A Food Revolution Could Start With a WWOOF

When I was 19 and in the middle of culinary school, I decided I wanted to use my Summer break to connect the dots, so to speak, between those cute animals in the pasture and the steak that appears on my plate.

After a bit of research into the world of WWOOF and Help Exchange, I found Heritage Prime, a biodynamic meat farm located in South West England.

After reading Rudolph Steiner’s Agriculture, Ian and Denise Bell were inspired to leave their flourishing careers in London as a celebrity hair stylist and head designer for Laura Ashley, respectively, and try their hand at biodynamic farming in an effort to change the broken food system of factory farms and feedlot meat. Settling on an 80 acre patch of land in Dorset, just a quick drive from the stunning Jurassic Coast, Foxholes Farm was born. From then their brand of meat, Heritage Prime, has changed countless Brits over to a more sustainable way of eating.

The amount of care, attention, and hard work Ian and Denise put into tending to their animals and to their land shows in the quality of their meat. Their beef is pure, rich, even a little intense–you don’t need a lot to be satisfied. The pork? I still salivate whenever I think about their handmade bacon. Lets just say that my life long love affair with heritage pork started on that farm.

Making sausages with Denise for a biodynamic food festival.

Making sausages with Denise for a biodynamic food festival.

I’m not the only one who became a convert to Ian and Denise’s philosophy of farming and tasty hams. Well-respected chefs such as Michel Roux Jr., Nigella Lawson, Marco-Pierre White, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall use Heritage Prime regularly in their cookbooks and restaurants and they can’t say enough about the good work Ian and Denise are accomplishing at the farm. 

The 6 weeks I spent working for the farmers were some of the most transformative of my life. I worked hard in and out of the field: Harvesting in the garden, feeding and tending to the Tamworth pigs, Aberdeen Angus, and Portland Rams, and cooking 2 to 3 meals a day for the family, fellow farm workers, and their visiting friends.

A moment that pretty much sums up my experience (and one I’ll never forget) was when I was feeding the animals and Ian walked up and introduced me to Beth the cow. He then told me that we ate Beth’s son for dinner in the form of my homemade lasagna the night before.

Morbid? Okay, maybe a little. A profound feeling of connectedness? Definitely. I would like to think that if everyone had that kind of full circle experience, McDonalds would cease to exist.

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One last thing before I finish preaching the sustainable food gospel: I would encourage anyone with a desire to travel and a passion for food to go WWOOF on a farm somewhere. You will learn so much about the people, the land, and the spirit of the place you are visiting as soon as you get your hands a little dirty. You’ll never find those kind of experiences on a tour bus in the big city, and it will be a lot more affordable to boot.

Fast forward to present day. Several years have passed since my time at the farm, but the bond I have with Ian and Denise is still strong. I went on to work for farm to table restaurants, to keep the connection I made with the land strong, and I make conscientious choices about where I buy my meat, and how much I consume on a weekly basis. A couple of ways I cut back without feeling deprived is I’ll go meatless once or twice a week, and when my partner and I go out to eat, we usually split a meat entree and a vegetarian entree. Small steps like that can lead to more awareness, and ideally, better farming practices.

When I first heard about Food Revolution Day (FRD), put on by chef Jaime Oliver, I was delighted to discover that Sydney was doing its own celebration by way of a picnic. Jaime Oliver’s Sydney ambassador, Alexx Stuart (a healthy, whole-food blogger and activist), hosted the picnic held at Centennial Park, which helped to bring other like-minded food folks together to meet, share, and eat one another’s homemade offerings.

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It was a little intimidating heading to an event in a foreign country by myself where I knew no one, but I just slapped a smile on my face (Literally. I had to slap myself out of my anxiety behind a bush where no one could see me), and started introducing myself to people. I was relieved when I met Alexx, and was put at ease by her warm hospitality. She introduced me to some of her friends, and we all gathered around our homemade snacks discussing recipes, the food scene in Sydney, and the evils of Monsanto. All in all, it was a very good day.

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The salads I brought in the forefront, and, how awesome is her shirt?

Anyone heading to the picnic needed to bring something, since the whole point of FRD is to get people in the kitchen. Now that it is getting a little colder here in Sydney (just barely), I could hardly wait to crank my oven on and make this simple fall salad. It ended up being comforting, healthy, and chock full of addictive umami flavor.

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Since I wasn’t sure about the allergies people may have, I kept it gluten, dairy, meat, and nut free. But don’t let that dissuade you, this is the kind of salad you give to a meat lover and watch them go, “Wow, this is vegan?!”.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Kale Salad with Brown Rice and Miso-Sesame Vinaigrette
I left out salt until the end for a reason; the miso will be very salty, so go easy!

1 (3-pound) butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded, and diced into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups prepped)
1/2 cup toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon garam masala (optional)
Salt and pepper
2 bunches kale, stemmed and sliced cross-wise into 1/2-inch-wide strips
2 1/2 cups cooked brown rice (or any grain of your choosing, but stick with something whole-grain like farro, wheat berries, bulgur…you get the idea.)
1/4 cup white miso paste
3 tablespoons lemon juice, rice vinegar, or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water

1. Adjust oven racks to upper middle and lower middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees (200c). Toss squash with 3 tablespoons oil, garam masala (if using) and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
2. Transfer to two rimmed baking sheets, making sure to spread them out in a single layer. Roast until squash are fork tender and golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes, switching and rotating trays halfway through cooking.
3. Transfer squash to large bowl and let cool until room temperature. Meanwhile, toss kale with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and spread out on the two sheet trays you just used to roast the squash. Roast until kale is wilted and beginning to crisp, 5 to 8 minutes, switching and rotating trays about halfway through. Transfer to bowl with squash, and add the cooked rice.
4. Whisk miso, lemon (or vinegar) and water, until combined. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in remaining 1/4 cup oil. Adjust with more oil or acid depending on how you like it. Drizzle over bowl with squash and toss gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Serves about 10 as a side dish

Tasting Notes and Tips

-This can be eaten right away, or saved for later and eaten in a few days. I think its best when room temperature, making it perfect for picnics.
-If you can get the kale a little on the crisp side (like a chip), all the better. It softens when mixed with the squash and miso dressing, and takes on this interesting sea-weed like flavor. Yet another one of the hundred ways you can enjoy kale!
-This salad struck a deliciously sweet, salty, and umami balance that made it addictive and noteworthy.
-This makes a lot-feel free to scale it back, it should be pretty straightforward in terms of just halving the ingredients. You could always make the original amount and have a few days of lunches sorted, easy.

I’ll leave with this video I made that in 6 seconds, tells you exactly what to do to take part in this food revolution:

frd from Rebecca Morris on Vimeo.

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