When Susan Vidal left her job as a cartographer for the federal government, she thought she’d be a pumpkin farmer. She and her husband had bought their farm as a getaway from Northern Virginia and future retirement home before they finally moved there full-time and began their commercial operation with one acre of pumpkins eight years ago. And even before purchasing their 100-acre plot in Madison and the great pumpkin patch idea, Vidal thought she’d end up buying or cultivating a vineyard, specifically an organic one. The property she and her husband fell in love with, however, is not a classic vineyard setup. Its rolling hills, creeks, varied topography and soils have been more conducive to a mix of operations, from vegetable gardens and berry vines to laying hens, and turkeys and grazing goat for meat. Brightwood is now best known for its fresh berries, berry jams and wines (thanks to a new ABC license) and, most interestingly, heritage breed Spanish goats. Such is the unpredictable path of a small farmer.
Susan Vidal helps keep heritage breed landraces from racing to extinction.
“We first started the livestock when we planned to be an all organic farm. If you want to be organic and sustainable, you need the manure. It’s a huge resource,” says Vidal.
Though her meat is not certified organic (because organic feed is prohibitively expensive, she says), the vegetables she sells mostly at the Madison Farmer’s Market and to Fresh Link, a Washington, D.C.-based aggregator and distributor of local food to D.C.-area restaurants, are organic. The small plot of grapes Vidal tends to are also organic, and she plans to make organic wine when the vineyard finally gets established.
“We’re still working on it,” says Vidal, who estimates she’s planted and ripped out grapes four times in an attempt to find varietals that will take to organic methods in the humid, pest-riddled Central Virginia climate.
Vidal has her work cut out for her. Grapes are fickle and doing anything organically is tough, but all things considered, her goats are pretty low maintenance in comparison to other livestock breeds. Vidal says she settled on manure-making goats because “cows would cause too much erosion.” More than that though, Vidal says she became a goat herder because of her concern for the plight of heritage breed Spanish landraces, which Vidal says have high conservation priority status by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
“By raising these animals, we are helping to conserve a genetic resource that might otherwise be lost forever,” she says.
Vidal maintains a foundation herd of two bucks and about 30 does whose offspring are processed for meat in spring and fall at a butcher in Bealeton. Initially, Vidal says she sold almost all of the meat to a Halaal butcher in Warrenton. Though she now distributes most from her farm and at the farmers market, it’s not always an easy sell.
Goat meat is a traditional staple for Muslims and cultures such as Indian and North African, but it doesn’t exactly jive well with Americans’ quick-cooking and eating habits. Goat meat typically needs to be stewed for a good long while to soften up and/or seasoned well for flavor (such as in the curry dish that frequent Brightwood Farm customer Mark Cosgrove shares). Though stewing and seasoning are two things for which fast-food focused Americans have little patience, Vidal says she’s having a lot of success marketing ground goat meat for burgers, proving that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Crushing herbs makes them release their flavors more quickly and powerfully, a key to seasoning goat meat well. $34.95 from The Seasonal Cook.
Spanish Goat Chops with Tomato Curry
From Mark Cosgrove, executive chef of the Pub at Fardowners
1 can tomato paste
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 yellow onion, finely diced
1 apple, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf, crushed
1 tsp. curry powder
2 Tbs. butter
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
4 Spanish goat chops
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onions and apples in butter until onions are translucent. Add tomato paste, coconut milk, garlic, and bay leaf and mix well. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer 20 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse chops and pat dry. Sear chops in oil for 1 minute and 30 seconds on each side (for medium-rare). Top with curry. Serve with couscous and Brightwood Vineyard and Farm’s organic rainbow chard sautéed with garlic and butter. Serves 4.
We’d like to thank the Three Billy Goats Gruff for teaching us our first two moral lessons about eating: (1) Don’t be greedy and (2) Just because you’re fat doesn’t mean you can’t kick some serious troll ass.
Back to FOOD & DRINK ANNUAL 2009