Monday, March 24, 2014

Let the Sun Shine

Sophie Mendelson BK ‘15 is a farm manager and a senior advisor for the Yale Sustainable Food Project. 

Last night, I, along with a large assemblage of relatives, went to see a cousin perform in a production of the musical Hair. During intermission, the adults remarked to one another about how things were back then, remembering being at college during the hippie era, attending rallies, and marching on Washington. How different it was, they laughed to each other, and then turned to me. But you, as a young person, what do you think of it? I blinked, stunned not only by being asked to represent the perspective of my entire generation, but also by the clear disjunction between the perspectives of my older relatives and mine. How different it was? “It all seems so familiar,” I replied.

Sure, we dress a little differently now (though maybe not as much as some might think…), but in the production I see much more of what I share with those young people than what I don’t. These aren’t just aimless hippies – they’re reacting against a catastrophe that bears down on their generation like a starved predator, leading to the suffering of a collective pre-traumatic stress disorder. Anger, energy, creativity, fear, helplessness, desperation in the face of an impending and probably inevitable tragedy of a colossal scale – I have experienced all of those emotions. No, my government isn’t trying to send me to die in a senseless war that I don’t even agree with in the first place, but the threat of climate change parallels the Vietnam War in more ways than one. We don’t fully understand what is going on; from what we do understand, it is clear that the poor and underprivileged will suffer first and worst; many lives are at stake; and nobody is safe. I look at the actors on the stage and I see my friends, fiercely insisting on a future alternative to the one that seems to be closing in on us, and demanding that the government and the public step up and do their part to steer us down a different path. We too, are fighting to preserve what is beautiful and what is worthy of love; and we too are afraid that we won’t be able to.

There is one difference between the Hair-era flower children and the present day youth environmental movement, though, which stands out to me. In the face of a random draft that could at no notice steal their lives away and the dragging on of a horrific and hopeless war, the hippies decided to disconnect. Society was asking them to do something unconscionable, so they left society. But that is not what I see happening with the environmental movement. Where the hippies disengaged, we are engaging. Because in this case, it is not just our American generation at stake – it’s every generation to come, in every part of the world. Disengaging is not an option, because this will not pass with time. We can’t wait it out. So, instead, we have to take action, and hang onto the hope that it’s not yet too late, and that there is still something left that we have in our power to save.

Rather than dropping out, we are digging in. And in the case of myself, and many of my peers at the YSFP, we are doing so in the most literal sense. Farming, to me, represents a chance to make a change for the better in some kind of tangible way, by engaging in a constructive, creative, and necessary process. So often with the environmental movement it can feel like attempting to deconstruct the Wall of China with a nail file; the opposition just seems so massive. But if that’s the task we face, and that’s the tool we have, the only way that I know to go about it is to choose just one stone and go at it with all of my file-wielding might. And when that stone is reduced to dust, I’ll move onto the next one. This is what going into alternative agriculture means to me – a conscious defiant act undertaken at a local scale but with cumulative and meaningful effects. And eventually, maybe, with enough help, the wall will fall, and we will, as in the song, “let the sunshine in.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014
From day one, I could tell that running a successful farm — both from an agriculture perspective as well as financial one — would mean utilizing the tremendous resources that Berkshire Grown offered as one of the primary local food umbrella organizations in the region. Rafi Bildner ‘16, Berkshire Grown
Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ron DeSantis: Creating “The Fellowship of a Table”

The letters “CMC” are stitched into Ron DeSantis’s white coat. The terse abbreviation does not do justice to his full title: Certified Master Chef. He’s one of only 67 people alive in the country who can honestly print that on their business card. The lofty epithet of “master” was bestowed upon him after he passed a rigorous ten-day exam that tests one’s skills at freestyle menu planning and food preparation, as well as one’s knowledge of gastronomy and nutrition. Only 12 percent of people pass all the stages; a Navy SEAL candidate can expect a higher success rate.

He is Yale Dining’s current (and first) Director of Culinary Excellence; the position was created for him. Don’t let the “master chef” designation lead you to think Ron wears a cape everywhere or acts holier-than-thou. Once he began speaking at a Master’s Tea in Trumbull College, he struck me as humble and down-to-earth. If he took off the coat and told me he was a barber, I would believe him.

Ron began his three-decade-long professional culinary career in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he went through cooking school and placed 28th in a class of 30. He got better with practice, and after leaving the service enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America, “the original CIA.” His Jedi-like education continued when he moved to Germany, which he felt attracted to because all the great chefs he had met at the CIA seemed to have foreign accents. He originally planned to stay for a year; that turned into five years, because it took a while to convince this one pretty German girl to marry him.

As a chef, Ron has cooked at restaurants like the Ritz Carlton, taught at the CIA, served as the presidential chef at Camp David, and consulted for Sonic, McDonald’s, and Borders (he apologizes for the sandwiches they once served in their café).

Food has the potential to evoke strong emotions in people, and Ron says his mission as a chef is to craft memorable experiences with the dishes he serves up, whether it’s to George Bush or some bearded Yale junior scribbling incessantly in a pocket notebook. To him, the Pixar film Ratatouille—particularly the scene where the restaurant critic eats the peasant food and is taken back to a meal his mother made him when he was a young boy—really nails the joy of the culinary arts. Every meal is an opportunity to make someone’s day great.

Eager to show us just how great our days can get, Ron announces that he has talked enough about himself, and leads us into the Trumbull master’s kitchen for a cooking demo. The dish he has in mind is pasta with sautéed vegetables and a white bean velouté sauce. It’s both vegan and gluten-free. Ron sees the trend in American eating towards a more plant-based diet as a good thing, and tries to practice it himself.

He floats to the front of the cutting board, swifty picking up the chef’s knife and beginning to chop up shiitake and cremini mushrooms. The up-and-down movement of the blade reminds me of a sewing machine. Then it ceases.

“Of course,” Ron says, “I’m just showing off.”

He then demonstrates how to chop properly, first on the remaining mushrooms, then an onion and some sun-dried tomatoes. The tips he shares—hone a knife with a steel every time you use it to keep it sharp, place a wet paper towel under the cutting board to keep it from slipping, fold your non-dominant fingers and rest the middle phalanges against the blade—all sound familiar to me; I’ve heard them from cookbooks and other chefs I’ve encountered. It pleases me to recognize a canon of cooking.

Now it’s time to make some sauce. “All blenders are not created equal,” Ron tells us. Well, his blender, “a Vitamix knock-off,” appears to be at the top of the heap. If kitchen appliances were evaluated for overall quality by their potential to cause damage when dropped on someone’s head, this one would be a winner. Ron pours in some cooked white beans and vegetable broth that had been simmering on the gas stove, and then kicks the blender into high gear. The roar of the blades spinning at 30,000 RPM, pulverizing the ingredients into a white paste, compels Ron to yell in order for all of us to hear.

“You really just want to let it run for a while! When the food’s as smooth as possible, you unlock the most nutrients out of it!” That part sounded like something I had heard on a late-night NutriBullet infomercial, so I asked him if it was really true. “Oh yeah!” I guess you can believe some things you hear on TV.

The sauce is composed of just the two ingredients, beans and broth. The simplicity lends potential for a wide variety of meal types. “I would serve this dish to anybody,” Ron tells us as the blender whirlpool dies down. “The beans and stock make a great mother sauce that can be used in all sorts of cuisine. Mediterranean, Asian, whatever.”

Let’s go back to the veggies. Ron tosses the chopped mushrooms into a pan over high heat, with no oil. It’s not long before they begin to sizzle.

“Hear that?” Ron asks us. “Cooking is all of your senses.” He keeps his distance from the whispering mushrooms. “Everybody wants to move stuff around when it’s in a hot pan like this. Well, don’t worry, it’s cooking!” If you don’t disturb the food while it’s cooking, you get more caramelization, therefore more flavor. Ron merely monitors them with a watchful eye. “The equipment never burns food. You do.”

As if he’s received some signal that’s invisible to the rest of us, he snatches up a bottle and drizzles some extra-virgin olive oil into the pan. The hearty Italian aroma of browning mushrooms and hot oil fills the kitchen. Ron notices the pleasant change in the group’s expressions. “See, it’s the smallest things! You can make a room full of people salivate just by sautéing some onions!”

He picks up the pan and carries it around to give us all a peek at the delicious alchemy that’s taking place inside. Heating the mushrooms reduces their moisture content; this causes them to shrink and concentrates their umami flavor.

Into the pan go the diced onion and julienned tomatoes. He leaves it alone for a bit (caramelization!), then dumps the white bean velouté sauce onto the veggies. It smothers the sizzling. Next comes the steaming rotini pasta. Stirring the end result together, Ron mentions how rotini is an ideal noodle to use for a dish like this; the sauce invades every nook and cranny of the pasta surface.

After about 25 minutes total prep and cooking time, the meal is ready. Ron spoons some of the pasta into a bowl and brings it to his face. He takes a slow whiff of it, then holds his spoon in the air like a confident professor holds a piece of chalk. “As a cook,” he says, “What should you do before serving your guests the main meal?”

We know this one. “Taste it,” we answer.

He shakes his head. “Torture them!” He plunges the spoon into the dish and takes the first bite.

Jackson Blum ‘15 is a farm managing intern.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sweet Pea

Product Development Specialist intern Shizue RocheAdachi ‘15 makes a mean salsa. Here, she shares a radio piece reflecting on her time as a ranch hand.

There is a grace to death––a beauty to be found in the heavy moments that linger as present becomes past. The slaughter of an animal is rarely afforded such moments of grace, however, as carcasses are hung and processed in rapid motion, each worker on the slaughterhouse floor making a repeated slicing motion. Yet when I had the opportunity, as a ranch hand, to participate in a field slaughter after one of our steers had broken his leg in the cattle guard, I discovered that there was another way to carry an animal into death.

This is a five minute piece I put together of some audio taken on that cool morning, as wet clouds hung low providing a welcome respite from the summer heat. It is not a somber or gruesome piece, rather I like to think I captured the sweetness of the event and the sense of ceremony. There is a respect afforded as the eighty-year-old butcher, Tom, pulls the skin from the steer he lovingly refers to as “sweet pea” but there is also an understanding that this is not something to treat as precious. A steer breaks his leg, he is shot, he is skinned, he is cut open, he is gutted, he is sliced in half, and he is loaded into the back of a pick-up truck to hang in a cooler before being broken down into cuts. This is the way it goes.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Miya’s Sushi: How to Adapt Traditional Cuisine So Both Sushi and Ocean Life Can Survive

Jackson Blum ‘15, a farm intern, drew upon his love of a local sushi restaurant and a Yale College course he took to make an informative and entertaining podcast.

This past fall semester, I took Karen Seto’s Environmental Studies seminar “Urbanization, Food Systems, and the Environment.” In lieu of a boring final assessment, like a test or research paper, the students each created some kind of outreach project that presented some of the class’s takeaway lessons in a publicly digestible form. I elected to have a little fun and produce a podcast. My subject: my favorite New Haven sushi restaurant.

In early December, the class got together for a closing dinner, catered by Miya’s Sushi. The head chef and manager of Miya’s, Bun Lai, said a few words about the philosophy of his restaurant and its place in the modern world of sushi. I recorded Bun’s remarks about the popular Japanese cuisine and turned it into a podcast that illustrates the perils that many fish species experience in the face of the modern seafood industry and how one New Haven restaurateur and sushi chef hopes to address these challenges.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Video from Eamon Heberlein ‘16

Hello, folks!
Eamon Heberlein here. I’m new to Yale and new to the YSFP. I grew up in rural Wisconsin surrounded by an agricultural community at the forefront of the organic and CSA movements. Ergo, I have a deep love for food, good land, all things cow-related, and the smells and sounds of the farm.
After graduating from Deep Springs College in June of 2012, I took a year off to escape academia and engage in agriculture from a different perspective. I spent two summers running cattle through California’s White Mountains at Deep Springs, and spent much of my interim period in Nepal and India.
In Nepal I taught computer skills to high school students in a remote Magar village in the mid-hills of the Himalayas. However, most of every day was spent outside the classroom as an assistant researcher interviewing farmers and working with them in their fields. Later I helped an organization train settling nomadic Chepang people in biodynamic agriculture in Nepal’s Terrai, and in India I interned on Vandana Shiva’s ”Navdanya” farm and seed bank.
Rather than try and synthesize these experiences, I put together some images from this past year; a sort of evocation of the simple everyday work and lives in these farms, villages and urban centers. The music consists of a friend, Moti, singing a traditional Magar work song, and then children from the Magar village singing the Nepali national anthem.

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Thursday, November 1, 2012
One of our interns, Ryan Healey ‘14, scored a summer spot with Lucky Peach after co-founders Peter Meehan and David Chang gave a master’s tea as part of our Chewing the Fat speaker series last spring. Check out the fruits of his labor in their latest issue, and look out for his name in the masthead!

behold, lucky peach 5: the chinatown issue. explore what happens when chinese food leaves the motherland. read up on chinese-korean noodles, the san gabriel valley, opium dens, crab rangoons and magical white balls. pick up the issue on november 13th or pre-order a copy (or subscription) today. want even more lucky peach? david chang will be talking issue 5 on late night with jimmy fallon tonight. tune in at 12:35/11:35C!

One of our interns, Ryan Healey ‘14, scored a summer spot with Lucky Peach after co-founders Peter Meehan and David Chang gave a master’s tea as part of our Chewing the Fat speaker series last spring. Check out the fruits of his labor in their latest issue, and look out for his name in the masthead!


behold, lucky peach 5: the chinatown issue. explore what happens when chinese food leaves the motherland. read up on chinese-korean noodles, the san gabriel valley, opium dens, crab rangoons and magical white balls. pick up the issue on november 13th or pre-order a copy (or subscription) today. want even more lucky peach? david chang will be talking issue 5 on late night with jimmy fallon tonight. tune in at 12:35/11:35C!

This year’s Harvest tee shirts— as pictured on Yale Farm Manager Jeremy Oldfield, above— were such a hit that we decided to make them available to the general public. The first crop of KALE tee shirts will be on sale at the CitySeed Wooster Square Farmers’ Market this Saturday starting at 9am, and since we have a limited selection of sizes you’ll want to stop by early to make sure that yours (and your friends’ and families’) are still in stock. At $15/each they’re sure to make perfect holiday gifts for the lovers of learning and leafy greens in your life! 

Thursday, October 18, 2012 Tuesday, October 2, 2012

When we say that Farm workdays happen rain or shine, we mean it— and we proved it this past Friday, as interns harvested for the next morning’s farmers’ market in some pretty bleak weather. These hearty souls were rewarded with plenty of hot, delicious pizza at the end of the day— plus the satisfaction of a difficult job well done, of course. It’s really heartening to have an intern crew and a corps of volunteers who show up on damp and dreary days ready to work, knowing that harvest has to happen whether it’s nice out or not. So thanks to everyone who lent a hand, and a special thanks to our photographer Elif, who captured everyone’s goofy raingear and exceptionally good spirits.