Field Notes

Oh, how we hit the fall running. The last three months have kept us busy in the fields. A new Farm Burger in Buckhead, a new staff, a new chef: a whole new herd to manage, cultivate and tend to. Many days I sat down to write our blog and on many of those days I felt the first sting of writers block.

There was simply too much going on and too many topics to write about: our menu, our harvests, our new members to the Moonshine family, Halloween, Thanksgiving, a new chef in Athens.  Just too much. 

Finally, it was hosting our winter Supper No.5 on December 1st  that help dislodge the block.  It was time for our chefs, Terry and Dan to take the burger out of Farm Burger (as our little motto for the suppers says) and collaborate on a multi-course dinner using the best fare from our farms and our friends' farms.  They choose a winter Italian theme  -- hence the Inverno title -- because farm-to-table doesn’t just mean southern cooking. They found Georgia rabbits, an orchard of persimmons carefully tended by an amazing couple, cauliflower and winter squash from our own Full Moon Farms, mustard greens from Bobby Britt just on the other side of Avondale Estates, pork cheek from pigs roaming the hills of Benji Anderson's farm near Athens, and grassfed beef cheeks from George Cooke’s cows who graze lush fields near Madison. 

In evaluating all these ingredients, I stopped and thought, "Wow, I love the south, what an awesome place. We are planning a dinner for  December 1st, and look at all the great resources we still have!"  Then I paused again...did I really just say to myself "I love the south?"  I am a true northerner, with combined mid-western and northeastern roots. I have a great-great-great-grandfather that fought for the north in the civil war. Cousins, aunts and uncles, friends and colleagues are all in the north. I have lived in Atlanta for over six years now, and probably spent the first five planning my escape.  My constant complaint: too hot in the summer, not cold enough in the winter, a so-so dining scene, a subway that goes nowhere and takes you forever to get there, no ocean or lake nearby, and so many red states. Are old southern democrats like Sam Nunn, Howard Hefflin and Ernest Hollings just mythological creatures? This was a common wonder of mine. 

But now, now I have realized something has changed in me over the last year.  Now, all that was blocking my blogging seemed so obvious. At the start of our suppers I usually take a minute to make a quick speech and welcome everybody. It is my time to have a little pulpit and talk briefly about all the things food offers us in life.  Supper No. 1, I talked about how our menu was a way for our chef to express and celebrate the food that we raise on our farms. Supper No. 3 was the culmination of how spring begets new beginnings, and how small steps we take in our lives can make big change. At summer's Supper No. 4 we collectively expressed our love of family -- our family of chefs, farmers, customers, relatives, and our expanding family up in Buckhead. On this night, for Supper No. 5, I had it all figured out, it would be about all that I was feeling about the south.  I would talk about…appreciation.   

All my Yankee gripes were somehow washed away in planning this supper. My northern brethren had dug up their fields months ago and were hunkering down for the coming cold, while here we were in the great south, amply harvesting for a wintertime dinner. I started to look at all that was around me in the south, in Georgia, in Atlanta, and in my life.

I appreciate southern farmers who work this tough clay soil. I appreciate the farmers who tend lovingly to our pasture-raised animals against the pull of commodity methods. I appreciate our hot summers, our short winters, and our early springs (when I lived in New Hampshire spring was in July).  I appreciate that when my son was three he loved to ride on the Marta even if it took us 45 minutes to go from Inman Park to Decatur.  I appreciate the young and seasoned chefs and restaurateurs who work hard everyday to make Atlanta a better and better culinary town. I appreciate an ungodly hot summer day up at Lake Lanier on a pontoon boat with my family.  I even appreciate all the southern conservatives, as my pop is a pretty good one, although, I would greatly appreciate a resurgence of those old-timey southern democrats, if anyone's paying attention. And I appreciate more than ever my red-headed wife Annabelle (who from time to time has griped about the south with me), and all the support, patience and love that she has given me and our children throughout the years. 

So to all my old northern counterparts, I may or may not be coming back, for now there is so much to appreciate right here in the south.

There is a whole 2012 ahead of us to appreciate, and lots of field writing to do.  The writer’s block is broken, and I appreciate that too.