Monday, December 12, 2011

Spotlight: Genevieve Lodal

It's a long time coming, Harvest of Hope blog readers, but finally I've gathered the gumption to post an email interview with Genevieve Lodal. Genevieve is the daughter of Susan -- one of our selfless leaders -- and she works at an organic farm in Vermont. Susan suggested that I get in touch with Genevieve since what she does is so close to some of what we do at Harvest of Hope, and the following interview is the result.

Meet Genevieve! Many thanks to her for her willingness to share her time and wisdom with us here.

How did you find out about the farm and start apprenticing there/working there?
I found Berry Creek Farm and its owners Gerard and Rosemary Croizet through the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont's Apprentice and Farm Worker Program. After working for a full season at an organic fruit and vegetable farm in Southeastern Penn., I was interested in further learning how to farm organically through hands-on experience. I have family who live in Vermont and thought it was an area of the country where I might enjoy living and working.

Where did your interest in gardening begin?
I really became interested in growing my own food and gardening while volunteering and later working at a farmstand run by the non-profit Fair Food in Philadelphia. Their mission is to connect the Philadelphia marketplace to local growers and producers, and one way in which they fulfill this mission is through the operation of the Fair Food Farmstand in the historic Reading Terminal Market. It's open 7 days a week in a busy urban marketplace, and I just loved seeing the tangible connection between the fertile countryside and downtown Philly.

What's the most fulfilling part of your work there?
Particularly this year amidst the economic turmoil and freak weather patterns, I've found a great deal of satisfaction in being so rooted to my local environment. What we are able to grow in northern Vermont is quite different from my hometown and other areas I've lived, as our season is shorter and the temperatures generally cooler (we're in USDA Zone 3 versus Kingsport's 6b). As a result, you really come to appreciate each and every variety and type of vegetable and fruit as they come into season. This year, I feel like I waited forever for red bell peppers, but once they came, they couldn't have been sweeter (literally and figuratively)!

What would you want the Harvest of Hope gardeners to know if you could teach them/tell them one thing?
For me, the biggest obstacle has been (and in some ways continues to be) the learning curve. There is so much to know and understand about growing without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. I believe the plants and environment will tell you what you need to know, but it requires patience and awareness, which take time. These aren't skills and knowledge that can be known in a few months or even one season, but each season builds on the previous, and the connection built by paying attention and individually caring for your plants is priceless.

What's your favorite vegetable dish and would you share the recipe?
This is a hard one; a great side benefit to growing your own veg is the development of a love for previously unknown or unloved varieties. Right now, leeks are bountiful, so I'm eating a lot of them. One of my favorite ways to prepare them (other than just using them in place of onions in other recipes) is to braise them with chicken stock and herbs, as in this recipe:
Recipe: Braised Leeks Adapted from "Sunday Suppers at Lucques"
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
6 large leeks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
About ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup sliced shallots
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
½ cup dry white wine
1½ to 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Peel any bruised outer layers from leeks. Trim roots, leaving root end intact. Trim off tops on diagonal, leaving two inches of green. Cut in half lengthwise. Clean very well in water to remove internal grit. Pat dry with towel.
3. With cut sides up, season with 2 teaspoons salt and a few grindings of black pepper.
4. Heat pan over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Pour in ¼ cup oil and wait 1 minute. Place cut side down in pan without crowding them. (Make in two batches, and use more oil, if necessary.) Sear them 4 to 5 minutes, until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper, and turn over to cook 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer them, cut side up, to a gratin dish that will fit leeks and chicken, or use two dishes.
5. Pour ¼ cup oil into pan and heat over medium heat. Add shallots, thyme, ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Cook about 5 minutes, until just beginning to color. Add wine and reduce by half. Add 1½ cups stock, and bring to a boil over high heat.
6. Pour over leeks, without quite covering them.
7. Braise in oven 30 minutes, until tender.
Yield: 6 servings.

What's been the easiest thing to grow?
I think swiss chard is an easy crop. It goes in early in the spring and will give you plenty to eat throughout the season, until frost.

What's been the hardest thing to grow and why?
Tomatoes, while very rewarding and essential (in my book), are a bit difficult, as there are so many pests and ways the plants can be compromised, from fungi to insects to extremes in temperature. Ours are grafted and grown the greenhouse, as again, our season is not too long up here, and we take a great deal of care in cleaning and suckering (taking off new shoots so that the plants direct energy into fruit production and maturation) to produce wonderful, fresh tomatoes.

What's one unexpected thing you learned while apprenticing at the farm?
I didn't really have too many expectations when arriving here, as I knew that what I'd experienced last year on the farm in Pennsylvania was just the tip of an iceberg of ignorance. The greatest surprise I found is that blackcurrants, a small bush fruit with a distinct smoky-sweet flavor that is popular in the UK in a lot of flavorings (often it's the purple flavor in candy instead our standard grape over here), actually grow in the US! Visiting England and Scotland with my family and as a student over the years, I grew to love the flavor of blackcurrants and always brought back something with me and made it stretch as far as it could. When I arrived up here last April, I mentioned to my host family that I missed the flavor, and lo and behold, they had a row of blackcurrant bushes in the middle of their fields. So we've made jam and cassis (a French liqueur made from cooking down the juice of the berries with sugar and cognac), and I've been in heaven.

What do you wish for Kingsport in terms of gardening/growing things/overall health?
I'm sure the foundations of my love for the outdoors and for establishing and maintaining a healthy community were laid while growing up in Kingsport. I have fond and vivid memories of playing outside under our black walnut tree and going to snip fresh chives or winter savoury for a dinner my mom was preparing. Kingsport, like many other cities and towns, has a strong and caring citizen base. As we as Americans have become increasingly disconnected to our food sources, I hope a focus on growing food locally, support of community garden efforts, and general understanding of our connectedness to each other and our environment will strengthen the health in and of Kingsport's community.