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Box of plenty

Lisa Schmitt and her daughter Ingrid, 4, weigh their allotment of tomatoes at Foggy River Farm near Windsor on Sept. 5.

Christopher Chung / PD
Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 8, 2012 at 7:22 p.m.

To find Emmett Hopkins' 4-acre vegetable patch nestled next to the Russian River, you have to look for a small, “Foggy River Farm” sign on Eastside Road, then follow a gravel road for a half mile through vineyards heavy with fruit.

On a late summer afternoon, there is no trace of fog at the ripening field, where rows of tomatoes and corn, eggplant and peppers are ready to be harvested for the farm's 52-member CSA, or community sponsored agriculture, program.

“This was a really good year for eggplant,” said Hopkins, sporting a sun hat. “There was one hot spell in the spring, which hurt the broccoli and the cauliflower. The trade-off was early tomatoes and summer squash.”

In a CSA program, consumers pay in advance for a weekly supply of produce. That enables farmers to buy seeds and equipment in the spring and ensures a steady demand for their produce in the fall.

“Emotionally, it's really nice to have the produce going to a good home,” Hopkins said of his CSA program. “There's nothing more frustrating than trying to find someone who will at least eat it.”

Hopkins and his wife, Lynda, who met while pursuing five-year master's degrees at Stanford University, have been farming for four years at his family's 200-acre ranch near Forestville, where he grew up.

Hopkins' grandparents bought the property in the 1950s, tearing out hops to plant prunes and pears. In the 1970s, his dad made the transition to grapes.

Now, following in his family's footsteps, Hopkins is finding ways to make the farm sustainable for a new generation through his innovative CSA program.

“We focus on giving great value to our members,” he said. “But we also focus on building a strong community.”

Like other farmers, the couple has diversified, raising heritage turkeys and a flock of chickens for eggs along with vegetables and herbs.

“Through high school and college, I was always interested in growing vegetables,” Hopkins said. “You have in the back of your head, ‘What's going to happen to farming?'”

At Foggy River, most of the CSA members pick up their produce at the barn, which is set up like a farmstand. That fosters more interaction among all parties.

“Farming can be a bit of a lonely endeavor, so we like to bring a social setting right to the farm,” Hopkins said. “Plus, this gives people the social experience that they get at the farmers market.”

A common complaint about CSAs, Hopkins said, is that people often feel overwhelmed by getting too much of one kind of produce.

To remedy this, Foggy River Farm plants less popular vegetables, such as kale and chard, in its U-pick patch, where subscribers are able to pick some of their own produce every week. The U-pick garden also offers a variety of herbs, small tomatoes and hot peppers.

“It's like having your own garden,” Hopkins said. “Kids go really crazy for the cherry tomatoes, and people love to pick basil and make pesto.”

The CSA season lasts 27 weeks, from mid-May through mid-November. Each Wednesday, CSA customers bring their baskets and pick up six to 10 different kinds of produce from the farmstand. A “trade box” provides added flexibility.

“If you have extra eggplant at home, you can put it in the trade box and take something else instead,” Hopkins said. “Or members can pick between two pounds of cucumbers or two pounds of summer squash.”

The farm also surveys its customers twice a year, in order to gauge what to plant during the next cycle.

“We try to do as much broccoli and carrots as we can,” he said. “We cut back a little on beets. Some people love them, and others don't know what to do with them.”

If they can't afford to join the CSA program, which costs $22 to $25 a week, some customers are able to work in the field to reduce the cost.

“That's good if you have more time and less money,” Hopkins said. “Members sign up and put in 20 hours during the season, to subsidize the box.”

The farm, which delivers CSA boxes to pick-up points in Windsor and Healdsburg, also sells vegetables at the Healdsburg and the Wells Fargo farmers markets on Saturdays. In addition to its summer crops, the farm is currently harvesting winter squash and fall root vegetables.

“The thing I like best is probably the connection to place,” said CSA subscriber Lisa Schmitt of Healdsburg. “The fact that I get great food, fun parties and excellent meals is a bonus.”

The following recipes are from Emmett and Lynda Hopkins of Foggy River Farm. Baba Ganoush is a popular, Middle Eastern dip often served with pita.

Baba Ganoush in the Crockpot

Makes 4 to 6 servings as appetizer

1 pound eggplant

2 tablespoons tahini

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 cloves garlic

Salt to taste

Wash and pierce eggplant with a fork a few times. Cook on high for 2-3 hours. Optional: add cloves of garlic halfway through to cook.

(Note: Cook time will depend on crock pot size and amount of eggplant you use. Alternatively, you can bake the eggplant in the oven. You want the eggplant to come out soft, with skin crinkled and flesh inside shrunken. If your eggplant is still firm when you check it, just continue cooking longer. With stem on, cook longer. With stem cut off, it needs less time.)

Remove from crock and allow to cool. Eggplant should be soft and mushy. Separate pulp from skin.

Place pulp in a food processor or blender, add remaining ingredients. Add salt to taste.

Pulse until smooth and you're done. You can eat it warm, right out of the bowl, but you may manage to save some in the fridge for the next day.

“This recipe breaks down chile rellenos into several simple steps,” Hopkins said. “Serve with your favorite salsa, beans and rice for a great meal.”

Chiles Rellenos with Anaheim Peppers

Makes 2 to 4 servings

4 large green Anaheim or Poblano chiles, roasted and peeled, with stems on

Cheddar cheese, cut into 4 sticks (or Monterey Jack)

Goat cheese (optional)

Flour, to coat chiles

3 eggs, separated

1 tablespoon water

3 tablespoons flour

¼ teaspoon salt

— Salsa (optional)

To roast chiles: Place chile peppers on a baking sheet or Pyrex dish. Broil 5 inches from the heat (with electric oven door partially open), 5 minutes on each side, or until chile peppers are blistered.

Place chile peppers in a dish or bowl; cover. Let stand 10 minutes to loosen skins. Peel peppers, leaving stems attached.

To fill chiles: Make a slit in the side of each chile, remove seeds, and stuff with cheese sticks and a dollop of goat cheese.

To fry chiles: Dredge chiles with flour to coat. Beat egg whites until they become stiff and peaks form. Beat yolks with water, 3 tablespoons flour and salt until thick and creamy. Fold the yolks into the whites and dip the chiles in the mixture.

Fry in hot oil until they become golden brown.

These fajitas are no fuss. You can adjust the ingredients to your taste and what you have on hand. The amounts are flexible, depending on how many people you are feeding.

Sizzling Veggie Fajitas

— Bell peppers, cut into strips

— Onion, cut into strips

— Garlic, chopped

— Carrots, cut into thin strips on the diagonal (optional)

— Summer Squash, cut on the diagonal (optional)

— Avocado (optional)

— Cilantro (optional)

— Hot peppers (optional), chopped

— Rice

— Beans

— Tortillas

— Salt and pepper

Precook the rice and beans.

Saute the onions and garlic until they begin to soften. Add carrots and cook until halfway soft. Add peppers and squash and cook until soft. Season with salt and pepper and other desired spices.

Heat tortillas. Fill tortillas with rice, beans and veggie filling, and top with avocado, cilantro and hot peppers.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com

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