is slow growing, barely growing, so you can’t make up for losses as easily.
Right. In that vein, to harvest in the winter, when do you need to plant? Leeks, winter squash, and potatoes get planted in May or sometimes even June. That starts our planting schedule. Most everything else is seeded in July, all the chickarees, carrots, brassicas, kale, and collards.
Wow. So they are growing for months and months. Yeah, the vegetables grow normally up to this point in early November. From now until mid February, they grow minisculely. Once mid February comes, everything starts to grow again and it’s exponential from there. The green starts to re-grow on the vegetables the last month and a half the season. The vegetables ride the slow waves of winter.
Are you certified organic? What sort of farming practices do you engage in? We basically follow the organic practices, but we aren’t certified because it’s just one more fee to pay. We just sell to CSAs. If restaurants or selling wholesale ever becomes our main market, if we expand and rent land somewhere, then we’d get certified at that point. There’s no reason to get certified when we are only selling direct to families.
What is your favorite winter vegetable, and how do you like to prepare it? Well, I love carrots. Winter carrots are amazing because all of the starches turn to sugar because of the freezes. Once we get our first frost, all the greens, the parsnips, and the carrots sweeten up. You just don’t get that if you buy California carrots; they don’t get freezes; they don’t get that sweetness. If you buy local produce in the winter here, the flavors are truly incredible. Carrots are my favorite because they’re so versatile. You can roast them, mash them, snack on them, and they’re a big hit with kids. Also, I love making parsnip fries. Just cut them up into fry like shapes, drizzle olive oil and salt, and put them in the oven for a half hour or forty-five minutes at 400 degrees. I’d rather have those than French fries any day. Sugarloaf chicories are amazing too. They are a bitter green that looks like a small baguette. Incredible in a mixed salad, but you can also cut it in half, drizzle olive oil, put it in the oven for fifteen minutes at high heat. That is a nice way to prepare it because you get sweetness and crispiness.
In your work as a farmer all over the country, how have you seen the CSA movement evolve? I’ve seen it become a common name where most people have either heard of a CSA or heard of the idea. CSA is such a funny term, people kind of get the idea, but it’s easier to explain as something like a beer of the month club, but you get vegetables instead! I think the CSA market is expanding alongside the growth of the whole organic movement, which has exploded in the last five to ten years. I’ve seen the CSA market expand and diversify. There are now bread CSAs, fruit CSAs and different models of vegetable CSAs. Josh, over at Our Table Cooperative, offers shares for each season of the year and individual shares for one person. The CSA market has become really specific and farmers are tapping into different niches by offering something unique.
What is your next step for your business? What is your vision for yourself ten years down the road? Five years from now, I imagine we will have rented some land nearby and expanded our operations, offering more winter CSA shares and selling to wholesale markets too. We would also like to partner more with schools around here. Every spring, students from the Portland Waldorf School spend a week up here, camping out, learning what it means to have a life on the farm. It would be awesome to be able to offer more educational opportunities. My own daughter, Ramona, will probably be driving the tractor, she’ll be eight in five years.
Posted in Interview | Thursday, October 30th, 2014
Fall in Portland is a bountiful time, when pumpkin everything adorns menus and the brisk breeze that graces the streets makes you want to stoke a wood fire and lay in front of it like a cat. If you are seeking to break outside of the realm of pumpkin in search of foods that make you feel warm inside, making your own sausage could be your next step towards fall contentment. Check out the interview below with Corey Pressman, who teaches sausage making classes at the Portland Homestead Supply, for tips that will help you to access the joy of sausage, and of cooking in general. When did you start making sausage, and who did you learn from? I put myself through college and graduate school by cooking in restaurants. I got very technically proficient, but didn’t quite understand the magical value of food until after moving to Portland. Right after I first moved here, Wildwood opened up in NW. Corey Schreiber was the chef, and it was all local, sustainable, and fresh food, an Alice Waters sort of vibe. I still remember my first meal; it was trout wrapped in bacon on a bed of lentils that brought me to tears. I’d never experienced food to have that emotional content. I was blown away and realized that I had the same skills as the guys in the kitchen, which started my journey to access that food magic myself. I learned very quickly that it wasn’t hard at all. I started teaching kids how to cook at my childrens’ school, then got the teaching bug and wanted to share my food philosophy with others. I knew Doug and Kristl from another context and they encouraged me to teach classes at the Portland Homestead Supply. After that, I started a small teaching company called Ama Meats. Ama is Latin for love, and the tagline is Fat, Salt, Love. Those are the things you need to make sausage. I also just got a gig teaching at Sur La Table, over in the Brewery Blocks. All the classes I teach there are listed on my Ama Meats website. The Sur La Table classes are really challenging and fun because I teach more than sausage. Usually, I teach sausage in three hours, one thing in three hours. At Sur La Table, I am teaching four dishes with accompaniments in a two-hour time. It’s a denser teaching experience, which is teaching me a lot about teaching. Why do you teach sausage-making classes in particular? I like to teach sausage because it’s one of those foods that is really magical. If made well, it will blow your mind. It can be intimidating to people, but as it turns out, it’s super simple to make. You don’t even need the machinery, the grinder and the stuffer, that I bring to classes. Do you have any “pro-tips” to share from your experience? The big basic starting tip is just don’t be afraid. There are some knife skills that will take you a month to get into your muscle memory, but none of this is difficult. The easiest sausage I tell students they can make begins with going to the butcher and asking for a couple pounds of ground pork shoulder. They’ll grind it for you. Tell them medium ground, once through, and they will gladly do that for you. Then, buy a bunch of spices. You can buy spice mixes at Savory Spice Shop in Sellwood and follow the instructions. Or you can just put a little bit of garlic, salt, and whatever herbs you have laying around, throw the herbs and the meat together, make a little patty, cook it off and taste it, and if it tastes good, you’re done! Make a tube out of it, put it in your fridge for a night so the fat and flavors marinate. The next day, you could have the most amazing sausage. It’s as easy as that. In my classes, we make it a bit more complicated by going through the process of grinding sausage, stuffing the meat into casings, and discussing the spectrum of different flavors one can aim for. What are common challenges people face when they are just starting to learn how to make sausage? It’s the same as people who are afraid to cook anything; it’s just fear of failure and some imaginary obstacle. The whole point is that food doesn’t belong to restaurants. Competition food shows drive me crazy. Food is the last thing that should be competitive. I want there to be food shows where it’s like, “Who can touch someone’s heart the most with this dish?” I’m trying to connect people to food in a pre-restaurant kind of way. Chefs are professionals, and they have their own prerogative: everything has to be made the same every time and done in four minutes stat, which you don’t have to do at home. Exposing home cooks, which is the rest of the human population, to restaurant cooking is creating anxieties that don’t need to be there. It’s kind of like saying, “I’ll never drive because I can’t drive like a Nascar driver.” Completely different things. Food belongs to people before it belongs to restaurants. Take back your kitchen from the tattooed arms of the chef. It’s a fun, joyous thing! There’s nothing more central to our physical and emotional experience at the same time. Yet we outsource it all the time. Cooking supplies a certain kind of yummy that you can’t get anywhere else. Where do you get your meat? Where would you suggest getting good meat? For easy to source pork fat that I feel is ethically raised, a good choice is Carlton Farms. You can get Carlton Farms meat at many stores. There are all these barriers to entry to joy, and to cooking, which are the same thing. As soon as the barrier to entry comes up, there’s a way over it. You think, “Oh, I can’t get to Zupan’s to get the best meat.” That’s fine, just go to Safeway and get it there! Open the door and go through the barrier to entry. Get it to Safeway; it will taste fine. No one’s going to put down their breakfast sausage and be like, “Is this from Safeway?” So just do it. Are there any resources about making sausage, online or printed, that you would suggest? I would say just watch videos online. That’s what I do when I’m teaching myself something. There’s also a book called Home Sausage Making that has some really good sausage recipes. They sell that book at the Portland Homestead Supply. I use it in my class, and that’s the book I started with. What would you say is a good fall sausage? Turkey Cranberry sausage is a great holiday sausage. I would also recommend a garlic sausage or a spicy Italian, which will warm you up during these cold months. How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement? I think the larger homesteading movement is already a group of people who benefit from not becoming overwhelmed by the barriers to entry. If you are already making your own soap, your own cheese, or your own pear juice from the pears in your backyard, then you should be having the same attitude towards your protein. Sausage is a great way to do that. If you buy a pig with a bunch of friends, then you should know what to be doing with the shoulders and with the cuts that you’re not going to do anything with. Sausage is that thing, traditionally. What is your next step in your sausage-making endeavors? What is your vision for your business ten years down the road? I want to buy up some land and start a farm-based cooking school to help others get over the barriers of entry to all of these things that bring so much joy to life, which need to be reclaimed and not outsourced anymore. It would offer gardening classes, cooking classes, and camps for kids. We would host dinners and classes for adults. That’d be cool, right?
Angela Creais, who teaches the mending class at the Homestead Supply and also sells beautifully sewn kitchen items, lives just blocks away from the Homestead Supply. Ashley and Ethan, owners of Feastworks, who teach the butchering class, have a charcuterie down the block from the Homestead Supply. Oaks Bottom Forge, a
forge that sells hand-made knives, is just down the road as well. The Portland Homestead Supply is a Sellwood hub of creativity, ingenuity, and people taking things into their own hands. Angela, whose work you can see displayed on the right, is just one example of the homegrown economy that the Portland Homestead Supply cultivates. Check out the interview with Angela below to learn a few sewing tips and gain insight into Portland’s best sewing resources.When did you start sewing, and who did you learn from?
I’m self—taught. In the 1980s I got really interested in sewing and started to order fabric and buy patterns and make my own clothes. I did this for about five years or so, and then I got involved in the corporate world and had no time for it anymore. I came back to sewing ten years ago with an increased interest in apparel and things for the home. When I retired from Xerox in 2006 I went to a local home décor workshop here and said, “I’ll work for nothing. I just want to hone my skills.” The owner hired me to do that, and I stayed with her for about six months and learned things that I had never had any experience with. After that, I started to work at Mill End Store, a huge fabric store in Milwaukie, as a part time job. There, everyone sews and it is a very supportive and skilled community. Now I’m back to a full-time job with little time for my handiwork.
What are the types of things that you sell at the Portland Homestead Supply?
I make potholders, tea towels, tea cozies, clothespins bags, hangers with lavender bags in them so your clothes smell nice, little covers for jars and lots of other things. It’s fun making little things because you have a specific number you’re going to make, and you start and finish them, instead of laboring for days over a larger project.
What is your favorite piece that you have created, either recently or over the years?
I saw these tea towels in Paris last year and I thought this was such a clever idea. When you go to Paris you do all the touristy things but you don’t usually spend much time in a department store. They have the most amazing department stores there! I took one half-day and went to the BHV Marais by myself and combed every floor and every department. In the kitchen area I admired beautiful tea towels which have a piece of twill tape sewn down the middle with a loop at the end for hanging. I’d never seen anything like these in this country and so I started to make them for Kristl at the Homestead Supply and they sell very well. Those and my chicken pot holders are my favorites.
Do you have any “pro-tips” to share from your work?
If you’re making more than one of something do it in a pieced way. Do all the ruffles at one time, then all the hems, etc. Sew in a production mode. It will go a lot faster and you won’t get bored as easily.
In my beginning mending class the first thing that I teach people is how to thread a needle, how to tie a knot in the thread, and five simple stitches because those are the very basic things that a lot of people don’t know. People feel that once they have these few basic things down, they can sew anything, and they can. People who haven’t sewn much usually only have a needle and thread and their hands. It’s exciting to see people discover that that combination is really all they need to fix or even make things.
Are there any meet-ups or resources that you might know about for people interested in learning to sew or in sharing sewing skills?
PCC offers great classes; I’ve taken pattern-making classes there. The art institute here, PNCA, offers a degree in fashion design. Portland Parks & Recreation offers very basic sewing, knitting, and crocheting classes and Sharon Blair at Portland Sewing offers great classes for beginners and advanced sewers and designers. Anybody who sews in Portland goes to Mill End Store, Fabric Depot and wonderful little shops like Bolt. At Mill End I met customers and employees who only quilt or just sew lingerie or headbands. Everybody’s got a specialty.
Then, there is also this whole hand-sewing trend going on right now. Modern Domestic is a great store on Alberta that sells sewing machines and all kinds of fabric. They recently gave a three-day seminar on hand sewing, not just mending, but sewing everything by hand.
Do you teach any classes?
I teach a class on mending at Portland Homestead Supply, and I also belong to Repair PDX, which is a group of volunteers that fix things. We meet once a month at different locations, and our September meeting was at Portland Homestead Supply. You can get your bike tuned, you can have a small appliance fixed, your knives sharpened, your computer fixed, your resume edited, etc. I am usually there with two or three other ladies who sew. My specialty is zippers. I don’t know why, I just love fixing zippers.
Once a year Repair PDX also does something called PDX Skillshare. This year, fifty different people gave fifty different classes. One of the women I met through my mending class taught a class on book-binding. I took a class on blogs, and one on silk-screening, all in one day. PDX Skillshare is great because it is totally free and offers every imaginable class.
It’s a critical piece. When I describe my mending class on Homestead Supply’s website I say teenagers and men are cordially welcome because most of the people that come to the class are women. I had one wonderful guy that took my class who had never held a needle in his hand and yet I know men who know how to sew and to iron and they do it for themselves, not for anyone else. Everyone can benefit from knowing these few simple things.
What is your next step in your sewing endeavors?
I have a new job and I just finished school (again). Between working full-time and school, something had to give so it was my sewing. I’m actually having a little bit of withdrawal! As you will see, my sewing room is imploding on me because I have so much fabric and stuff and I’ve neglected it these last few months so I’m going to take a few days off soon and clean up my act. I can’t wait.
I sat down with potter Careen Stoll on a comfortable Thursday morning to discuss her work and the belief systems that influence it. Careen makes beautiful, hand thrown porcelain crocks for fermenting and sells them at the Portland Homestead Supply. Each thing she possesses and makes has an intention and is palpably infused with a passion for simplicity, utility, and a feminine beauty derived from the natural landscape about her. Before we sat down, Careen poured us both black tea into two of her handmade cups (see in the photograph to the right). She described that she fired the porcelain cups in a wood-firing kiln, as opposed to an electric kiln, and explained, “There is no glaze on the outside that you see. The color of the cup comes from the iron content of the clay, which is drawn out by the flame. You can see the path of the flame on your cup. You can see that this part received more ashes and the ashes melted into this shiny part, and then the flame curled around the cup.” Personally, I had never thought about what had come before the electric kiln. The kiln that fired the cups we were drinking out of was Careen’s innovation, a hybrid kiln built upon a wood firing technique many centuries old. Let Careen bring you into her world, one that is graced by intentional, handmade objects and a permaculture ethos, by reading the interview below.
For more information on Careen, visit her website where you can sign up for her quarterly email newsletter, which is full of good stories and updates about her work. Careen is also raising money to purchase a bigger electric kiln through a kickstarter ending September 14th. Visit her page if you’re interested or would like to donate to her worthwhile cause!
When did you first get involved in ceramics, and where did you acquire the skills you have now?
I learned the basics when I was a teenager, but was largely self-taught after that. I studied with two amazing mentors who are full time, self-supporting studio potters, one in Virginia, and one in Minnesota. Then I completed graduate studies and moved to Portland. I have shifted more into a teaching role after moving to Portland, but I’m still totally focused on studio ceramics. I’ve been at it for most of my life at this point.
What did you focus on during your graduate studies?
I focused on utilitarian ceramics as opposed to sculptural, and atmospheric fire, which means using wood as a fuel for the kiln as opposed to electricity. When you fuel the kiln with wood, you don’t need to use a glaze because the iron content of the clay is drawn out by the flame. You fire it for multiple days. Inside the kiln you have this river of flame that is carrying all of those ashes, and touching every single pot, up, down, on the surface of every pot as it passes. We would run multiple cords of wood through a kiln like that for multiple days. Beautiful team effort, and everyone is telling stories. I’ve been doing that for most of my career and trying to sell those pots mostly at art fairs instead of galleries.
How does the atmospheric firing differ from electric firing?
The short answer is that it is chemistry of flame and oxygen and clay. Whatever minerals are retained within the clay are pulled out by the flame. In an electric kiln, there is no flame. It’s just a giant oven. You often want the cleanest clay you can find because it’s not interacting with flame in an electric kiln.
Think of the wood kiln like a dragon. You have the dragon mouth eating all the wood. The dragon belly is where all of the pots are stacked up, and the tail is the chimney. That’s how they started 4,000 years ago in China. They would fire in caves that had a natural vent, and then they started building kilns out of bricks. Some are fired for weeks, around the clock. There is so much labor involved in wood kiln firing, and it is a wonderful way to get to know people around the clock.
Do you currently work with a wood kiln?
Not currently. Eight years ago, I built a kiln in the backyard of my rental property in SE Portland, which I named the Tin Man. I fired it fourteen times with groups of people. It was an innovative kiln because it was fired by two fuels, wood and waste vegetable oil, which combined in a way that maximized each against the other. Wood alone is a carbon-neutral fuel, and waste vegetable oil alone is a carbon-neutral fuel, thus contributing nonet carbon emission to the atmosphere. I can’t run the kiln on just pure vegetable oil because it doesn’t have a low ignition point. The wood provided a wick for the vegetable oil to fall on to. The two of them work together in a really efficient way.
What has been one of the biggest challenges of maintaining strong environmental ethics within your artwork and your business?
Primarily, that the amount of labor involved in preparing the fuel and firing a kiln that runs off of carbon-neutral fuels like waste vegetable oil and wood is not commensurate with what the market will bear. If I am going to earn a living wage, the pots are not affordable to the people I most want to share them with. The section of the population that does appreciate the work has so much to chose from. The average consumer doesn’t see the value of this work, doesn’t see the work that goes into the actual object and either can’t or won’t be able to pay for it. Now my work with the electric kiln is powered somewhat by solar panels up on top of the barn. Of course the consumer still can’t see that. Earning a living wage would be the biggest challenge.
How would you coin or describe your own style?
Heavily influenced by natural objects, like beach stones and eggs, and most recently, the female body. I love thinking about tactility and ergonomics, how one body touches another, how you hold this as the body of clay. My work tends not to have much of an articulated foot on it, and thus is most comfortable in the hand, as opposed to on the table. It’s fine on the table because it can be flat, but it’s more comfortable in the hand. It is intended for potlucks and picnics, and it shapes the eating experience in that way.
There is also a lot of Scandinavianism Modernism in my work. My mom is Dutch, and my dad’s a world traveler, so I grew up with a Scandinavian aesthetic and Danish simplicity.
When did you start making the fermenting crocks that you sell at Portland Homestead Supply? Explain their specific design and use.
Tressa Yellig, who runs Salt, Fire, & Time, got me started on fermented foods for my own health reasons. Since I’m a potter, I was like, “Well, I can make the thing to make the fermented foods.” Between that and a student of mine, Annelise, I was encouraged to make them for sale. Three years ago, I started developing them and one year ago, I presented them to Kristl at Portland Homestead Supply. She was very encouraging.
As far as the design of the crocks, instead of making a relatively unattractive, straight-walled cylinder, I molded the shape of the crocks after a luscious, female form with a rounded, soft belly. The crocks come with stones that weigh down whatever is being fermented inside. I make the stones at the same time as the crock and the lid. I size the stones perfectly to the inside of the neck so that they rest in just the right place and lock into place as the food expands naturally.
The design of the crock includes a tight water lock, which means that my crocks don’t tend to get mold inside them. People have pretty hodge-podge fermenting situations, in which mold can be a big issue. Because of the design of my crocks, there is no mold.
Where do you get the clay that you use? Why do you use porcelain?
Porcelain, for one, is the most sensually satisfying material for me to work with. The supple, silky qualities of it are luscious to me. As far as technical advantages, it is the most dense clay available to me. What that transfers to is durability. Pound for pound porcelain is the best clay. If I create something in a way that is engineered well, I can make it thinner while still keeping strength where I need it to be strong. I tested the finished work and it pulls in .03% water. Industry standard is 1%. I’m making something that is a higher quality than is commercially available. Because of how I make it, but also because of the quality of the material. That is a crucial point for porcelain. Again, I just really love working with porcelain, so it’s convenient, but it’s also technically the best.
How do you think that design affects our eating experiences and our daily rituals? How, as a potter, do you integrate this into your work?
I think a lot about quality of life. I am surrounded by handmade objects because of my associations with people and things and my skill at making objects myself. A fair number of people remark that lovingly made, well-crafted objects help them slow down, help them appreciate their surroundings and the context of their life. So much industrially produced work is not ergonomic. I’ve noticed that you’ve turned your cup in a way that you are gripping it this way too. That comfortable sensation sends sensory information to the rest of you in a way that a diner mug might not. Well-designed work demands a certain amount of attention that I would like to interact with.
I want to make work that’s comfortable and that doesn’t interrupt the day too much, but sends that kind of sensation. I don’t want to make work that pleases just everybody. You can’t please everybody. I know that my work will sing to certain people and not to other people and that’s great. I do want to help people slow down if they can.
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
I was dismayed when I learned how much misinformation has been propagated by the industrial food complex and then perpetuated by the FDA. Whole generations of nutritional misinformation and chemical engineering of foods has decimated our health as a culture, as a country. It’s horrifying to me. I had some health problems, and I learned how to care for myself with traditional foods and traditional methods of preparing foods and eating.
Because of my own experience, I can be a strong advocate for fermented foods and their incredible benefit for the body’s overall health and mental health as a result! If you’re preparing food in a way that’s more nutritionally bio-available, then you’re nourishing your brain cells as well as everything else. The slow food and the local food movement are gaining strength, and I have nothing but excitement for seeing the revival of that knowledge, particularly in young and urban people, and a strong, shift away from big-boxed store preparations. We need to eat food, not food products. The crocks are one small way that I can help people regain their knowledge and their health, and as a cultural movement, I’m happy to be a part of people owning that crucial component to a good life. The beauty that I can create can contribute to people’s quality of life, but if that beauty can be sustained down to a cellular level, that’s pretty special.
How do you support (and receive support from) other organizations/individuals/businesses in the local community? Are you a part of any collaborative projects?
I’ve started working with Mud Shark Studios, which is a small, slip-cast operation in Portland. I’m starting to delve into industrial design, which is basically taking my designs and paying to have them manufactured and thus available in larger quantities. Instead of doing the art fair thing and making individual sales to individual people, I’m researching making pots that are of industrial standards, having them produced in the slip-casting or ram pressed methods, and then marketing them to restaurants. I think there’s a hunger for that kind of intriguing design in the restaurant industry now. I know how to do it, and I know the people to talk to.
I have also worked collaboratively with Biwa Restaurant. If you go there and order the sashimi, it will be served on some bowls that I have given them. I have an ongoing warm relationship with that restaurant. Together, we hosted a dinner at the Museum of Contemporary Craft as a benefit for the museum. Biwa catered the food, which was served on all of my wood-fired work. It was a beautiful dinner and setting with excellent company.
What is your next step for your business? What is your vision for yourself ten years down the road?
I want to teach workshops on a national level. What’s really important to me is working in a way that can best be described as a permaculture ethos. Permaculture to me means designing my life, my work, and the physical output of my labor in a way that integrates with inputs from my natural environment. Is my body able to work 40 hours a week in the studio? No. It’s physically demanding beyond what I can sustain. Being good to my body, gardening, growing the foods that I ferment in my crocks that I make and share with friends are all so important. Additionally, permaculture to me means working within the system of culture and helping culture develop in ways that take a cue from nature. Educating around listening to the natural environment is a really crucial point to the education I want to take to workshops. Talking about technique, for sure, in a ceramics related workshop, but really talking about environmental ethics and why we make what we do, and what are we making, and what is it saying, and what does that matter. It doesn’t all have to be utilitarian. It doesn’t all have to be made the way I make it or according to my beliefs, but I want to encourage students to investigate those questions.
Posted in Interview | Tuesday, August 19th, 2014
Ashley and Ethan Bisagna’s romance bloomed over the shared responsibility of butchering lambs in the basement of one of Portland’s most acclaimed restaurants, Clyde Common. The romance eventually moved beyond the space of the basement to bigger spaces: marriage, kids, and a dynamic, creative business built around their shared passion for food. On July 31st, Ethan and Ashley opened their own delicatessen on Tacoma Street in downtown Sellwood called Feastworks. It serves as both a restaurant and a hub for their catering business. Just a few blocks away from the Portland Homestead Supply, Feastworks supplies delicious cuts of consciously-raised meats for all hungry Portlanders. Feastworks has an educational element to it as well; Ethan shares his expertise with community members by teaching butchering classes at the Portland Homestead Supply. Check out the interview below to understand more about the importance of well-raised meat and to get excited about the newest delicatessen in town!
How did you both get involved in cooking, catering, and butchering?
Ashley: Well, we both grew up in families that were very into food, so we just grew up that way, interested in cooking. Neither of us grew up eating processed food, so it is kind of natural that this would be our profession. We were both at Clyde Common when it first opened, and that’s where we met, butchering lambs together. That’s the romantic part… us in the basement, me holding a lamb while he’s sawing it; that’s how we fell in love.
Ethan: We both started cooking before that. Ashley has a bachelor’s degree from WSU (Washington State University) in Business; Hospitality Administration. She started out managing hotels after college – eventually she went to the back of the house because she realized that’s where she belonged. I went to culinary school ten years ago, so that’s how I started cooking. When I got the job at Clyde Common, they had just started doing the whole animal program, which Ashley brought on when she was working as a sous chef there. So I started my career as a butcher there. We both were cooking for quite a few years before Clyde Common.
What is the whole animal program at Clyde Common?
Ethan: Just whole animals. Instead of bringing in pre-cut, pre-fabricated meats, they started bringing in whole animals. That had to do with Ashley because she was working at Park Kitchen before that, and she was prepping animals with the chef. I got that because I had a lot of hunting experience. I’ve been, with family members, breaking down animals most of my life, which is different from the way I cut them now, but still good experience. Anyway, we started this together after Clyde Common. It was slow to begin with. I bounced around working at Phil’s Meat Market, Laurelhurst Market, while we were doing this. We both had to step off completely in 2010. –
Was it hard to convince Clyde Common to bring in the whole animal? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Ashley: No, because people are really interested in getting meat sourced from small, local farms with no antibiotics, no hormones. From a small farm, you can’t piece out meat as easily. That was just our way of getting that quality meat to work into our menu.
Ethan: It’s the same idea as farm to table with vegetables. You bring all your great organic produce to the table, and you should match the great produce with great meats.
Where do you all source your food here?
Ashley: Carlton Farms Pork, which is all natural, hormone and antibiotic free. Chicken is Mary’s Organic.
How did you choose those farms to source from?
Ethan: Carlton Farms is not commodity agriculture. It’s large, but it’s still small enough to where they have their own farms in Washington and Oregon that grow the animals to their specifications with no hormones, no antibiotics, to the size they want, to the weight they want, to the feed that they have to have in order to purchase from these farms. It’s small farm operations that grow to Carlton Farms specifications. It works well for us with the amount of pork that we have to have on a consistent basis weekly.
I know that you launched your store in Sellwood just last week on July 31st! How would you differentiate yourself from other delicatessens in Portland?
First of all, we make all of the product that’s in the case. We do not bring in any one else’s product. Everything that we put out, besides the bread which is from An Xuyen Bakery, which is a small, family bakery, is made in house. Everything, from the sauces to the meats to the pastries are made in house.
How long have you all been thinking and talking about opening this business?
Ethan: Years. We have been catering for five years, so we had been talking about opening something so we could build our catering company. It was really the place that we picked that would dictate the type of business that we could open. We knew we were going to sell charcuterie and food, but the location was going to determine our options. We had been talking about a delicatessen for years.
Ashley: This works best for starting out for us just because we already have the catering and the charcuterie going, so it’s a way to open up and expand on what we do well. We already have a great following at the farmer’s markets based on all of those products.
Will y’all still be doing farmer’s markets?
Ashley: Yes. We are at the Woodstock and Beaverton farmer’s markets.
What has been one of your biggest challenges in opening?
Ashley: Waiting five years for banks to finally take us seriously!
Ethan: We don’t have investors; we did it on our own from what we had built before. We put all of our money back into the business. Time management is definitely challenging with catering, building this business, and having three children.
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
Ashley: Well, for example, today, there was a couple that came in and bought some charcuterie that had been at one of our classes at the Portland Homestead Supply. Ethan taught a pig butchering class. They went there and had learned from Ethan how to butcher a pig. They came and are interested in our business and our product and are also interested in getting a pig themselves and using that knowledge.
Ethan: Just further education on why you should source your meat responsibly. Instead of doing commodity mass agriculture from the Midwest, which I understand there’s a reason for, but sourcing your meat responsibly and continuing to teach how to break down animals, how to make sausage, just educating the general public on getting good product and why it matters to get a good product.
How often do you teach the butchering class?
Ethan: We are only doing a few a year right now just because we’ve been busy. A couple years ago, we were doing a lot, but now we do them around Father’s Day, Christmas, Easter, around holidays. We might up on the classes now that this business is open because we can advertise easier here. We might start doing a monthly class, still at the Homestead Supply.
Did you butcher the pig in that room?
Ethan: Yeah, a lot of people just walking through were really interested. Every now and then, you get people who won’t walk up there while it’s happening. One time, we had ten people in our class, but with thirty people watching from the sidelines.
How much are the classes and what do you do in them?
Ethan: $125. You really learn how to take an animal from a whole animal to portion cuts that you would see in your local butcher shop, half an animal to primals to sub-primals to portion cuts. Then I explain why these cuts are cut like this, where they come from.
Where would you suggest if people are wanting to buy cuts or if someone wanted to buy a whole pig and put it in their freezer?
They could buy a whole pig from us. We’re not selling raw meat directly out of the case, but if someone ordered something large like that, we would sell them that. Any of the big butcher shops around town, like Laurelhurst Market is a great place to source really well-raised products. CHOP Butchery & Charcuterie would be able to do it as well.
How does Feastworks support (and receive support from) other organizations/individuals/businesses in the local community?
Just here in Sellwood, we are friends with the Portland Homestead Supply, the Portland Bottle Shop, Reverends Barbecue. We all support each other and have worked with each other at some point throughout our careers. We all send people to each other. We eat at their places, they eat at ours.
For those interested in growing and butchering their own animals, what is your best advice? Any pro-tips?
Take a class first. Don’t be too intimated, understand there’s not really a wrong way to do it. If you’re cutting the meat that you can cook and you can eat, and you haven’t wasted any of it, then you really didn’t do anything incorrectly. Understand that it’s all meat. As long as you can cook it and eat it, you’re doing just fine.
What is your favorite meat product that you sell? What would be perfect for a summer picnic and why?
Ethan: Ham. I like hams in all forms. I make an American style smoked ham, which I really like. Salt cured ham, country style ham, boiled ham, smoked ham, I’m just a big fan of ham. I think we do a very good one.
Ashley: I’d say our hot link, 100%. It’s the best hot link I’ve ever had. It’s a Louisiana style hot link, smoked pork sausage, very spicy and very flavorful, delicious.
What kind of spice is in it?
Ethan: Cayenne, garlic, salt, allspice, basil, mustard seed, red chili flake. It’s really good.
What is Feastworks next step? What is your vision for Feastworks ten years down the road?
Our next step is growing this business, this deli. Long term, I’d say we would like to eventually get a catering commissary kitchen that is separate, so that we can grow our catering company. And who knows from there!
Posted in Interview | Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
I caught the end of Saundra Kamman’s soda-making class at the Portland Homestead Supply. It was a full house, people of all ages leaning forward in their seats to carefully measure and pour ingredients into bottles. There was an excited chatter circulating the room as participants tasted the sodas they had just concocted. When I stepped in to taste the freshly made ginger ale, I gasped in delight because it was overflowing with the undiluted power of ginger, the tangy balance between spicy and slightly sweet.
The ginger ale recipe created by Saundra Kamman capitalizes on the natural properties of ginger, bringing out its incredible taste and health benefits. Saundra, an extremely creative herbalist, teaches both the soda-making and herbalism classes at the Portland Homestead Supply. She recently launched her own business, HerbN Tea, that is dedicated to supplying the Portland community with health-benefiting loose-leaf teas, herbs, and balms. Kamman also runs a community supported herbalism program, and another program that helps fledging gardeners to support Oregon’s bee population by planting bee-friendly herbs. Check out the interview below to understand more about Saundra’s incredible work supporting the interconnectedness between herbs, the health of our bodies, and the health of the planet.
How did you get involved in herbalism, and who helped you learn skills along the way?
I grew up as a gardener and was growing a lot of my own foods, as well as my own herbs. I always wanted to know more about what I was growing. While on sabbatical for a year in Northern California, I met a woman in one of my dance classes who is an herbalist and has her own school modeled after her teacher Michael Moore. I started taking herbal classes. I really enjoyed building this relationship between what is growing in the garden and what herbal creation I can make in the house, whether it’s a tincture or tea or soda or mead.
You took herbalism classes in Northern California?
Yes, at the Northwest School of Botanical Studies. I did it backwards. I took lots and lots of classes and advanced classes, then I went back and took the professional herbalist program. I already had many herbalist hours and experience, before getting the certification.
When did you launch your own business?
HerbN Tea was started, officially, about a year + ago. I began teaching classes and perfecting my recipes. Now I sell my own organic loose leaf teas, as well as healing balms, lotions and body butters.
What has been one of your biggest challenges of having your own business?
I have had my own business a couple times before, so I knew what to expect. The hardest part is the balance. You are now doing everything. You can hire other people to help, but it’s pretty hard to do when you’re just starting. So later you’ll hire PR people, marketers, etc. I had the good fortune that I am also a professional graphic designer so I designed my website and everything else. I find that a lot of people are really into natural medicines and herbalism now, but I think it still takes people a little while to get from the idea of taking something like a medication or a tincture to drinking tea everyday for its medicinal values. Part of why I’m doing what I’m doing is because I want people to not just try to deal with things when they get sick or older or ill, but rather to be more preventative by practicing herbalism every day. That’s really important to me and is why I teach the classes and sell herbal teas and products. Hopefully it sticks with a few people.
What is one of the number one things people can do daily as a preventative step?
The hardest thing to do in our culture is to stop to take time to take care of yourself. People will come to me and say, “What do I do about this problem?” I can give them a tea or herbal tonic, but they actually have to use it daily. So my longtime goal is to open a tea shop where people can go in, get the tea, sit down, and make it a daily ritual to take care of themselves. I think the biggest thing people need to do is make, whatever time it is, fifteen minutes or one hour a day for themselves, where they slow down. For me, it is sitting down with a cup of tea, ruminating and processing. This actually can help people deal with stress and anxiety, which is one of the biggest issues in our culture. If you can take some of that pressure off yourself everyday by sitting down and letting go, that is essential. All of the stress builds up in our bodies and when you don’t let it out it starts to create illness.
I saw on your website that you do community supported herbalism (CSH). This is something I haven’t heard of before. Can you speak to how widespread that idea is?
It’s growing in Portland. I’m definitely not the only one doing it. When I lived in California, it was huge, so I don’t know if it’s just because there are more herbalists there, but they are already doing it on a larger scale. It’s the same idea as a CSA, but with herbs. The shares arrive quarterly. You get whatever is made from that season’s herbs. Fire cider to boost immunity, teas or tonics to boost low energy, honey for coughs & colds, it depends on what herbs are the right ones for that season. A share consists of a combination of herbal remedies to help you get through the next season.
Can you buy shares individually? Could you give us an example of what would be in the winter share?
Yeah, you can buy them individually or for the full year. There are large and small shares. In the winter share, I tend to do a warming tea, something like a chai or a red rooibos, and then typically an elderberry honey, which is great for building your body’s natural immunity. You can take it every day in tea or in your cereal or just have a taste. It helps people stay healthier, which is a long-term goal. Also included are tonics, honey, herbal balms or oils, and lip balms. More details on the website. www.HerbN-Tea.com
Explain your Community of Gardens + Bees Program and how you became inspired to start such a unique program.
As an herbalist and a gardener, I know how important bees are. I’ve been involved in Portland Urban Beekeepers. Every month I go and learn from all of these people who have been beekeeping for so long. So much fascinating information. We really need to do something to support the bees because we are creating huge problems for them. If we don’t do something, it’s going to affect everyone and everything. I’ve already been gardening for many years with pollinators in mind, using things in the garden that can promote their health. Bees basically go out there and get what they need for their own health, you just have to provide them with the possibilities. We’ve been seeing huge numbers of dwindling bee populations, and that’s within the beekeeping community. So we also have to think about all the native bees that we aren’t keeping tabs on. There are thousands of varieties of bees. Basically, they are solitary bees so no one is paying attention to them. The idea of this program is to encourage people that want to start a garden or that already have a garden to plant more bee-friendly plants. They have to agree to not use herbicides or pesticides in their gardens because those can greatly impact bee populations. There is a small fee for the program, but I basically volunteer my time. The fee is to buy seeds and dirt, but mostly it’s because I find that if people have to make a small monetary commitment, they are more invested. I wanted people to be really serious about being a part of this for multiple years. One year is fine, but a lot of the time you plant and the garden you are building is not instantaneous, particularly because I encourage people to start with organic seeds. We start all of our own seeds for the group. Hopefully, in a couple years, everybody has a great pollinator’s garden and it’s just overflowing with beautiful plants and flowers. I started this program because a lot of things that are good for the bees are actually good for herbalism too. It all fits in together perfectly.
Are there available spaces in your program right now?
Initially, I set this up to have a limit of a certain number of people, mostly because I was afraid everyone would want to do it all at once. What I’m realizing is that the group will continue to grow because once people are established, I have more room to start helping new people become established. I see myself as continuing to do this forever, even if there are only a few people interested, it’s better than nobody else doing anything for them. It’s interesting because the bee crisis has been popping up more in the news, and there are a lot of people getting involved in helping the bees. Because awareness has changed, it’s not quite as critical as when I first started this program. Previously, I felt like not enough people were aware of the issue. Now, the issue is becoming more well-known with people gravitating towards it because they feel like they want to do something.
What are the best bee-friendly plants?
Oh, there are so many! A lot of the plants in the sunflower family, not just for bees, but for a lot of different pollinators and birds as well. Calendula and borage flowers are also great. One of the biggest things that I’ve learned, particularly about honey bees because they live in hives as opposed to individuals, is that you need larger stands of plants.
So you would need not just one borage plant, but twenty borage plants. Not just one lavender plant, but many. Basically, the bee’s little scouts will go out and find their optimal place. If somebody has a big field of something, they’ll tend to go there instead coming all the way to my house for one plant. Bees fly up to five miles from their hive so they will go that far if they need to go, especially if there is something delectable, but they’ll tend to stay a little closer to home.
What is your favorite summer suggestion for tea and what are its properties?
I’ve got two answers for that. My first favorite is year round. It’s the Eyebright tea, and it was formulated to be nutritive and delicious. You can drink it every day. Long-term, it helps you feel better, and promotes health and vitality. The Eyebright has vanilla, rooibos, mint, and just a tiny touch of a few other herbs. It’s great hot and iced. I recommend that one. I also have a number of different mint teas that are really great for the summer because they are really cooling.
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
I think it’s exactly what everybody is moving towards. Even if they’re not gardening or growing their own herbs, they are using them and cooking with them, like today’s class, making their own sodas. It’s a way to get out there and have something fun for your kids, like these bubbly sodas. They are not made with corn syrup; they’re made with honey or brown sugar and fresh herbs. That way kids get fresh ginger ale or root beer, and the parents can control how sweet it is. So the kids are getting the benefit of the flavor without all of the crazy hype of the sugar.
Do you sell the sodas?
I do not sell the sodas. I just teach people how to make them. You can come to the Mississippi Farmer’s market on Thursdays to try a few sodas..
How does HerbN Tea support (and receive support from) other organizations/individuals/businesses in the local community? Is HerbN Tea a part of any collaborative projects?
I am part of a committee that has started the Mississippi Farmers Market. Our mission was to create a market for small and start up businesses. Traditionally it can be harder for small, new businesses to get into larger farmers markets and they typically have a larger booth fee than our market. I am also a vendor at the market. My goal is to test my products and teas to see what people gravitate towards and respond to their feedback. The market is the perfect blend of diverse vendors, location, and community. The market is Thursday from 3 – 7 pm, June – mid October.
For those interested in growing herbs in their backyard, what is your best advice? Any pro-tips? Are there specific herbs that thrive in Portland?
I actually have a blog on Tumblr, and I have that exact blog post from earlier in the spring. Some of the easiest, best to grow, and most useful are calendula, which is a bright orange flower in the marigold family, peppermint, any of the mint family, yarrow, but not the hybrid yellow/pink one, the white variety, which is the native variety. But you should go look at the blog because it will show you what to grow and how to do it.
What is HerbN Tea’s next step? What is your vision for HerbN Tea ten years down the road?
The biggest long-term plan is to open a tea shop that also sells herbal products. It’s basically about supporting people to improve their health through a delicious cup of tea without maybe even knowing it. Customers would come in to enjoy a really good cup of tea, and long-term, if they kept coming back, it would improve their health. I formulate teas for flavor but I also add nutritive herbs, herbs to adapt to stress and herbs to boost immunity. Creating a habit or daily ritual of drinking tea would help long-term with everyone’s health and vitality. I really think that you can’t prolong someone’s life, but you can improve the quality of their life. So that’s the goal.
In one of the first Portlandia skits, titled “Farm,” Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen are sitting in a nice Portland restaurant contemplating ordering chicken. They ask many absurd and detailed questions before deciding to drive thirty miles to go see the farm where the chicken was raised in order to make sure they can eat the chicken without upsetting their moral compasses. Today, in our interview with Chris Chulos, a chicken farmer based out of Oregon City, we bring the farm to you, so you don’t have to drive all the way out there. Chris Chulos brings beautiful eggs to Portland Homestead Supply every Friday and sells pullets, young hens, during “Pullet Days” that occur frequently at the shop. The interview below is stocked with useful information about raising your own chickens in your backyard, as well as with Chris’s own practices and ideologies as a chicken farmer.
When did you start raising chickens and how did you become interested in this profession?
It was in 1955. I was with my great-grandmother and she raised chickens out of the Woodburn area. I’d go over there every chance I got to help her feed her chickens. She grew up on a homestead in California. She always had chickens and of all the great grandkids, I was the one that took an interest, and I still have the love for them. My dad’s dad was from Greece, and he was a farmer. I got the love of growing plants from him. I used to work at a paper mill for thirty plus years and then that shut down. So I went back to school. I got my Horticulture degree and just graduated from that!
Did you always raise chickens on the side?
Yes. I worked at the paper mill for thirty-nine and a half years. I started when I was nineteen. I always kept birds on the side. I want to see where my eggs come from. A lot of them that you buy in the store are up to two weeks old. They’re in cold storage. The way they are treated and washed with chemicals, I don’t want to eat that. They feed them a very inadequate diet. That’s why I’ve raised a lot of my own stuff.
Did you learn gardening and animal-raising skills from your family?
A lot of them. I also worked for a landscaper florist from seventh grade on in Oregon City, in his yard and his shop. He had birds too. He had a duck that I wanted and I asked him if I could buy it. He said no, but if you want to work for it, go right ahead! I worked for him for twelve years.
And you got that duck!
I did, I did. And many other things.
As consumers, we go to the store and are overwhelmed by choices differentiated by certifications and phrases. Are you certified organic or free range? What do these certifications mean for you as a farmer?
No, I am not because to me that’s all false. I know people that say they are certified and then as soon as the person who certifies them leaves, they are back to their old ways, treating the animals with antibiotics and everything. I do vaccinate my chickens because there are certain diseases that are impossible to get rid of if they get into your property. If you vaccinate, they don’t get those diseases. Other than that, my chickens are raised on mostly organic, natural feeds. They have two acres to run loose on; they aren’t cage-raised. A lot of them were raised under their own mothers. The ones that aren’t raised by their own mothers, I buy from hatcheries.
Is there a benefit to them being raised by their own mothers?
Yeah, it costs less because there are fewer light bulbs to worry about going out and their mother takes care of them. One disadvantage is that you can only raise so many chicks under a hen, where if you have a light, you can raise however many you want.
There were over 400 hundred birds there as of last week. One place bought over 200 of them. I have chicks hatching all the time. The same with ducks because I raise ducks also. I have two acres that are fenced, and they have free run of all that.
Is raising chickens and ducks together in the backyard good practice?
Yes! I’ve been doing it for years. I have ducks, geese, chickens, and pheasants, finches, parakeets. Everything is good together. The only thing I don’t let down below is my little dog. She likes chicken.
Do you sell duck eggs as well?
Yes, yes. But right now I’m trying to hatch most of them so I don’t have as many to sell. I’m raising for next year’s crop.
Which eggs do you choose to hatch and which do you choose to sell?
The only chicken eggs I hatch are very specific breeds that I have that you can’t buy. I have three different kinds, two in particular, you’re not going to find anywhere else.
What are those breeds?
One of them is called the Penedesenca. It is a Spanish chicken that they thought was extinct and they found some in a little village in the mountains of Spain. I happened to run into a gal that was in the club that brought them in to the United States, and she didn’t like them. They are very high-strung, but they’re good layers. I got them out of Reno. Then, I have some that I breed myself. One lays dark, dark green eggs, the color of holly. This green is just an Ameraucana mix, in which I used several breeds to cultivate the dark green. It took me years of crossing to get there. Another cross that I did resulted in a robin blue egg, which I named Applelousa. I like to try to figure out genetics. I can do those, and it’s short-term work. If you’re working with cattle or something like that, it might be twenty years down the road. The dark green egg only took me five years to develop. Nobody else has these two breeds. I haven’t named the dark green eggs yet, but I should.
You put on Pullet Day at the Portland Homestead Supply. What does a pullet mean?
It’s a young hen that hasn’t started laying yet.
Why should homesteaders want young hens?
If you get a young hen, you’re going to get approximately three years of egg laying. If you buy one that’s already laid, you don’t know how old that hen is. It might be a year; it might be several years or several months. You just don’t know. So you want to buy a hen that hasn’t started laying yet.
When people leave Pullet Day with a hen, what is your best advice to them about raising that hen?
Make sure the pen they are going into is secure because of predators. Give them good, different kinds of feed. They like variety, like us. Some people only feed them pellets. No, give them a variety! If you have scraps for the house, give it to them. A lot of people say, “Don’t.” In reality, there’s only one food you don’t give them, which is avocado. It’s poisonous to all birds.
What do you think are the biggest challenges of raising chickens for people in their backyards?
Predators. Raccoons, neighborhood dogs. Once in a while cats. I’ve only had cats get in to a kill a chicken a few times in all the years I’ve had them. But dogs, coyotes, raccoons. Raccoons are the worst because they can just reach in, pull the head out, eat the head and leave the rest.
Do you have any advice for raccoon problems?
Just make sure your pen is very secure at night. Instead of using chicken wire, use hardware cloth or small-gauged wire because they can’t reach through it.
I’ve heard you teach classes. What sort of classes do you teach?
I teach poultry-keeping, grafting classes for fruit trees, and gardening classes because I love to grow stuff. There’s a place that wants me to help them with their creamery. I work wherever helping others out. I’m old, and I’ve raised almost every type of critter there is…
Except for raccoons.
Oh, I had a couple baby raccoons once too. I shot the Mom because she was in the hen house. I came home the next day, and there were two babies. We put them in a cage. You’d walk by and they’d stick their little hands out at you. We started giving them fruit. They would climb right up on you and purr. A friend took them and named them Pepsi and Coke. They had them for years. They lived down here in Milwaukie.
Were the raccoons friendly because they were raised by humans?
They’d come up and sit on your lap and take food out of your hands and snuggle with you. They were awesome.
Where do you sell your products other than here?
All over Portland metro area. I send birds to Minnesota just a couple weeks ago and to Texas. I’ve sent birds to just about every state.
I feel like I’m helping a lot of people get into something they’ve always thought about but haven’t done. I give advice all the time. I get sometimes a dozen calls a day. People with different problems with their birds or looking to get birds, and I give them free advice. That’s how I learned, and I took it for granted because I grew up around it. If I can help people get into things, I do it. I also help out at an orchard at the college in Oregon City (Chris is talking about the Home Orchard Society, which we profiled last month – see here for the interview). I do the harvesting there. Just yesterday, I picked apples, blueberries, currants and pears.
Do you plan on continuing to raise birds in the future?
I’ll continue doing this because I love it, and it’s helping a lot of other people that don’t have the facilities or the know-how on how to raise chicks from the beginning. I have the facilities and I love it. My grandkids help me; they live just down the road. All three of them are into it because they raise their own rabbits, chickens, and guinea pigs. It runs in the family.
Do you have any other pro-tips for people raising chickens in their backyards?
Look for birds that are vaccinated, that are healthy and bright-eyed with a good color to their face. Those are the main things because if they are sick, you can see it in their eyes. It’s all the little things.
Walking through Sellwood on a lazy summer day, agenda-less wanderers could indulge in the many facets of the local neighborhood economy: tasting the subtleties of a Portland microbrew at Laurelwood or Oaks Bottom Public House, getting their bikes fixed at Sellwood Cycle Repair, and finding treasures scrounging through the bins at the Bins. If at any point in their exploration of Sellwood they hear the faint, distinct sound of a hammer hitting an anvil, they would think themselves mistaken, submerged in a medieval daydream. However, that ancient sound is alive in SE Portland: local Pat Wojciechowski has breathed new life into blacksmithing, creating an urban oasis for the unexposed art form. Pat founded Oaks Bottom Forge, a business that sells hand-forged knives and also provides blacksmithing classes to share the old world skills with a wider community. While I was interviewing Pat and Whitney Mount, who is the manager, a woman walked in off the street, curious about the boisterous forge in the middle of the otherwise quiet, service-driven neighborhood. Pat said to her, “We make knives by day, and we teach by night. There’s knives up there, you’re welcome to walk around.” If you can’t make it down to their location at 8236 SE 17th St. to explore their handicraft, you can at least journey into the world of blade smithing and knife building by listening to Pat and Whitney in the interview below.
How did your interest in forging knives begin, and who helped you learn skills along the way?
Pat: I started taking an adult blacksmithing class at the Portland Waldorf School. Tom Meyers teaches that class, and he’s been there 21 years. He teaches all the woodworking and blacksmithing. Blacksmithing is a required class for every junior and senior there. When I would pick up my children, I kept hearing the blacksmith. And I’m going, “What are they doing? What am I hearing?” That’s how I got involved.
Are the blacksmithing techniques used by Oaks Bottom Forge fairly old in origin?
Pat: We definitely do an old world style; we call it a free hand style. People have been playing with fire for a long time. It’s a lot of work, that’s why most people don’t do it. Nobody here’s afraid of working hard.
Why do you have that commitment?
Pat: I just love doing it. I like the design and I like seeing results and I like working with people. It’s a great collaborative group here. We all live in the neighborhood, and this is what we do.
Pat: All of our knives are hand made. We hand forge knives one heirloom at a time.
Whitney: Most knives today are made using steel removal, so you end up grinding off the steel. You remove the metal to make the knife. We actually hand forge it so we are blacksmithing and hammering the metal to create knife instead of using the machine.
Pat: There is an art to steel removal too; we just don’t do it. They start out with a blank that is the size of that knife at the end and they very methodically remove that metal until it tapers out. They use a machine, while we hammer and hand forge ours. We hand trace each handle out of wood. There are no automatic machines here that make our handles.
Why hand forged instead of steel removal?
Pat: I don’t like shiny knifes (laughs). There is something about hand crafted that I like. Some people use big drop hammers. We use a hand held hammer and a forge and an anvil. There are plenty of other blacksmiths, but not many that make knives the way that we do.
Are there any other businesses like this in the US or in Oregon?
Whitney: Not many that are making actual hand forged without a drop hammer. Every single knife is unique because they are free hand hammered. Because we’re not using a drop hammer, not doing steel removal, every single one is slightly different.
What is the most challenging aspect of creating the knives?
Whitney: Trying to explain to people what we do. People will ask, “Oh, are these blades made in the USA?” And we always answer “Yep, they’re made right here in Portland at our shop by hand.”
Pat: Most people don’t know how knives are made. Period. They just don’t know. What they’re used to at any store is a flat, shiny knife. They see ours; they’re hammered. The material starts out an eighth of an inch thick and we hammer it. We compress all the crystals of that metal together, as opposed to just taking it and removing it. People who buy knives or know something think our knives are made out of Damascus. Damascus is layers of different metals that are pressed together, and then folded, pressed and folded, pressed and folded. It is beautifully done. Japan’s been doing it for thousands of years. So people look at our knives and say, “How many layers are in your Damascus?” We say, “It’s not Damascus.” There are drawbacks to Damascus. In the big picture, Damascus has multiple layers of metal touching each other. When you go to sharpen that, each of those metals has a different property. Some are softer, some are harder. So when you do it, you’ll still get a sharp edge, but some layers will stay sharper longer than others. It’s better for us to get brand new metal and hammer it down. Then, there is only one metal on the edge that we have to sharpen, and that is it.
Even when we tell people that we make our knives with a fire-burning forge, an anvil, and a hand-held hammer, they will always be like, “What’s that texture on there?” What is it, it’s a hammer! Some people think that you just hammer it to get a texture.
Whitney: A year after my boyfriend and I started dating, he finally asked me, “Besides just putting texture on the knife, what does hand-forged really mean?”
Pat: See? People really just don’t know. We use a charcoal forge instead of a coal forge. Charcoal is a renewable resource. Most of it is made out of trees that have been removed anyways, palates that have been discarded. Wood is a renewable resource; coal, once you take the coal out of that hill, it’s no longer a hill. Much of the country is being destroyed by coal. We are anti-coal. We do what we do with wood. There is something about the sound of a hammer smacking an anvil that is good. It’s just good, hard work. There’s nothing easy about sanding a handle. But there’s something that is very satisfying and very zen about this thing. You can’t buy this knife at Gerber. They’ll never make this knife at Gerber.
Do you get all the wood and all your other materials from close by?
Whitney: Yes, other than the stuff that we are making for Big Game Hunters. We’re definitely not getting water buffalo horn from Portland. But otherwise, most of the wood that we use is reclaimed and local. We used some of the wood that came from the building of the light rail that’s coming through SE Portland. A guy got some of that wood, kiln dried it, and donated it to us. There was a lady who got a steak knife set made out of it actually.
Pat: We get zebra wood from folks. People come buy and are like, “Do you need wood? We’ve got a lot of wood.” We’ve gotten pink rosewood from Japan, tiger wood, all kinds of different woods. The guy at Saturday Market who makes the wooden puzzles, he has wood pieces from thirty years of making those same puzzles. We trade.
Where do you get the metal?
Pat: We buy it brand new from Pacific Machinery. When we first opened, we tried to repurpose some metals. It just doesn’t pay off though because you don’t know how it’s been stressed. Brand new metal is the way to go.
You all do custom knives too?
Pat: We do! We’ve made things for people’s sixtieth birthdays. We put silver quarters on each side, hammered them flat, and then engraved on them.
How many different kinds of knives do you all make?
Pat: We started at about twenty-two different styles, but we’ve narrowed it down to right about twelve styles. We are designing a folding knife, which we’ve never done. It’s a very old design. Very simple, there are no springs, nothing to break on it. It’s low technology. I am old, so I like old things. Most people are always trying to recreate designs with tactical knives, etc. You can make knives now with colorized, anodized metal now and people are always trying to get some crazy electronic machine that will etch orange tiger strips on the side of that knife. It’s weird. This is a much older art. We are not reliant on much high technology at all. It’s a hot fire and a hand-held hammer and that’s all.
What sort of workshops does Oaks Bottom Forge offer, and how can people get involved in the educational aspect of Oaks Bottom Forge?
Whitney: When Pat started the shop, he said, “I want to make knives and I want to make our living making knives, but I want to offer classes because I want to give back to the community and I think that’s really important.” So we don’t really make money off of our classes, but we try to keep the prices low. We really want everybody to have access to it. That is something that is special that is here that is offered at a more affordable price than other places.
Pat: Some people can’t afford the knives that we make, but we’d just as soon teach them how to do it. It is all utilitarian. We have blade smithing classes, so people who come out and really have an interest in making knives, they can do that. We have knife-building classes where Mom or Dad can bring a son or a daughter and together with their hands, build a knife to make Father’s Day gifts, Mother’s Day gifts, things for grandpas, uncles. They get to spend three hours without Ipods, texting, DS games, or email, and it’s one great opportunity to do that. Those are really successful; we have three of those classes per week.
Their classes include various levels of blacksmithing, knife building, and woodworking. Check out the full list and schedule here.
How does Oaks Bottom Forge support, and receive support from, other organizations/individuals/businesses in the local community? Is Oaks Bottom Forge a part of any collaborative projects?
Whitney: We shop local, we get all of our charcoal from the True Valley Store down the road. We used to make our own charcoal, but we lost our chimney. In the big picture, we support our local groups. We’re part of the Sellwood-Moreland Business Alliance, the Northwest Blacksmith Association, the Artisan Blacksmithing Association of America, the Oregon Knife Collector’s Association. We have donated a lot of knives to schools and organizations. We have done a lot of school auctions. The Portland Homestead Supply Store is really great about advertising our classes.
Pat: They were actually the first store ever to sell our knives. Back then, it was just me hammering and sanding handles and doing the work. It was before Christmas. My baby’s mama said, “You should go down there, and I did.” Kristl, owner of the Portland Homestead Supply, bought a dozen knives right there; she has always been our biggest supporter. So cool.
Pat: We opened the shop last spring. Our first fire was last March, at the spring equinox at 6:00 a.m. in the morning. Everybody came and wrote things on pieces of paper and put them in the forge. We started our fire that morning.
It’s amazing that you all are this close in in Sellwood.
Pat: The landlord actually wanted us here. We went looking for a lot of buildings. This landlord, who owns a lot of buildings, didn’t have to rent us this building. He called me and said, “You sure you don’t want this building? I really like what you’re doing, making hand-forged knives. I like that you’ll be teaching; our community really needs that.” He said, “I just don’t think we need another nail salon in Sellwood.”
We hoped that the difference between having the forge in the window instead of tucked away in a warehouse would be to sell a few more retail knives a month. We can make a fair living for all of us. My big goal was for blacksmiths and artisans to make a living, which is something that no one else is doing. Anyways, we got a window front kind of like a fishbowl. It’s nice to be able to share it. When children walk by, they love watching the fire. It’s not a lost art, it’s just not a very exposed art.
What is Oaks Bottom Forge’s next step? What is your vision for Oaks Bottom Forge ten years down the road?
Pat: We’re into more stores now. My big goal is I’d like us to be Portland’s destination for hand-forged cutlery. If you’re looking for a unique, hand-forged gift, I’d like to be Portland’s choice. We would like to be more well known.
Go Africa, which is an African safari group, likes our knives. They’ve been field tested from Oregon to Africa. Our knives passed with flying colors. If it works in Africa on the biggest game out there, it certainly works in your kitchen.
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
Pat: People my age come in and say, “My grandfather was a blacksmith.” Well, yeah, back then, everybody’s grandfather was a blacksmith. That’s what they had to be. Back then, there wasn’t IKEAS, they wasn’t box stores, everything was custom. If you needed a dining room table for your house and you didn’t have the woodworking skills, you went to the family that built tables. That’s what they did. It is a primitive skill. It’s a good thing to know. I think some people just want to get back to their roots, to what their grandfather did. They remember seeing their forge at their grandfathers or they got to hang out with grandpa while he was hammering. I think it’s a really good skill. I think people are interested.
Whitney: Beyond that, if you can’t take the classes, having something that you know is handmade is important. Our products appeal to the DIY community, knowing where your food comes from. You know nothing is imported from overseas, not only in the US, it’s made in your city here, and you can come and see it. You know how it was produced and who made it. You know it’s going to last for a long time, which is totally against the culture and buying something cheap and having to buy it twenty times in your lifetime.
Pat: Our knives last for generations. That’s what it’s about. It’s nice to know that you’re making something functional that someone will inherit. Every kid wants their grandfather’s knife!
We’re happy to introduce our guest writer Anna Daggett to the blog. Anna will be interviewing local businesses and individuals connected to urban homesteading, posting them here for you to learn a bit more about us and the community that surrounds our shop. Enjoy!
Portland’s spastic early summer weather shepherds in desires of hotter days when the first fruit harvests are rushed into grocery stores and farmer’s markets and our own palms. Have you imagined the first peach or plum of the summer, juice dripping down your chin with no abandon? Have you ever imagined a fruit CSA, fresh, scrumptious fruit of intriguing varieties being delivered straight from an orchard to you every week?
Oregon City’s Home Orchard Society delivers that and more to the Portland community. The Portland Homestead Supply is one of three pick-up spots for the Home Orchard Society’s fruit CSA. Below is an interview with Tonia Lordy, the manager of the Home Orchard Society, which is a non-profit nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to “assist both novice and expert fruit growers, preserve heirloom fruit varieties, and promote the science, culture, and pleasure of growing fruit at home.”
When did your interest in growing fruit begin and where did you acquire the skills that you have now?
I’ve been working with plants for the last fourteen years. I moved from Detroit, Michigan out here five years ago. I was already in horticulture school in Michigan, and I came out here to finish up my schooling at Clackamas Community College. As part of the curriculum, you have to do an internship. I had taken a fruit tree course with the old manager of this orchard and fell in love with fruit about three years ago. I fell in love with the trees, how they grow, how amazing they are, and how they responded to my care. And then I started tasting the fruit. And it’s like, “Wow, you trees really are special!” Ever since then, I’ve interned here, and then I was hired as a gardener under Monica Maggio, who was the second manager that Home Orchard Society has had. Now I’m the third manager!
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
Not a lot of people know how to grow fruit. Many more people are familiar with how to grow vegetables, but growing fruit remains a mystery to the majority of people. If one tomato fails, people can rely on the other tomatoes that they have planted or look forward to the next season. However, growing fruit is a long-term investment in time. It takes three to five years for most trees to bear fruits. If fruit is not grown properly, people don’t know what to do when they run into problems. It is scary! We train and teach people who are interested in growing fruit in their backyards how to do so successfully.
There’s over 500 trees. There is over 200 kinds of apples, 80 different kinds of European pear, 30 different kinds of Asian pears, 60 or 70 different kinds of grape, 3 different kinds of kiwi, 5 kinds of figs, probably 15 different kinds of cherries, 15 kinds of blueberries, 12 different kinds of quince, and then there’s medlar, goumi berries, honey berries, which are actually haskaps, a honey suckle that has edible fruit. They look like an oblong blueberry and they taste like a cross between a strawberry and blueberry. They’re amazing! We harvested them three weeks ago.
So they’ve already gone..
Way gone! Sorry. And then there’s pawpaw, which is a native fruit to North America, which people liken to a banana custard. We also have pineapple guava, which are very tiny and usually ripe by early December. The flesh is very tart; they taste like a Sweet Tart! They’re pretty amazing. Then there’s the currants. We put in 30 strawberry currants this year. We are planting raspberries and caneberries back into this orchard because we used to have them and then they got diseased. We are trying to put in different varieties that are more suited to this site.
Tell me about the CSA that Home Orchard Society will be delivering to Portland Homestead Supply this summer.
This will be our second year doing the CSA. I started it last year because it was very hard to market the apples we have been growing. People at farmer’s markets get confused and overwhelmed by the varieties we grow. The CSA was a good way to force people to try new varieties. We plan on placing notes in each CSA box with information on the variety and the recommended use of each variety. For example, one of the varieties that we might include in a CSA box is Ashmead’s Kernal, which is an English style desert apple with russeted skin. It is not very pretty, but it is crisp, tender, and tart. I like to eat it right off the tree.
There will be three CSA pick-ups: one right here at the orchard on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9:00 – 3:00, one in the Cully neighborhood on Wednesdays, and one at the Portland Homestead Supply on Fridays. The CSA will run for seventeen weeks from July 29th to November 18th. An individual share will cost a total of $225 and will be 3 -5 pounds of fruit a week. A family share will cost a total of $375 for 7 – 9 pounds of fruit a week. In the first week, the CSA box will have plums, figs, and early apples. Later on, the boxes will have European pears, Asian pears, more apples, grapes, kiwi berries, and unique fruits such as goumi berries, medlar, and quinces.
What fruit would you recommend for Portland homesteaders or people who are just starting to grow fruit?
Figs. Definitely. Desert King or Lattarula figs because they are disease and pest resistant. The apples that are out there; they have some good ones that have some really good resistance to pest and disease. They’re not people’s favorites, but there are some good varieties that are disease and pest resistant. Being open and aware of those varieties is key. Asian pears are pretty well suited for our area and they have a lot less disease and pest issues than most pears and apples.
What kind of apple varieties would you recommend?
Akane is a good one. There is Mcshay, and Duchess of Oldenburg is also great. As far as European pears, I would recommend Orcas, Rescue, and Suji, which is a winter pear.
Where can you buy these varieties?
The Akane is pretty popular. The places that I would recommend to buy fruit trees are One Green World and Rain Tree Nursery. One of the most important things is to make sure that whomever you are buying a fruit tree from can tell you what rootstock its on.
Why is that important?
People will put that it’s a semi-dwarf or dwarf tree, but then I always get calls saying “I bought this dwarf tree and now it’s twenty feet tall. Now what do I do?” So the rootstock imparts dwarfishness. You have to find out what the rootstock is. The rootstock will also impart disease and pest resistance and ability to live in different soils. So if the grower or retailer is not reputable and does not know what rootstock the tree is on, I would never buy it from them because you’re going to end up with problems with the tree. And it is an investment! It is a tree that is going to be twenty feet tall when you are expecting one that is going to be six feet tall. I get a lot of people who call me and say, “Oh, I got this great deal on fruit trees from Home Depot and they’re twelve dollars.” And it’s like oh my gosh, don’t buy the cheapest tree you can find just because it’s a cheap tree. You’re going to pay the same price at One Green World, but they’re going to have more knowledge of what the tree’s characteristics are going to be.
Do you have any resources to share with a wider community of how people can get involved?
We do a lot of classes; I’m slowly adding more classes to our roster. A lot of the stuff that we do with the board members is workshops, but I’m trying to do more hands-on classes. We also take volunteers without registering, just show up with gloves! There’s always something to learn here. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the Arboretum is open to volunteers. Everything that we do and learn is seasonal. So the volunteers that came out last week learned about fruit thinning and why we thin fruit, the volunteers that come out in January and February learned about winter pruning, the ones that come out in August will learn about summer pruning. There’s a lot of weeding that goes on. When you’re in a group of people doing menial tasks and everyone’s asking questions of each other, everyone has had a different experience. So the person next to you could be an expert apple grower. Especially in this place because our volunteers are generally pretty skilled so they have a lot of knowledge that you can glean from them. That’s how I learned everything. Just ask a lot of questions!
Take hands-on classes because people who just read the books tend to be really shy about pruning and caring for their trees. Then it gets to be five years old and the tree is already overgrown. Start pruning and training from the moment you put it in the ground. You let them get too old and crazy, they’re not going to behave like you want them to.
Are there any good challenges or anecdotes that you have about growing food that you would want to share with people?
It’s not something to take lightly because a lot of issues are going to come up. There are going to be pests, no matter what. You can manage an orchard organically, but do your research, do your homework, hang out with other people that grow fruit or have experience. Don’t be scared of the trees. Trees are pretty forgiving. Right plant, right place. That is the first thing they tell you in any horticulture program. You know, if you’re putting a sun plant in the shade, you’re going to have ten times more problems. You think you’re going to grow an olive in Oregon successfully, you not. Think you’re going to grow a mission fig in Oregon successfully, you’re not. So, right plant, right place. We’ve got some weird varieties of figs that can grow in Oregon, so grow those ones instead of the favorites! Right plant, right place.
A lot of the trees here are stone fruits. They don’t do well in heavy soils. They get extremely diseased, and we have a really hard time managing them. Stone fruits have a stone in the middle: cherries, plums, peaches, etc. We only have one peach tree because they are so disease ridden in this neck of the woods. They cannot handle so much rain. The peach orchards that you see in the area spray very heavily in order to get local peaches in the Willamette Valley. Most of them are not organic. If you are finding organic peaches, they are probably coming from California or the east side of Oregon. The east side of Oregon is about as local as you’re going to get an organic peach.
How would you recommend people get involved if they want to get involved?
They can go to our website. www.homeorchardsociety.org. There’s a link on there to the Arboretum and it has all my contact information.