"Farmer" Interview

Chimney Rock

For Food's Sake
August 23rd, 2013

What prepared you to be a farmer?

I don’t farm. I forage, partly because I am unprepared to farm. Farming requires commitment, i.e., quite literally, putting down roots. And I’m afraid of commitment. But foraging can be a commitment to “staying present” because foragers can’t be choosers: you have to take what you can get, i.e., “love the one you’re with.”

How many acres is your farm and what is a unique feature of it?

I forage mostly within a 45-minute radius of Asheville, which amounts to about four million acres. The unique feature of this “farm” is that it is the most biodiverse temperate ecosystem in the world.

Tell us about your main crops and how you chose the varieties.

I harvest mainly 5-7 plants and mushrooms, respectively. For mushrooms, these are: morels, lobster mushrooms, chicken of the woods, hen of the woods (a.k.a., maitake), chanterelles, milk caps (Lactarius corrugis/volemus), and honey mushrooms. For plants, these are dandelion, violet, nettle, chickweed, lambs quarter, burdock, and purslane. I pick these the most often because they are the most common.

How much of your produce goes to farmers markets and/or restaurants?

I no longer sell commercially. For 18 years, I sold exclusively to restaurants. This season I opened a booth at a farmers market and it is being taken over by my interns.

What challenges do you have as a farmer?

As a forager, a.k.a., scavenger or "oppotunivore," I am challenged to stay focused: I don’t always want something just because it’s free. That includes apparent business opportunities and girlfriends. I am also challenged to collaborate with others, sharing the wealth as well as the work involved.

Where do you see farming in the future?

Farming in the future must return to permaculture: working with, not against, nature, by growing what already thrives in an area, i.e., what grows wild. Agriculture is well documented as having been the most destructive thing humanity has ever done to the planet. It’s also the most unhealthy thing we have done to ourselves. Most of what we eat is not food; it’s entertainment. Carbs, for example, are drugs, and have equally damaging effects on our bodies and the environment. It’s not that wild food is good for you; it’s that anything except wild food is not as good for you.

Where would be your ideal location for your last supper, what would be your meal & music and who would join you ?

I can’t think of a place other than home. I’d enjoy the foods of my Cuban-Jewish youth: chicken, plantains, beans & rice, stewed cow’s tongue, flan, and blintzes. I’d play mid-70′s Van Morrision before dinner, Getz and Gilberto during, and early 70′s Stevie Wonder after. I’d eat with my college roommate & girlfriend, my current housemate & girlfriend, and a few other close friends.