Thursday, August 29, 2013

Phillip Ottinger: Buffalo Trail Orchard

by Kasey Jones
The back of Phillip Ottinger’s pick-up truck is packed with corn as he prepares for the weekly farmers market in Jonesborough, Tenn. Customers line up at his tent to purchase his sweet corn, squash, raspberries and cucumbers as the market begins. Before noon, he has sold all his corn and many of his other products, as well.

Ottinger’s success is the fruit of his hard work and passion for farming. The Greene County native spent 30 years of his life working as an engineer to earn enough money to become a farmer. After graduating from the University of Tennessee with a B.S. in Agricultural Engineering and an M.S. in Environmental Engineering, he spent 30 years working in Nashville, Oak Ridge and Greeneville so that he could eventually begin farming.

“I always planned to come back to the farm,” he says. “It’s something that I always planned to do, but I had to work as an engineer for 30 years to be able to farm. You don’t make a lot of money farming, so you have to inherit a farm or you do something else to earn the money to be able to farm.”

His hard work reaped a harvest. Ottinger and his wife were able to return to Greene County, where they purchased his wife’s parents’ farm after her parents had passed away. The farm, which has been in his wife’s family for years, was originally purchased by one of her family members in 1890 and now qualifies as a Tennessee Century Farm.

The farm is packed with a variety of fruits, vegetables, berries and animals. Ottinger grows and sells blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, pumpkins, fall squash, sweet corn, cantaloupe, watermelons and beef cattle. He also has an orchard in which he grows 16 different varieties of apples that include Gala, Honey Crisp, Fuji, Pink Lady, and William’s Pride.

While Ottinger brings his produce to customers at the farmers market, he believes that picking fruit is a special experience to which many young people no longer have access. Because of this, he invites customers to visit his farm – Buffalo Trail Orchard – in Greeneville where this year visitors may pick berries, pumpkins, gourds and squash. To enhance the experience, Ottinger also gives hayrides.

“I really enjoy having families with small kids come out to the farm,” he says. “It’s exciting to see the little kids – especially if you take them out into the pumpkin patch and they see these huge pumpkins that they can sit on and take pictures.”

Ottinger, his wife and his daughter do the majority of the work. After his daughter, who he says has been a big help on the farm, begins school at the University of Tennessee in the fall, Ottinger will likely look for an intern to assist at the farm in exchange for food and housing.

“It’s amazing to me that young people would want to do that,” he says. “I’ve got a son who lives in Madison, Wis. He goes out and helps some friends on their farms. We usually talk to him every Sunday. After he tells me what he’s done over the weekend, I say, ‘I couldn’t have paid you to do that at home.’ ”

And if that’s not enough farming, Ottinger also has a garden that he grows for himself and his family. “We have just a little family garden that we don’t sell out of,” he says. “We have potatoes and tomatoes, okra, beets, beans and the typical garden vegetables.  We grow what we like to eat.”

Ottinger and his family enjoy growing the foods that they like to eat. He says that if the food is good to eat, then that’s what he likes to grow.

“I was born a farmer,” he says. “I’m the first generation that has actually worked off of the farm. If you go back in my family, they were always farmers. So I grew up with it and even though it was hard work, I enjoyed it.”

For information about visiting Buffalo Trail Orchard, call 423-639-2297.

Fresh Apple Pound Cake
3 cups plain floor
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
 1 ½ cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chopped peeled apples
1 cup broken pecans (optional)
½ cup golden raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  mix together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Combine oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract in bowl: mix until well blended.  Add dry ingredients: beat well.  Stir in apples, pecans, and raisins.  Spoon batter into well greased and floured 10-inch bundt pan and bake for 1 hr 15 mins.  Let cool on rack for 10 minutes before removing from pan.  Prick top of cake with fork.  Glaze while cake is still hot.

Apple Cider Glaze
½ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
¾ cup apple cider
Combine all ingredients in small pan.  Bring to a boil stirring until sugar is dissolved.  Spoon over hot cake.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Claudia Randolph: Old Town Honey

By Kasey Jones
For Claudia Randolph, bees are more than just a source of honey. Over the six years that she has been working with bees and gathering their honey, Randolph has found that bees have more personality than most people realize, uniquely interacting with one another in ways that highlight their ability to work together.

“If they’ve gone out in the field and they’ve found a new place to gather their honey, they come back and on the front of the hive they make a little dance,” Randolph says. “That little dance tells everybody where to go.”

Although she grew up in a residential area in Newport News, Va., Randolph always had an interest in animals and country life and thought that she should have been born in an earlier, more agrarian, time.

Randolph moved to Erwin, Tenn., where she lived until 1981 before moving to Dry Creek, where she had about 15 acres of land. Missing the convenience of a town, Randolph moved to Jonesborough, where she now lives in a historic house on Main Street.

“I’ve enjoyed this area better,” she says. “I like it a lot more. It’s gorgeous. I like the climate and the weather. A couple of weeks ago my daughter got married and that was in Williamsburg. I went back and there was so much humidity. I said, ‘I can’t live here. I can’t get my hair to do right.’ It’s just everywhere. It was just so hot compared to here. I like the mountains.”

One day, Randolph “just got interested in bees.” Her interest came to full bloom when she met someone who mentored her and helped her to get started. She has kept bees ever since.

In addition to selling honey, Randolph has a garden in which she grows cucumbers, corn, beets, green beans, onions, tomatoes and cantaloupe. She also keeps about 15 free-range chickens and sells their eggs. The chickens wander around her yard and garden, and finding their nests and eggs is like Easter all year-round.

“I’m always searching for [the nests],” she says, “trying to find them. My mother found a nest under her porch a couple of days ago. We’d been looking everywhere for it. I would have never thought to look there. One of my friends was over, and she has two young boys. They were keeping the chickens while we were out of town. They were doing Easter egg hunts looking for the eggs. It was so much fun for them. They look everywhere every time they come over.”

When Randolph has free-range eggs and honey, she places a little sign outside her house, but honey comes in just once a year, and after her stock has sold out, she is out until the following year.

She keeps her hives in a field behind her house. “You’ll probably see me out there in my bee suit if you ever ride by,” says Randolph. “I have a lot of people comment on it, ‘I saw you out there the other day.’ I just rob the hives. Actually, we did this yesterday. We’ve done pretty well.”

Like all beekeepers, Randolph occasionally has to deal with swarms of bees. When the bees swarm in an area, like a tree branch, Randolph will place either a box or a bucket under the swarm and shake the branch so that the bees fall into the container. If the queen bee falls into the container, then all of the other bees will follow and stay with her.

In addition to capturing the swarms near her own hives, Randolph has also caught swarms in more public places. “Joel Conger that has Mauk’s over here, he had a swarm last year up in the tree in front of his store,” she says. “He called me and asked me to come and down and get it. We went after it after hours. It was quite interesting for everybody around. Some people sat across the street on the benches and stuff and watched.”

While she only harvests the honey once a year, Randolph cares for the bees year-round, feeding them sugar water, ensuring that the hives don’t have moisture in them so that the bees won’t get diseases and making sure that the hives are closed up during the winter time so the bees won’t get cold.

“This is about what I do most of the time, just mess with my bees and my chickens,” she says. “Actually, the bees do it full time. I just go in and rob them, and make sure that they’re fed and they’re healthy.”

Find Randolph and her honey, eggs and produce on Saturdays at the Jonesborough Farmers Market, or stop by 703 W. Main Street when the sign is out.

Recipe from Southern Living magazine: Zesty honey-lemon dressing
Serve this salad dressing over fresh garden greens or drizzle over steamed green beans, asparagus, or broccoli.
Makes about ¾ cup (serving size 1 Tbsp.)


1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon lemon zest
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup olive oil 
Preparation:  Whisk together chopped fresh parsley and next 7 ingredients in a small bowl. Add oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until smooth. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 5 days. If chilled, let stand at room temperature 15 minutes. Whisk before serving.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Jack Woodworth: Ziegenwald Dairy

By Kasey Jones

Jack Woodworth and his family began raising milk goats by chance.

After moving to the area from Connecticut, Woodworth promised his three children they would look at goats. They were seeking cashmere goats, but when the breeder called and said that she wouldn’t be able to show the goats that day, Woodworth found an ad in the local paper for milk goats. The Woodworths purchased two bucks and two does, and now they have a thriving farm of more than 100 goats, and a dairy they call “Ziegenwald.” (Ziegen is the German word for goat, wald is German for “woods” for Woodworth).

From this flock, Woodworth and his wife produce a large variety of cheeses that they now sell at the Jonesborough Farmers Market.

Woodworth didn’t start out as a farmer. After serving eight years in the military, stationed in Germany, Woodworth returned to the US and considered getting a farm.  , But about a week after he got out of the service, he was offered a job in a factory in Connecticut and he took it. “It looked like it was going to be pretty good, but after about 12 years, it started going downhill,” says Woodworth. “So I said, ‘Well, NOW it’s time to look for a farm.’ ”

The Woodworths looked all over New England, but couldn’t find anything they liked or could afford. Then, when a friend in the Tri-Cities area mentioned to Woodworth that there was a farm for sale nearby, Woodworth and his family came to look at it. About a year later, they were able to move from Connecticut to their new farm, Opossum’s Bottom Farm.

When Woodworth bought his first milk goats in 1994, he and his family were really just trying to avoid the chemicals that were added to milk. They began by making cheese for themselves, but in 2001, they decided to get a commercial dairy license. Woodworth and his family did most of the work themselves, and in May 2008, nearly seven years later, they had built the dairy and acquired all of the necessary equipment to get their Grade A dairy license.

“We called Karen here at the market,” says Woodworth, “and she said, ‘Come on down,’ so we came down with our little card table. We didn’t have a tent or anything. This was the very first year when the market was out behind the library. We did well and we’ve grown from there.”

Woodworth also sells at a farmers market in Norton, Va. He appreciates both the Jonesborough Farmers Market and the market in Norton, he says, because they are producer-only markets. While he has been invited to other markets, he prefers these markets and serves on the boards of both, and also represents both markets at the Farmers Market Association.

“I like producer-only markets,” he says. “I think the whole idea of the farmers market is for farmers, not for people who are going out and buying stuff and then reselling it. I make sure that people know that we’re a producer-only market and that’s what a market should be.”

Woodworth works full-time on his farm, which has expanded beyond goats to include chickens, pigs, cows, horses, rabbits and all kinds of poultry. He also has a garden and grows seed for a seed company, including beans, tomatoes, peppers and other annual vegetables.

Family member preferences catalyzed farm expansions. “My wife always wanted a horse, so we got two of them,” says Woodworth. “Those are pretty much hers, although I feed them. She used to ride fairly frequently. She doesn’t ride much anymore. The chickens and stuff, we wanted them around for eggs and for meat. We raise rabbits for meat and for pets. Usually I raise a couple of pigs every year on the whey (the leftovers from the cheese). I’ll sell one pig and butcher one pig. The sheep were something that I wanted, so we just have them around. They’re wool breeds, so we can sheer them and use the wool, but we don’t really use the wool for anything. Usually I’ll put a couple of them in the freezer every year so that we have some lamb. Every now and then we’ll raise a cow for some meat, or a bull – whatever we can get cheap.”

While Woodworth’s wife works as a nurse, she also helps with the milking and the cheese making. Carpal tunnel problems from hand-milking led the Woodworths to get a portable milker. When they became a Grade A dairy, they upgraded to an in-line system that allows them to milk six goats at a time. 

Woodworth’s wife begins the milking around 6 a.m. before she leaves for work, then, Woodworth finishes the milking, feeds, waters and takes care of other farm tasks.

All of the farm work combined with the cheese making is quite a process, Woodworth says. In addition to milking the goats and taking care of all of the animals, Woodworth has to pasteurize the goat’s milk, clean all of the equipment used for the milking and pasteurizing and then make the cheese.

“We keep inventory sheets everywhere,” Woodworth says. “I do two markets each week … My son is doing the Bristol market, so we have to keep track of what we have in the freezer so that we don’t run out, but occasionally we do.”

Woodworth and his wife make an assortment of cheeses – plain, dill, garlic and dill, garlic and basil, basil without garlic, garlic with black pepper, chives, raspberry, strawberry, peach, apricot, mulberry, and occasionally honey/nut, mozzarella, feta, Colby and camembert – that keep them constantly busy. Woodworth is working on cheddar and Parmesan, as well, seeking just the right recipes.

After several careers, Woodworth is happy doing what he loves. He has always liked animals and even attended a vocational high school, he says, where he was able to work with animals. “I was in the FFA and all that stuff,” he says, “but never really intended to go into farming. It just kind of happened. It was one of those things, things just worked out.”

Recipe: Goat Cheese Omelet

According to Woodworth, the simplest way to see if you like goat cheese or not is to try it in an omelet. Woodworth recommends trying the herbed cheeses (rather than the sweet cheeses).

Put butter in a pan, let the butter melt and then coat the sides of the pan with the butter.
Beat 2-3 eggs and pour into the pan.  Add goat cheese and any other toppings that you enjoy. Let it cook for awhile until it gets firm on the bottom then fold it over and just let it heat until it’s nice and soft and brown.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rodney Webb: Salamander Springs Farm

By Kasey Jones

While most farmers spend a lot of time in the sun cultivating their crops that thrive on light, Rodney Webb, who owns and operates Salamander Springs Farm in North Carolina, nurtures his main crop in the damp dimness. With a careful photographer’s eye, Webb nurtures his specialty, shiitake mushrooms, then shares the healthful fungi with Jonesborough Farmers Market customers and grocery stores and restaurants in the Asheville area.

Although his father was in the Army, and his family moved a lot, Webb settled in the East Tennessee area at age 17. He recalls that his family always seemed to have a garden wherever they lived, and despite a higher education in photography from East Tennessee State University, he went into environmental work and activism as vocation and avocation. “I went [to ETSU] for a while and almost graduated,” says Webb. “I got involved with a lot of environmental stuff and got caught up in activism. I was majoring in photography and just decided that I wasn’t going to be a professional photographer.”

Webb’s environmental involvement included forest protection work and direct action, which he says included, “Hanging banners on stuff and [even] getting arrested.”

Webb had always wanted to be a farmer, and his activism was a catalyst for becoming one. “I guess in some ways I was led to [farming] because I feel like being an activist is not very sustainable,” says Webb. “You know, going around telling people, ‘Well, you need to live better. Eat local,’ and that sort of thing. But when you’re driving around telling people how to live, at some point it gets kind of hypocritical. I felt like, ‘I better practice what I preach a little more.’ I feel like this is one of the more environmentally friendly occupations that you can have.”

Webb’s first experience with shiitake mushrooms was in 1997, when his wife, Heather, was diagnosed with stage three Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After his wife’s diagnosis, Webb and his wife went to see some alternative health practitioners, who recommended that they try using shiitake mushrooms, because of the mushrooms’ anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties. Webb began buying the mushrooms for his wife, but before long, he decided to grow them himself. “I had to buy them at first and I saw how much they cost and they were all coming from Japan,” says Webb, “and it was like, ‘That’s not very local.’ So I started growing my own.”

A few years after Webb’s wife was diagnosed, North Carolina began using tobacco settlement money to create a program that gave free shiitake spawn, or mycelium, to replace tobacco with another crop. Webb, who now lives in Madison County, N.C., became involved with the program and has been growing shiitake mushrooms since.

Webb’s wife is now cancer-free and Webb believes that the mushrooms helped to improve her health. “The doctors told her that if she remained cancer free for three years, she would have as good a chance as anyone else of not getting cancer,” he says. “She hit the three-year mark over 10 years ago. I think the mushrooms helped, along with other recommendations, including seaweed in her diet, eating seasonal vegetables, whole grains, eliminating sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc. – essentially eliminating processed foods from our diet and replacing those with healthy whole foods, and making some lifestyle changes.

“She only went through three of the six recommended chemo sessions because she was cancer-free after three months of treatment. I've since learned that there are many benefits to making mushrooms a regular part of your diet. More studies are continually pointing to how good mushrooms are for you.”

Cultivating shiitakes entails a complicated process and Webb has tried different methods of cultivation over the years. “For years I didn’t do all of the fore-soaking,” says Webb. “I just relied on the natural, what they call ‘flushes,’ when the mushrooms come out. After a big rainstorm, I would go pick a bunch. I’d usually end up with about 80 pounds at a time and have hard time [harvesting] them.”

Now Webb grows the mushrooms on hardwood logs that are inoculated with the mycelium, the foundational mass of branching fibers, of the mushrooms. After cutting fresh logs and inoculating them with the mycelium of the mushrooms, Webb has to wait about a year for the logs to be ready to begin producing mushrooms. From there, the process goes a little bit more quickly, he says.

“Then I have to soak logs to have regular production,” Webb says. “I have to soak them in big tanks of spring water and pull them out, stack them and then it usually takes them about a week to 10 days for them to produce through the soaking method. I harvest them, refrigerate them and bring them [to the Jonesborough Farmers Market].”

Webb keeps the logs in what he calls “the mushroom yard” or “the shiitake yard.” Because shade is essential to the mushroom cultivation process, Webb situated the yard at the edge of a deep forest located at the bottom of a north-facing slope. Each log typically lasts three to five years, and each log is soaked one to three times each season, a process that Webb does outside or under a tarp until he can construct a more suitable workspace. 

Although the mushrooms are seasonal, Webb has a few tricks that he uses to extend the standard May-October season. If grown in the proper environment, shiitakes can be grown indoors year-round and cultivated under different conditions – some in cold weather, others in warm. Drying the mushrooms, Webb says, is a good way to ensure that they are available throughout the year.

However, when Webb grows the mushrooms outside, he has to operate quickly. “When it's time to harvest, it's time to harvest,” he says. “Mushrooms are fairly unforgiving. When the weather is warm, that’s about their window of opportunity for harvest.”

While he spends a lot of his time working with the mushrooms, Webb is also still an activist and educator. He has conducted workshops at the Organic Growers School between February and April. He is also on the board of Madison Farms, which is a program through which shiitake growers in Madison County or that area can sell through Madison Farms, rather than having to go directly to restaurants or drive to Asheville. Madison Farms sells shiitakes wholesale to Asheville, and as a result, Madison County is the largest shiitake producer in the state of North Carolina.

In addition to the shiitake mushrooms, Webb also grows seasonal vegetables. He and his family both eat and sell the greens, and Webb grows variety of different crops that include garlic, kale, chard, collards, peas, beans, okra, winter squash, fresh basil and, occasionally, tomatoes.

“I’m a fan of diversity,” he says. “If one crop fails, you have insect problems with something, you’ve got a greater diversity. Something is going to pull through, usually. We try to grow as many different things as we can keep track of.”

Regardless of what he is growing, Webb is doing what he loves. “I always wanted to be a farmer,” he says, “so that’s when I decided that being a farmer is one of the most sustainable jobs you could probably have. I feel like I’m helping people out and it’s a job that I can live with.”

Recipe:  Rodney’s recommendations for cooking Shiitake mushrooms
I like to stay with using traditional Asian ingredients when cooking shiitakes. I think it brings out their best flavor, although they can usually replace button or wild mushrooms wherever they are called for in a recipe. This is a marinade that I've refined over the years. Amounts are estimated. Adjust to suit one's own tastes and available ingredients.

Marinade for ~1/2 lb fresh shiitakes:
- 1-2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 thumb size piece fresh ginger root, grated and squeezed for juice
- 2-3 cloves fresh garlic, minced or even better crushed in garlic press
- 1 or 2+ Tbsp tamari (soy sauce)
- dilute w/ a little water and/or dash of beer
- stir all ingredients w/ a fork dipped in honey

Remove stems from shiitake caps. Reserve stems for stock, fresh or dried.
Marinate caps for 1/2 hour to 1 day. Preferably at least 2 hours. This can be done in a plastic ziploc sandwich bag or glass bowl. If marinating for a longer time place in fridge, if less than overnight marinade at room temperature.
Cook on the grill to a golden brown or spear on kabobs with vegetables. Can also be cooked in a skillet with a little oil or butter if your cookout gets rained out.
Another way I like to use the same ingredients is to use sliced shiitakes instead of whole and make a gravy. Marinade as above and cook mushrooms in an oiled skillet at high heat. An onion sliced in half moon slices is a nice addition. Add the remaining marinade liquid with a little water into the skillet bringing to a rapid boil in the pan and thicken w/ a couple of Tbsp cornstarch diluted in water. Stir with whisk or fork while pouring in and reduce heat to simmer. Traditional Japanese method for a sauce or gravy like this would replace corn starch with kuzu, starch made from the root of the kudzu plant. Serve gravy over fried polenta, grits or rice.