Small packages: Michael Clark cultivates baby greens and microgreens and herbs in his hydroponic greenhouses.
His entire operation is an example of old-school-meets-new-thinking—for example, he tinkered with an old tractor so it could make raised beds rather than conventional rows of crops. As regards his business and marketing strategy, moreover, it’s all about diversity rather than large economies of scale. If there’s a product or service to pursue from a small farm he does it—seasonal crops for the farmers’ markets; year-round greenhouse greens, herbs, tomatoes and prepared pesto; jellies from the fruit trees; distilled essential oils from the herbs; edible flowers. He even has a service of collecting used motor oil from the county police and fryer oil from restaurants, which he then filters and recycles to power his greenhouses. The guy truly is a jack-of-all-farm trades. And somehow he also finds the time to host a weekly local access television show called “Meet the Farmer TV” to raise awareness of local food and local farms.
Though his interests are varied, his greenhouse operation is his most well-known and best illustrates his incredible plant expertise and farmer/scientist persona. Walking through the lush and delicate rows of arugula, baby beet greens and micro-cilantro while Clark, in his signature straw hat and Carhartt jacket, explains the joys and challenges of cultivating such beautiful and tender but flavorful fare—high-end restaurants love to garnish with his micro-stuff—it’s obvious that being a successful small farmer is as much about learning the science of growing as it is about hoeing the rows.
These days it’s also about being market savvy. Despite being devoted to holistic and sustainable growing, Clark says, “We’re no longer doing certified organic because it’s no longer a competitive advantage.” The phrase Clark uses to label his operation instead is “Ecological Greenhouse.” And if that term gets diluted and corrupted by someone else as many argue “Organic” has today, this farmer/innovator will probably just invent another.
Working with delicate microherbs and edible flowers is as much about presentation as it is about flavor. Protect those pretty petals with the right precision tool. Stainless steel, five-blade herb scissors. $12.50, The Happy Cook.
Planet Earth Diversified Rose Geranium Panna Cotta
From Melissa Close, executive chef of Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville Vineyards
1 oz rose geranium flowers from Planet Earth Diversified
2 tsp. powdered gelatin bloomed in
1/4 cup cold cream
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs. honey
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbs. cold buttermilk
“Bloom” gelatin by sprinkling on cold cream. Combine ¾ cup heavy cream, salt and honey in heavy-bottomed saucepan, until temperature reaches 170 degrees. Slowly add bloomed gelatin/cream mixture, stirring to dissolve gelatin granules. When mixture is thoroughly combined, stir in cold buttermilk until combined. Divide evenly among four six-ounce containers (silicon muffin cups work great) and refrigerate at least eight hours. Turn panna cotta onto a plate and garnish with rose geranium blossoms. Serves 6.
It’s a small world, after all: Microscope, micro-mini, microfilm, microchip, micro-lending, etc.
Back to FOOD & DRINK ANNUAL 2009