I’d never heard of a restaurant having a “forager,” someone who goes out to local farms hoping to establish relationships that mean a steady supply of fresh, local produce, so when The Market Restaurant in Annisquam had one, I wanted to know who he was.
Oliver Monday arrived on Cape Ann over-educated for his job, and that’s not because he graduated from McGill having studied Philosophy and Environmental Studies. It’s because Oliver has farmed with premier farmers on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.
In college Oliver’s Berkeley roots couldn’t help themselves; he told me about going to bat at McGill for the organic food movement against a professor of Evolutionary Developmental Biology who claimed the industrialization of agriculture, and thus genetically modified foods, was a “convergent discipline” and an evolutionary inevitablility. (Am I saying that right, Oliver?)
Or, as Oliver said a little simpler, “I just don’t understand why ‘organic’ is considered abnormal, and chemical farming is considered normal.”
Having grown up in the shadow of Chez Panisse, the politics of food was like nursery rhymes for Oliver. In our mini-tutorial, he told me about a paper he wrote on agriculture in Havana, which under the Soviet Union had been completely industrialized. When the Soviets pulled out, and took their oil with them, all that industry rusted in the fields. So much machinery and no place to go because there was no oil. Havana by default reverted to traditional farming methods, and now raises a significant amount of its food within the city limits.
Maybe the politics of food means there shouldn’t be any?
For two hours on a beautiful June day Oliver and I talked beside a teensy-weensy plot of land he was planning on turning into a garden for the restaurant. Covered in vetch, beside the Annisquam river, the plot had been offered to Oliver by Tom Brooks. Tom was trimming roses in his pristine white house across the lane that day and kept coming by to contribute more “carbon,” meaning the freshly cut vines, to Oliver’s garden restoration.
Weary from academics, Oliver fled Montreal’s urbanity after college to work a new section of farm at the famed Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cooking School in Cork, Ireland. After a lush Irish growing season, Oliver returned to the U.S. for the first Slow Food event in the United States in San Francisco. There, he and his brother Nico made rapini, sausage and hot chile flake pizzas in Nico’s hand built pizza oven for two days straight.
Maybe not an apex, but certainly a crest in his agricultural education, Oliver then did an internship at Bob Cannard’s farm in Sonoma, twelve acres that supply all the produce for Chez Panisse.
While Oliver and I sat watching swallows tipping over the grasses and the tide recede from the white sands of Wingersheek Beach across the river, he talked about Bob Cannard with total reverence. (Google Cannard; everyone speaks reverentially of him. Watch a youtube video on nutrient cycling, and you understand why.) Cannard doesn’t use the word “organic” to describe his farm, even though it far excedes any official measure of the term, because he is so disillusioned with the word’s exploitation.
Oliver told me how Bob’s method of farming was to bring the soil back to a naturally rich, healthy state, rather than always depleting it with planting, super-fertilizing, stripping of weeds, and superfertilizing again. “You don’t grow vegetables; you grow soil.” Bob lets the weeds grow up in his crops, knowing that their spent selves will rot into the soil and add that carbon Tom Brooks was contributing. Cannard adds finely meshed volcanic rock to the soil for mineralization, crushed oyster shells for calcium, and regularly innoculates the soil with, my favorite, compost tea.
Compost Tea and I have a short but merry history; Barbara Dombrowski at Goose Cove Gardens told me about it, and compost tea successfully and organically cured my entire yard and garden of all its ills. It’s disease-free state makes me look like I know what I’m doing. There. I am a compost tea fanatic.
Oliver even had diet tips for me that day: all those months at Bob’s farm, having no time to prepare meals during the day but munching – literally grazing – on beautiful fruits and vegetables raw from the earth, limitless good bread from Chez Panisse and two bottles of great wine a night? He’s lean.
Oliver waits on tables at The Market in the evening, travels to our local farms every other day procuring what’s growing, but can often be found at a small plot of land just north of the Annisquam Yacht club. Go visit him. Have a talk. Enjoy the view.
Welcome to Cape Ann, Oliver.
To hear some good advice from Bob Cannard on sustainable agriculture, or a good explanation of why NOT to fertilize with manure, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V47sNLpC3B8&feature=related