Spring Training at Kitchen Garden Farm
Story By Caroline Pam, Photograph by Tim Wilcox
Spring training on our farm is now under way as this year’s rookies learn how to seed trays of leeks, cut and wash salad greens, and artfully bunch kale with neatly trimmed stems. As the days get longer, excitement and idealism inevitably give way to exhaustion. Our winning strategy for keeping our farm crew coming back for a second, third, and fourth season is farm lunch.
When we started our farm 11 years ago, the concept of farm lunch came from a romantic desire to re-create our experiences working on farms in Italy picking grapes (in my case, in Tuscany) or olives (for Tim, in Abruzzo). We loved being fed everyday by an Italian grandmother but, lacking one of our own, we devised a more egalitarian system.
Every day, one of us stops work at 11am to cook up a meal in the farmhouse kitchen for everyone on staff (up to 15 in peak summer). Without this daily commitment to cooking (read: caring) for each other, sharing the fruits of our labor, and taking a full hour break to swap news, I think even I would have quit years ago!
After a long day in the field, takeout pizza is too often the default for dinner. If we’re going to eat our greens, we’ve learned, cooking them has to be a part of the workday. At our farm, we train our employees how to care for the crops, but we also provide a crash course in catering.
We make a point to hire people who are passionate about good food, but even the experienced cooks on our crew find it challenging to feed such a ravenous crowd in just an hour.
Serving a hearty lunch for 15 every day can actually be pretty economical with a little bit of advance planning. We stock the pantry monthly with staples like pasta and rice, canned beans and dried legumes, and an extensive collection of condiments like miso, curry paste, and gochujang, several kinds of soy sauce, vinegars, oils, and spices. Every week or two we replenish the more perishable items like tofu, cheese, and milk. Of course, we also have the luxury of unlimited access to vegetables from the farm.
Rule number one: Utilize all cooking surfaces at all times. Start heating the oven as soon as you come in. Next, get some pasta water boiling or load up the rice cooker. (DO NOT forget to turn it on!) Usually three pounds of pasta or five cups of rice is enough to prevent mutiny. Meanwhile, start frantically peeling onions and garlic while washing and chopping five other vegetables. By the time the oven is hot, you should have something ready to throw in there.
Now that you know there will be at least something to eat when the hordes descend, you can start getting fancy. Sauté some greens or assemble a salad or slaw and whip up a dressing. Bulk it up with some toasted nuts or seeds. Pull some bread from the freezer and warm it up. It’s truly remarkable what bread and butter can do for morale. Speaking of morale, whatever you do, make at least two pots of coffee. And for god’s sake, please provide some protein.
This simple formula has endless variations but everyone loves my husband Tim’s lunch days best, since his repertoire is vast and his speed is unrivalled. His signature dishes include mapo tofu, saag paneer, pasta e fagioli, spaghetti and meatballs, cold sesame noodles, Thai curry, and homemade falafel with fresh-baked pita.
Even epic fails by recent hires can be elevated to new heights with a judicious squirt of sriracha that we make from our own chili peppers. ’Rach me! is the constant refrain around the farm table when someone needs the bottle passed.
But our hunger, fatigue, and camaraderie are the real secret sauce. Sharing our daily meal pulls us together and keeps everyone motivated to get back out into the weeds.
Get Caroline's recipe for Farm Lunch Minestrone.