A Working Weekend at Knopp Branch Farm
As an annual event, Slow Food Houston rounds up a group of hard workers looking for a break from city life and commitments, and dig into the soil where our food grows. A short two-hour drive from Houston, Knopp Branch Farm sits on an idyllic plot of land with a farmhouse, sheds, casitas, a huge fire pit with Adirondack chairs around it, and a long table under the trees. The fields are planted with vegetable beds that grow whatever the season brings, fruit orchards that range from figs and peaches to citrus galore. And the latest addition: an herb garden. What you have to imagine with this word “herb garden” is not your cute plot of rosemary, thyme, chives, and perhaps a bushy basil. At Knopp Branch Farm, the herb garden spreads across rows of ten or so long beds, filled up with mulch and planted with rows and rows of culinary herbs that will make any chef’s mouth water. From chocolate mint to lemon basil, chervil to dill, the beds also holds different kinds of thyme and basil (including the prized African Blue), and less familiar herbs like epazote, salad burnet, and red-veined sorrel.
It is an herb paradise – even when we worked on it. There was sunshine, blue skies and fresh air. It was hard but satisfying work, and as we raked mulch into the wheelbarrows, filled up the beds with mulch, carried over plants, the herb garden came about. Meanwhile, elsewhere on the farm a troop of 5 hardworking men (two adults and three teens) managed to do all of the irrigation, organic fertilizer, and mulch for an entire new area planted with 50 young fruit trees.
Mulch in our hair, dirt under our fingernails, and tiredness in all our limbs, we all set down for a convivial meal under the trees. The meatballs were made with local longhorn, and artisanal sausage from “down the road”. The tomato sauce was made with the farm’s own heirloom tomatoes. The salad, oh the salad. Crispy and fresh, you haven’t tasted salad if you’ve never had it picked right there and then. Dessert’s cheesecake was topped with fig preserve, made with the figs from the trees Slow Food Houston worked on the previous year. It made us feel proud and part of it all.
Knopp Branch Farm extends a “we’ll feed you if you come work for a day” invitation to anyone willing to put in a few hours of good, honest manual farm labor. If you come on a Sunday, for instance, you can start the day with a hearty farm breakfast of yard eggs, good bacon and sausage, honey from the hives down the field, homemade jams, at 9am, work until about 2pm, have a home-cooked lunch, chill for a bit, finish up and head home. If you want to make a weekend of it: pitch a tent! Have a dip in the river and join the farmers for a leisurely dinner. The food alone is worth the hours of work. Fresh and tasty, “farm” doesn’t get any closer to your “fork” than this.
Francine Spiering is managing editor for Edible Houston, board member of Slow Food Houston and freelance writer with a culinary degree and a taste for travel. Check out her blog www.lifeinthefoodlane.com.