Often I forget just how expansive the Chesapeake Bay really is. For the Maryland-centric, a reminder that the Bay actually does continue on southward beyond Chrisfield. Driving from Baltimore down to Hampton Roads, Virginia, the southernmost reach of the Bay, takes a little over 5 hours, if all the traffic gods are with you. So it is one big bay, stretching over 200 miles north to south, the largest estuary in North America.
My good friend, Patrick Evans-Hylton, a Norfolk based food writer, author, and chef - and all around lover of all things Virginia and Chesapeake - recommended a number of must-meet folks for my visit to the Hampton Roads area, and his suggestions were perfect.
After a visit to Colonial Williamsburg (see previous post), stop number two on the New Chesapeake Kitchen tour with my partner-in-crime, Bonnie North, was to New Earth Farm in south Virginia Beach. It is an amazing oasis just outside bustling Virginia Beach, the State of Virginia’s largest city. I’ll let Bonnie tell the tale from here:
New Earth Farm is a collaboration between "Farmer John" Wilson, who began farming organically in the Virginia Beach area back in 1995 and launched the first CSA in the region, and Kevin Jamison, who came to the area with a wealth of experience in community development in the global arena. Before heading down to Virginia Beach Kevin served as the Director of the European Affairs Committee at the United Nations Association in New York City from 2005 to 2010 where he was also a co-founder of the 2009 flagship program "The Haiti Expedition Project," raising awareness and funds for educational and environmental projects in Haiti.
New Earth Farm is a working, sustainable operation running a CSA and wholesaling high quality vegetables, fruits, herbs, pasture-raised eggs and fresh flowers to stores like Whole Foods, but today the primary focus has become education and outreach through their non-profit organization, Community Development International. They work with the City of Virginia Beach Public Schools training students and teachers on creating and maintaining their school gardens and host classes for both students and adults at the farm in their new Learning Center.
Their focus is on teaching how to build healthy soil through composting, input of biological material, utilizing cover crops, crop rotation, natural mulches, and IPM, Integrated Pest Management techniques that combat crop pests by introducing predator insects like wasps, ladybugs, and praying mantises, instead of pesticides.
As Kevin puts it, “by demonstrating sustainable farming New Earth Farm provides super healthy food that has no additives and no chemicals, healing the land, making it sustainable for a lifetime rather than degrading it.”
The Learning Center’s beautiful classroom building was made with mostly recycled materials, uses passive solar heat, harvests rainwater and utilizes a green roof system. Surrounding the educational building is the Learning Garden, a working example of sustainable practices—over 5,000 square feet of vegetable, fruit and herb gardens which grow almost year-round, a flock of ducks, and a 35 foot barrier of trees around the garden to protect the integrity of their organic growing methods. You can see the difference in the plant coloring at the property line of New Earth and where it meets the property line of the neighboring farm that raises crops using chemicals—bright green meeting yellow brown.
The Farm-To-Table classes for adults led by local well known chefs sell out fast. The classes are geared to the public but also serve to introduce locally grown organic products to the chefs themselves. The latest additions to the educational roster are their "Food Lab" classes, teaching and demonstrating the various old and new processes of preparing and preserving good local food, like lacto-fermenting, canning, and dehydrating.
New Earth Farm won the 2012 Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s local and regional Clean Water Farm Award for their safe and sustainable practices and biological treatment of the land as well as the City of Virginia Beach Public Schools "Partner in Education" award in 2014.
Kevin, who besides working the land, knows his way around a kitchen has provided us with a terrific farm fresh recipe for a Savory Oats “Risoatto.”
Savory Oats (Risoatto)
Makes 4 servings
1 lb rolled oats
8 tbs unsalted butter
2 cups field peas
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped basil
1 bunch of green onions
About 6 cups vegetable stock
2 cups of whole milk
Farmers cheese (can also use Cotija, Feta, any crumbly cheese) to crumble on top
Egg yolk (1 per serving) - separate egg yolk and put into a bowl of cornmeal. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes until coated. Gently sauté in butter for about 30 seconds on each side)
Pickled okra - several pods per serving.
1/2 cup chopped Sun-dried tomatoes
several slices of cured ham like Edwards and Sons Surryano
In a large pan sauté green onions, garlic and field peas in butter until tender. Add the field peas last to the pan and cook lightly to retain the color and texture.
In another pan lightly sauté oats in butter until they begin to turn golden brown. Begin to add vegetable stock to just cover the oats and stir. When oats absorb the majority of the liquid but before the liquid at the very bottom is absorbed, add more vegetable stock to just cover the oats. Taste for firmness. The oats should have a slight firmness left to them as they will continue to cook even after removed from heat. Next add 1-2 cups of warmed whole milk and stir in. Remove from heat.
Stir in the sautéed onion, garlic and peas.
Spoon about 1 cup of the oats onto plates.
In this particular recipe, which I originally made in the summer, we topped the risoatto with a fresh crumbled farmers cheese, sun-dried tomato crisps, chopped basil and a cornmeal crusted egg yolk that was very lightly sautéed as well as a couple slices of pickled okra for the acidity. Cut the Surryano into long thin slices and crisp lightly in olive oil in a pan. Put several of the slices on top of each serving to add a nice smoky saltiness to the dish.
This recipe (like many) is very adaptable to any season so feel free to experiment with other ingredients as per what is in season in your area.