One of the things that I love most about sourcing my family’s food from a local farm is knowing the story behind the food. I love the raw real-lifeness of it. Raw real-lifeness, if we can operate under the assumption that this is an actual term, means things like CSA deliveries that are sometimes late. Not because of a computer glitch, but because it was snowy and the truck wouldn’t start. Because a farm is a living, breathing entity where factory produced perfection isn’t a thing and because sometimes humans are human and run into pesky real life events. This raw real-lifeness is the same world that I operate in. A world where being human means having flaws and getting messy - but this is the price of realness. This morning I woke up with a lousy cold and I stepped outside and was overwhelmed by the softly melting winter. Through the congestion that’s threatening to suffocate me, I could smell spring stirring from deep within the ground. It hit me that while we may have weeks of winter ahead, this moment was reaching out with the soft chirping of birds and the soft nuzzle of sunlight and raw muddy beauty. I may not be able to smell much at the moment, but I could smell that grassy, earthy, snow-melty air. The juxtaposition of head cold with winter and an unlikely spring morning - this is raw real-lifeness. It is why I embrace the human touches that come with sourcing food from a farm. This is the life I want to lead. One that is messy and beautiful and undeniably real. The grocery stores can keep their aseptic packaging and fancy marketing language. Their focus groups and clever conveniences and shiny exterior. I will take my beets with a side of earth. My CSA with a side of humanity. Because I like to joke around with the delivery drivers on CSA day. I like to chat about our kids and our favorite ways to prepare Brookford food. I get to see and value the commonalities that thread us together as fellow venturers in this world. On an energetic and cellular level, this makes a difference. The touches of other people’s humanity overlapping into your own. Raw real-lifeness.
It is for this sentimental love of humanity and the way we are all woven together that I’m especially excited about today’s post. Last year on the blog, I interviewed Dane, of the Canterbury Bread Shop (who bakes the bread for the Brookford CSA). To date that was one of my favorite posts, because: raw real-lifeness. I’ve been working on today’s post since this fall, when I sent some interview questions to Matt Murphy, Brookford’s Harvest Manager. Judging from the veggie crew shout outs that he had written and sent out to members via email, I had an inkling that he might have some interesting things to say about food and farming. Raw real-lifeness contributed to this autumn-started interview now finally making its way into post form in the last melty stretch of winter, but I think it was worth the wait. I hope you’ll enjoy this glimpse into another piece of the humanity that helps make Brookford Farm what it is.
Me: Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up, what are your hobbies?
Matt: I grew up in Contoocook, NH, not far from the farm. As bored country kids we used to come jump off the bridge that no longer exists just past the farm (while it was still an eye/soul jarring sod farm) on the bank of the Merrimack. I grew up playing outdoors all over this incredible state: hiking, biking, paddling, on skis of all kinds, on boards of all kinds...if it got me outdoors, and particularly if it got my adrenaline going, I was into it. Today, I spend most of my free time hiking around with my wife and dog, cooking, riding bicycles, fixing up old bicycles, and trying to keep my archery skills sharp for the hunting season that I'm inevitably too busy/tired to partake in.
Me: How did you get interested and involved in farming? Is it something you always thought you would do? Or a surprise?
Matt: It was a complete surprise. I left NH for a university in Montreal to study new media, film, and anthropology, but by graduation I knew that I no longer wanted to work in the film industry, and that I wanted to eventually return to the rural US. Those years admiring and adjusting to urbanity built into me an immense concern for methods of production, consumption, land use, and humanity's relationship with and view of this here earth we inhabit--you know, all the usual stuff. So, following a strong inkling, I got a sense of agricultural work the year after I graduated, working a season on a pair of vineyards in New Zealand (and then exploring the country by motorcycle!). I returned to the United States determined to farm, but not before chasing my (now) wife through NYC and Philadelphia, and working at nearly every level of the food service industry in those cities: from managing multiple restaurant locations, to collecting tons upon tons of commercial food waste for composting, and most of the work in between. Just over a year ago my wife finished her second degree, we moved to the corner of the world I grew up in, and I started working for Brookford Farm.
Me: Can you describe a typical day on the farm?
Matt: Long and rewarding. I can't really get too much more specific, because there are countless variables, which is one of the reasons I love the work so much. If anything, the triage/juggling of said variables is the most typical part of my work days. With so many different crops being planted, weeded, harvested, washed, sorted, and packed in different ways for different customers, I try to determine how much is/will be available of everything, and react to sales orders, allocating and supervising the helping hands that make it all happen.
Me: How do vegetable farmers keep busy in winter?
Matt: Moving around and cleaning absurd quantities of storage crops, eking all that we can out of our greenhouses, fixing tools, and building new infrastructure, systems, and methodology for the coming season. Oh and finally getting around to an interview request received four months ago!
Me: What's your favorite thing about working for Brookford Farm?
Matt: As a 'full diet' farm, take-home items (seconds, gleans, nearly expired foods) are pretty incredible around here. When I have time to cook, I eat very well.
Me: What's your favorite vegetable to eat? And your favorite way to cook it?
Matt: Kale: it goes with pretty much everything, and is incredibly nourishing. My favorite kale preparations leave it raw, but rubbed/softened with acid, usually lemon juice.
Me: What's your favorite vegetable to grow? Why?
Matt: Kale again: it is arguably the most vigorous, hardy, bountiful, and forgiving crop we grow, and it grows nearly all year long.
Me: Your top three favorite recipes/things to eat?
Matt: My chili, brick oven pizza, and sandwiches of all kinds (from burritos to bahn mi)
Me: If you could create one change in the way people eat in the US, what would it be?
Matt: The understanding that we are what we eat, not just during, but before and after what we eat is physically within our bodies. We eat/are what our food ate/was fed to it to shape its various bodies: we eat/are our foods means of production. And so we are our food after we have exhausted its material value to us and it becomes 'waste' of various forms. And so we should seek to know, think critically about, and improve upon these means of production and 'waste' management in pursuit of our own health. And that this applies to all forms of consumption, not just food. I think we should eat less oil, for example.
Me: What advice would you give to someone who is joining the CSA for the first time?
Matt: Prepare to be challenged as a cook, and hang in there. One of the truest challenges of any cook's skill, as demonstrated by a litany of competitive cooking shows, is reacting to and creating meals around a limited or unplanned selection of ingredients. Having a wealth of recipes to reference (thanks internet!) always helps, but it's still a challenge. It can be a tough adjustment initially, because the globally distributed food system has us able to entertain nearly any culinary whim at any time. But this challenge becomes increasingly rewarding with time, and I suspect that you'll find as I have that it is ultimately far more rewarding to figure out how to make something you want from what you have, than to merely decide exactly what you want and go procure it.
Me: How does local and seasonal eating manifest itself in your own life?
Matt: It is the focus of my work and probably most of my free time.
Me: What are your suggestions for somebody who wants to commit to more local and seasonal eating?
Matt: Find go-to resources for recipe ideas based on available ingredients, patronize your local farmer’s market, and give yourself lots of time to adjust, leaving room for occasional lapses in your new standards--dropping the global food distribution system cold turkey would be too jarring for most (no one is fun when they're hangry), better to make incremental progress.
Me: For the crops that are most plentiful in the late winter months (potatoes, parsnips, etc)...how do you keep meals interesting and varied? Or do you embrace the season and not worry about variation so much?
Matt: Spice. My spice collection is enormous. I love spicy food, and find that much of the spicier international cuisine has some of the most interesting and varied approaches to late winter storage crops. While much of it ends up at the bottom of our chicken roasting pan, a great quantity of the root vegetables eaten in my house the past few years were prepared using recipes from a cookbook on making traditional Indian dishes using a slow cooker. For instance, the next time broccoli or cauliflower comes out of the freezer, it's ending up with our potatoes in some Aloo Gobi. Yum.
Me: What's your go-to for a quick meal?
Matt: Eggs in various forms. Eggs on toast with with some vegetables and cheese is a favorite.
Me: There have been some changes made to the winter CSA; the addition of frozen vegetables and an add-on apple share. How did those changes come to be, and how do you think the session will be overall? What are you most excited about for this year's fall/winter veggie share?
Matt: We gained a great new food preserving specialist on the farm staff this year. Though Irina formerly worked as a fuel chemist for the Russian space program--she's literally a rocket scientist--she clearly carries her agrarian roots with her as a way of life, and happily shared her food preservation knowledge with us this summer to process and freeze any surplus vegetables we could bring her. I think it's an incredible addition to the more limited fresh produce we can offer throughout the winter. We should have a different frozen item in the CSA shares every week now, and I'm extremely excited to make use of the frozen items myself, and hope all of our customers are too! The apples were the result of our ever-growing professional relationship with Hackelboro Orchard here in Canterbury, where nearly all of our winter storage crops are tucked away in a giant spare refrigerator, awaiting their time to return to the farm for washing and packing. Harry up at Hackelboro grows some of the finest apples available anywhere, and luckily for us, he has more than he knows what to do with. Happily, Luke had an idea about what to do with some, and so began the CSA add-on. It's a toss-up for me as to whether I find the frozen veg or the apples more exciting--I choose both!