We recorded this interview with jenny and Bryan starks of Belle Oaks farms in mid-May and for those of us in hospitality, May means weddings and me being the special events chef for Soby’s, yours truly was up to his eyeballs for the month of May. So that explains my absence with respect to the podcast. I finished spring wedding season about a week ago and we promptly spent a weekend we spent in Charleston. I’ve wanted to dine at the Wild Olive for many years and this September chef Jacques Larson of Wild Olive will join me at the Loft at Soby’s for a cheese-based dinner built around the wonderful cheeses of Christian Hansen of Blue Ridge Creamery. Our tickets sold out four hours after going live so if you don’t have tickets today, you’re not going. Hopefully while Chef Larson is here, I’ll get him on the podcast.
While in Charleston my wife and I watched a brilliant documentary, The Biggest Little Farm. And I was prepared not to like it from the trailers because the couple states their farm would be different. John and Molly Chester bought a defunct farm in Southern California with ground sterilized from years of chemicals associated with commercial farming. Their efforts to turn it into an organic farm, one with symbiotic relationships with all the natural flora and animals in their region are the basis of this movie. This subject matter isn’t new.
One of my favorite books on the subject is David Masomoto’s Epitaph for a Peach. In beautiful prose he details his many challenges of switching to organic methods and being successful growing his heirloom variety of peach. One day he looks at the bare ground between his peach trees and realizes they aren’t just devoid of weeds, they’re actually devoid of life. All those years of relying on chemical fertilizers has sanitized his dirt.
If you’re familiar with author Michael Pollan and his treatise on the American diet Omnivore’ Dilemma, you may be aware of Joel Salatin. Joel’s Polyface farms in Virginia literally wrote the book on the revival of the American organic farm and his challenges were massive. In the last 20 plus years Joel’s books have helped a huge number of organic farmers including our own Tom Trantham of Happy Cow and guys like Chris sermon of bio way. So, I went into this movie assuming these Californians were unaware of this movement and were professing to do something that’s been done, may times over and been written about many times over. And I was wrong.
Although it’s a familiar story, John Chester is an award-winning documentary film maker and this is such a beautiful, wonderfully photographed story and we did end up learning a bit. It runs about an hour and a half and for anyone that’s farmed or cooked or just loves great fruit and vegetables I whole heartedly recommend watching Biggest Little Farm. Bravo Mr. and Mrs. Chester. Go see this movie.
And with that in mind, here’s our interview with Bryan and Jenny of Belle Oak farm in Piedmont and they’ve got a story of reviving a defunct farm not from chemicals but from years of neglect.