7.21.2015

Steel Grass Farm

It struck me like a bolt of lightning one night while I was sitting on the bathroom floor with my netbook cruising through Craigslist jobs while the girls were sleeping beneath the chirping geckos. I hit a road block with my job at the time, because the darn island truck wasn't keen on driving to south shore every other day to the farm I've been working at since 2012. I would fix it one week, next week it something else would snap, fall off, pop, bang. Every penny that went into my pocket went into the gas tank or to the mechanic, so I said, "you win." The only solution I felt right was to farm local to our abode. That night in the bathroom I came across an ad looking for a cacao orchard manager and I applied, two days later we took the delicious chocolate tasting tour at Steel Grass Farm to scope it out and it was perfect. I gave my word and the rest is history. Now, it's time to grow. 


At any given moment there are endless duties to be performing simultaneously; fixing irrigation, caging cacao trees from pigs and chickens, talking to each tree and looking for any flowers, weeding, fertilizing, prepping the new beds and the list goes on, forever. Nature doesn't stop. 


Cacao, honey and vanilla are three award-winning treats Steel Grass has to offer and there's plenty of it, but the Lydgate family wants to diversify and bring in other family farmers into the picture. Can't raise a baby without a tribe, and the same goes to farming, particularly multi-crop organic farming that utilizes fundamental permaculture techniques. By this I mean the cacao, honey and vanilla all rely on other`flora to flourish, and they also rely on human care. For instance, the vanilla doesn't self-pollinate to make bean so it's done by hand, and neem trees found in the cacao orchard provide a good windbreak and deter certain pests, but are planted in specific locations, by humans, to maximize their benefit to the mini habitat that's being co-created between wild nature and wild us.

Below is a picture of the open land I was introduced to a couple weeks ago and the day I set barefoot on it was the day the storybook really opened. I'm planning to grow what I know best, lettuces, and also other selective crops that Chefs from the east side wish to put on their plates. It's an open field, what does the local culinary community need?


Facing westward towards waterfalls.


This land has remained fallow for 50 years.


Last week I spent one day laying out 16,000 sq. ft. of beds. It brought me back to my geography days at Trent University over a decade ago when I surveyed old farm fields around the campus and measured soil erosion. 



The only time a heavy machine is really needed for this development is for the introductory doze and rip. It sounds lethal, and it is to some of the grass and microorganisms, but none of it is wasted. All the top was grubbed into a big compost pile, which a year down the road we will re-incorporate back into the main field. While the pile sits there we are contemplating growing squash over it.


Trust me, if I had a few horses or mules, I'd use 'em, but I no have, at least not, yet. Likewise, if I had Amish blood I'd ask to be able to ride my horse on the road instead of having to rely on Kumu Kane, our red Jurassic Park jeep. 

Here are the dozed beds. Dozing the beds is like a buzz cut, it takes a few inches from the top. 


Here's the ripper, and what it does is pull out any big roots and do a rough toss. This is very important for when we use the tiller for the first time the ground should be soft and root and rock free. Putting new tiller blades into compact 50 year old soil can create too much initial stress and wear them quickly.


The ripped beds. I'm slowly walking inch by inch through the bed with a machete and dirt rake to even everything out and remove the debris. Only one of the few million times I'll be walking the line. 


While the stork was up there doing it's thing I was down in the bog digging up a few buckets of jungle top soil to add to the beds.


All in one days work. 


In the early evening the rain came.


It felt so good.


Over the last week or so I've been dancing between the cacao trees and the lettuce beds. I like all trees, but this one I find extra attractive due to it's color and leaf size pattern. 


A small taste of the cacao orchard.


I found the first set of flowers on the 16-month old trees a few days ago while weeding. This signals the first harvest in a few moons and that in 2016 the newer orchard of 800+ trees is going to start having a party. 


There's free housing available in the orchard for any birds that wish to join our family.



A few acres away, through the hau bush thicket, up the bend past Hamlet the piggy, past the cherry trees, through the bog of papyrus and bamboo, over this stream... 


is the chicken coup. Rosa feeds the chickens a few times a week and each time she does she's rewarded with 6 eggs.




On our way out we stop by her favorite fruit tree... lychee.


What's next? 


Well, we need irrigation and a nursery. Here's the foundation for the nursery.


Also going to need some seeds and fertilizer. Bought the first 'jeepload' of organic fertilizer yesterday.


One of the big things I keep reminding myself to do is look up. How often while walking on the road or planting in the soil do my eyes look downwards instead of up? Pretty often. So, it has become my mantra that every few minutes glance up and take a look up into the hills and sky. I reckon it's not only good for eye sight, but also good for the soul. 



7.13.2015

Harvesting Ohana

July 13th and the remnants of tropical storm Ella has brought much needed moisture to the island. June was basically a harvest and seed saving month since there was very little rain and it was windy, dry and hotter than 'normal'. I hear people talking about 'record breaking' temperatures, but you know, we've only been recording temperatures for how long here? There's been numerous ice ages and deathly hot times, from asteroids smashing into the Earth... big volcano eruptions blanketing the planet in smoke... and big things that happen when you're just a small blue ball floating around a star in a very unknown universe. Each day I get to pick an ear of corn or cherry tomato I am very thankful that I am in a place and time and body where I can do this. We are so lucky. How many live in dessert regions without access to water? How many gardens have been swept away by tsunamis? And here on Kauai, all the outside world and past times, feel like a make believe story, but I know it's true. So, why am I here? How can I help? What's the story here? Am I writing it?

The backyard garden taking a deep breath after a few rainy days.


My simple tools.


A harvest for dinner.


The corn is sweet.


Rosa loves playing with corn husk hairs and she usually eats three raw ears before the pot goes on the fire. Every try just eating fresh uncooked sweet corn?


Farm fresh eggs fill our bellies every morning.


Our schedule over the last couple moons has given me a lot of one on one time with my daughter, and we do a lot of walking. We watch the boats, birds, monk seals... we swim with the keiki and sea turtles... we splash in puddles at the park and catch sand crabs... we pick radishes from the garden and make stinky kimchee together.. life is awesome. She reminds me to never relinquish the inner child. 


We sometimes stroll to the new Hanai Kauai spot at Kojimas to check in with Chef Adam and Collin. Here are some updated photos from them: http://iconosquare.com/tag/hanaikauai


Here's a sneak peak of what's going inside. They are planning to open in the next month or so, everybody be prepared as the local food scene is set to be lifted high once again. 


As you may recall I've spent nearly two years working at Sheldonia Farms on the south side (with a few bouts of Antarctica and Alaska and Canada here and there) and I've been given a lifetime worth of lessons and practice with organic farming. I left that farm last week to embark on a new farming career opportunity; raising a lettuce garden from scratch and helping manage a cacao orchard at Steel Grass Farms. Here's the last bed of lettuce I picked at Sheldonia. 


The compost pile I was taught how to make with just cut grass. Using a mower to finely shred grass speeds up the decomposition process and within just a couple months can have dark, black compost to spice up the fields.


And all the tiller blades I've been looking at. It's one thing being a farm hand and working with head down, in the dirt, weeding and harvesting... and a whole other managing a farm; being a 'farmer'. Just like in the kitchen... a line cook does the field work, the chef makes sure all the ducks are in a row and the end product is bombastic. I started as dish boy in 2004 and became an eco-lodge chef in 2008, just by staying true to my passion for cooking and will to learn more. In 2012 I began my first farm-to-table garden in Alaska and harvested wild berries and herbs with my wife, as well as became a field hand at Sheldonia Farms upon return to Kauai... now, its time to put my farm boots and straw hat on, because it's time to be Farmer Cody. I'm compiling a list of tools and procedures that need to be done to turn a raw field of grass into a commercial lettuce farm. The first step is readying the dirt. If don't have good dirt, ain't going to have good lettuce. If you don't have a good coffee bean, ain't going to have good coffee, no matter how you roast it. 

It's been a crazy few weeks working with two farms and our backyard garden... 


Here was our first day at Steel Grass Farms taking part in the chocolate tasting tour. The first half of the tour is an educational walkabout tasting fruits and learning about local flora. 


Papyrus. 


Vanilla bean. Steel Grass has received awards in Hawai'i for best tasting honey and vanilla. 


Tasting lychee and longan. 


Uncle Tony teaching us about cacao and how to make chocolate from bean. 


The nickname for bamboo is steel grass since it's hardiness matches, or even surpasses, that of steel.


Sugar cane. When we were walking around I thought to myself, here is vanilla, sugar cane, honey and cacao... what more could a pastry chef ever ask for? Plant a little coffee and harvest coconuts to make coconut oil and cream and bamm! So much can be created from the backyard harvest.  


The chocolate tasting. Steel Grass's chocolate tastes very fruity in comparison to the chocolate of the north shore, which tends to be very earthy and bold. The yeasts in the local environment, plus soil and water, give cacao beans there distinct flavor. If only bees could pollinate Kauai cacao then the honey from the farm would develop a chocolate taste, but they don't, a little fly smaller than a pen head pollinates the cacao tree here. 




Behind the scenes of the cacao orchard. A little slice of paradise. 



Rosa made good friends with Hamlet the piggy. Every time I go near the pig it runs to the other side (probably because we talked about roasting pig the day before), but as soon as Rosa comes up to the fence Hamlet wags his tail and kisses her.


Last week my mother and two sisters came to visit. Our first stop was to the Kapa'a farmer's market  to pick up dinner supplies. Since Rosa ate all the corn from our garden before they arrived we picked up 10 ears more. When I first started baking in Costa Rica in 2008 I wanted to build a bake shop called 'Corn Bread' and specialize in gluten free corn treats. Who doesn't like corn?


Fun times at the beach looking for sea turtles (honu). 


Running wild in the pine forest on Sleeping Giant. 




The girls took a helicopter tour and here are a few shots from their trip. No words needed to describe the beauty of this island that is 70% inaccessible by foot, and 90% inaccessible by motor vehicle. Some things are best left untouched.