By Jean Bernstein
For many years, we had a fantasy of growing all of Flying Star Cafe’s produce on our own land – except we had no land. In 2002 we bought a charming, but completely derelict house in the North Valley on two acres. The land had lain untouched for the better half of a century. It didn’t take long to realize why – after a good rain, a four wheel drive was needed to get from the street to the house because the soil was pure New Mexico clay. The quickly developing farmer side of our brains figured out that nothing but weeds would grow on this property without some serious soil improvements.
Over the last 7 years, we’ve added hundreds of thousands of pounds of compost, manure, grass clippings, sand and dried leaves to the clay. The soil’s transformation has been amazing – from hard pack clay to crumbly, dark loam – almost. Every year we have modestly increased our growing area. The banner year, 2008, yielded over 1,000 pounds of tomatoes for the restaurants. In that same year, we grew an enormous amount of green chile, which the Flying Star Kitchen was happy to receive – until they figured out how much work roasting, peeling and de-seeding a couple of thousand pounds of fresh chile was. They solved the roasting problem by bringing the chile to a little place on Broadway and Mountain, but had to hire extra folks to rinse and shuck by hand – for weeks. Everyone’s hands were scorched. It was back to Bueno Foods for chile. They, at least, have the proper equipment to turn raw peppers into real New Mexico green.
Slowly, but surely, we have learned which produce is best for us to grow and which produce is better purchased from others. This year we are farming about three quarters of an acre, which isn’t large, but sure doesn’t feel small, either. There are lots of red peppers and tomatoes planted – almost 200 bushes of different varieties. Squash, basil, beans and a smattering of other veggies seem to be taking hold as I write. I promise not to get all Martha Stewart, but I will be posting progress reports on how the farm is going (or if it is going) and when produce should be showing up in the cafes.