Fulcrum Farm " plowing new soil | TheUnion.com

Fulcrum Farm " plowing new soil

Much of the news in the world is often gloomy and discouraging, but talking with Marney Blair and Lisa Bjorn of Fulcrum Farm is like turning on a bright light in a dark room.

These innovative pioneers are part of a new crop of farmers (here in Nevada County) who belong to a broader renaissance throughout the country. One could say they are plowing new soil, or turning over a new leaf! We are the benefactors ” consumers who love to eat.

Fulcrum Farm began seven years ago when Lisa and Marney moved to Nevada County and formed a partnership, developing a 20-acre parcel that Lisa’s father purchased in the 1970’s. They don’t grow vegetables, but they do just about everything else.

Fulcrum Farm is completely organic and is operated as a CSA ” Community Supported Agriculture. What that means is that a consumer/family buys a pre-paid subscription in the spring, paying the farmer directly. Each week, during the harvest season, Fulcrum delivers a box of eight to 10 products to a central location.

For someone who loves to cook and experiment with nutritious ingredients, having Fulcrum Farm deliver food would be like giving a painter a new palette of colors to play with. The CSA box you receive as a subscriber could contain such things as: Sun-dried tomatoes, two types of flour, bread baked in a newly built wood-fired oven, a breakfast cereal blend, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and even miso made from chickpeas that grow on the farm.

Fulcrum also grows three varieties of corn, buckwheat, sorghum, barley, quinoa and amaranth ” all highly nutritious grains. Eating this food could eliminate ever needing a multiple vitamin again!

When I arrived at the farm on a recent Saturday morning, several neighbors were sitting in the shade husking corn. Not just any corn ” these radiantly golden orange kernels will be milled into polenta. In their processing shed sits “the prettiest piece of furniture we own,” Marney said. It’s a stone mill handmade in Austria that is used to grind all of their grains into flours.

It grinds without heating the grain; thus, preserving the proteins and enzymes as well as avoiding rancidity. In another corner of the shed is a corn sheller. It looks like an old fashioned meat grinder. The short, fat cobs of freshly harvested corn go into the sheller and out comes popcorn. (Packaged popcorns have been harvested more than six-12 months ago and slowly lose their nutritional value and flavor.)

In the shed are drying racks with trays full of nutrient-dense pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Love of gardening came early

Lisa Bjorn had dirt under her fingernails as early as 5 years old ” her first memories of working in her grandfather’s garden. She learned about farming while working for John Drew of Chicago Park. Lisa’s other pet project is raising and selling “smart” turkeys.

These turkeys are not cooped up in sheds ” they feast on grasses and organic grains. Heritage turkeys are the variety that our grandparents raised before specialized breeding came into greater use. The best way to describe them is that the dark and white meat have a more uniform flavor.

Marney Blair, after completing a master’s degree, found herself working in a co-operative market in the Bay Area. She began casually making small piles of compostable materials and soon became known as the “Compost Queen.”

When the Presidio was turned over to the city of San Francisco, she was hired to design small compost piles that were used to remediate contaminated soils. “One thing I am most proud of,” she said, “is that we used the compost on the golf course and were able to eliminate their dependence on pesticides and herbicides.”

Marney is still the “Compost Queen” and a consultant to Nevada County Recycling, educating farmers how to manage their animal manures, mainly through composting.

An overabundance of manure can compromise water quality and damage soils with nitrate salts as well as create excess flies and odor problems. “It’s really an easy process to turn something that has become a nuisance (animal manures) into a beneficial product.”

Free classes on composting are open to the general public and begin in October. For more information, call Nevada County Recycles at 265-1768.

This zesty flavored salad is made with quinoa, a grain used widely by the Incas in

South America. Look for quinoa in area health food stores

Quinoa and Pecan Salad with Dried Cranberries

3 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups quinoa

1 bunch green onions, finely sliced

1/2 cup diced dried cranberries

3/4 cup finely diced celery

1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro

3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Bring water to a boil. Add quinoa, stir, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until

quinoa is soft, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Add green onions, dried cranberries, celery, and cilantro to a large salad bowl. Toast the pecans in a small skillet and add to the salad bowl. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, sesame oil, salt, and peppers to the bowl — stir to mix.

Stir in the quinoa when it has cooked and cooled slightly. Set aside for an hour if possible; serve at room temperature.

Polenta, an Italian staple, can be as satisfying to make as it is to eat. There is a certain sensuous pleasure in stirring the golden mixture. You’ll develop your own sense of feeling it take shape under the spoon. Polenta takes about 25 minutes to cook from start to finish. I consider it a great investment of time ” a convenience food if you will ” since I get two to three great meals out of one recipe. Stores in the refrigerator for up to five days and freezes well.

Grilled Polenta with Mushrooms

6 1/2 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups polenta

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (Optional)

Bring water to a boil in a large stockpot. Add salt. Sprinkle in polenta gradually,

stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. When all of the polenta has been added, reduce heat to low. Simmer and stir continuously until polenta begins to thicken and pull away from the sides of the pan, about 15-20 minutes. Add butter and Parmesan cheese the last two minutes of cooking.

Remove from heat. Spread polenta on a baking sheet and cut into squares, or spread

it into two 9-inch pie pans (one for freezing). Cut into wedges, squares or use a cookie cutter for holiday shapes. For grilling, a slice one to one and a half inches thick works best.

Mushroom Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium-size onion, finely chopped

1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced (A variety of mushrooms is best)

3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons dry sherry

1/4 cup well flavored vegetable or chicken broth, cooled

1/2 teaspoon salt

Fresh ground pepper

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Fresh grated Parmesan cheese

In a large skillet, saute the onion in butter/olive oil. Add the mushrooms and garlic;

saute for four to five additional minutes. Add the soy sauce and sherry; turn heat to low. Stir cornstarch into the cooled broth and add to the pan. Simmer, covered, a few minutes longer or until thickened. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme.

To assemble:

Preheat a gas grill to medium-high or build a fire in a kettle grill. Brush polenta slices with additional olive oil. Grill polenta, turning only once, until grill lines form and polenta has a slightly crispy crust ” about four minutes each side. Top each slice with a generous spoonful of the mushroom sauce and Parmesan cheese.


Patti Bess is a local freelance writer and recipe developer. She is the host of What’s Cookin’ on KVMR-FM in Nevada City.

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