in Watsonville and Hollister
Years farming: Andy has farmed for
the last 20 years in various capacities from farmworker
to owner, from large farm to small.
Total acres farmed: 25
Key people: Andy, farmer and rave king;
Julia, farm wife, CEO, mom, email elf, etc.; España,
foreman, tractor driver, all around repairman; Jose
España, head harvester; Lourdes Duarte, head
Range of crops: greens, root crops,
tubers and herbs, berries, peppers, tomatoes, garlic,
melons, artichokes, and more besides that.
Marketing methods: CSA and 1 farmers
market, with a small number of carefully selected restaurants
that pick up at the farmers market
Soil type: silty loam
Regenerative practices: cover cropping,
crop rotation, fallowing
Length of season: all year
October 14 , 2004: One of the perks to working on
my farm weighs about 60 pounds and smells like a goat. Actually, this
perquisite is a goat. If you work for us and you want to celebrate
a birthday, a baptism, or just have a party and you want to cook a
goat, I’ll give you one from the little herd I keep to clear
brush. This “perk” may not appeal to everyone, but it
fits the pace and personality of our farm.
Half the folks who work for us come from rural Michoacan and the
others lived in the mountains of Oaxaca before they came here. Keeping
goats was part of everybody’s life back home in Mexico and,
stuffed as they are into little apartments in town, it’s a
part of their former life they miss.
When I need assistance catching a goat, I always have eager helpers
from the crew. Besides being sure of hand and careful not to get
horned in the eye, they usually have good anecdotes about their
own experiences on their own ranches back in Mexico. For them, nothing
feels as comfortably down home as taking the time (say, two days)
to cook a traditional meal correctly from scratch and enjoy it with
friends around the fire.
The end of October and the beginning of November marks the beginning
of the rainy season here. Another perk to working on our farm is
that we work all year long. Work in the winter may be interrupted
by weather, but we do not shut down as so many other farms here
do. Our crew is not migrant. A couple of the older fellows always
return to Mexico for the winter, though, to reunite with families
they’ve left behind, but most of our workers stay here.
An end-of-season party is in order even when the season isn’t
actually ending. Don Gerardo and Don Israel want to lift a glass
to another year completed in El Norte before they head south. Sunny
Mexico is on everyone else’s mind, too, as they get ready
for another Gringo winter with mud, foggy weather and short days.
An outdoor Mexican feast is in order. The only issue is whether
the goat, or chivo in Mexican Spanish, is to be prepared in a birria
or as a barbacoa.
Birria is a dish where meat is slowly steamed over a chili broth.
Any kind of meat can be cooked in this manner but the long cooking
process favors lean meats like goat or turkey. Barbacoa is a method
of baking meat in a pit dug into the earth. This year we will have
a birria feed, and I will take copious notes on the entire process.
My dream is to someday be able to cook a birria that even our crew
would agree tastes authentic. One year we cooked a goat barbacoa-style,
and I’m still smiling over that dinner.
My dream is to someday be able to cook a birria
that even our crew would agree tastes authentic.
There was a disagreement among the crew as to how to cook the barbacoa.
The fellows who came from deserts in the north of Mexico said that
the best method was to dig a hole in moist earth and build a fire
at the bottom with mesquite. When the coals were burned down it
was important to take 12 long pencas, or leaves, of maguey and shove
them, overlapping, into the earth around the coals. (Maguey is a
kind of agave with succulent leaves and a sharp thorn on the tip.)
Then, as the heat of the coals wilted the maguey, we would fold
the pencas over, one by one, in a basket weave over the top of the
coals. A second ring of pencas would then be stabbed in the ground
behind the first row. As these leaves wilted they would be folded
over too, but not before the meat had been slipped in underneath
them to cook. Earth would be heaped on top to seal in the heat.
Protected in its nest of agave leaves, the meat would steam away
for hours before carefully being dug from the pit.
The southerners had a different idea. They said barbacoa is best
when the meat is carefully wrapped up in banana leaves. Banana leaves
impart a superior, more traditional flavor to the barbacoa and the
only reason anyone would ever settle for agave is if they were unfortunate
enough to have been born in the desert. As the Patron and goat donor
I was called upon to mediate the dispute.
My concern was twofold. I wanted everyone to enjoy the meal, and
I didn’t know where to get either maguey or banana leaves.
It was pointed out that the Philipino family that lives down the
road had a banana tree in their yard and we could “borrow”
some leaves. Someone else knew where there was a century plant by
the side of the road. We slaughtered the goat. That work kept us
busy until well after sundown. I made my Solomonic decision. We
would all decide by consensus, “mañana”, which
way to prepare the chivo, a la nortena o a la surena.
Morning dawned white with the season’s first hard frost.
My unsuspecting neighbor’s banana tree had its leaves burnt
brown by the cold and they hung limp in dejected tatters. Agave
it would be by an act of God. Instead of mesquite, we used oak from
the canyon below my house. We picked oregano from the field and
gathered garlic, onions, and chilies from the shed. Salad was sliced
off a prickly pear cactus in the yard. (The young paddles are tender
and taste like green beans after they’ve been par boiled,
drained, salted, and dressed with a vinaigrette.) And there were
beans, of course. The tortillas were heated on a makeshift comal.
(Here’s a recipe for success; The steel used to fabricate
the round disks for disk harrows is extremely high quality. When
the disks get old and worn we replace them, but we never throw the
old ones away; they are simply too perfect for heating tortillas
over a campfire.)
This time, Don Gerardo is going to take the lead in preparing the
birria de chivo. I will cook the beans in my big cauldron over an
outdoor fire. When the party is over, Don Gerardo and Don Israel
will go to Mexico. Everybody else will return to work on Monday;
standing in a circle with friends around the fire with bellies full
of birria is as close to Mexico as they’re going to get this