Featured Farmer – Shu Takikawa
The Garden Of…
That’s the name of Shu Takikawa’s farm. The dot, dot, dot is very much a part of the title. With a thick Japanese accent and a permanent eye twinkle, Shu said the name made him feel free. Like he didn’t have to farm this land forever if he didn’t feel like it. He could leave at anytime or maybe (my interpretation) that the land could continue being farmed for many generations, simply plug a name into the dot dot dot. I met Shu when I was calling around for farms to feature on the pilot of Farm to Table. I visited a couple of great farmers, but narrowed it down to Shu and serendipitously enough, a man who apprenticed with him, Jacob Grant. Both fit the small-medium size “farm with soul” bill.
Shu’s wife, Debby, refers to Shu as a farming elf. Aptly put, I feel. Shu is quiet, sometimes. He’s wise. You become quickly aware of his other-worldliness. Shu feels the farm. His wife tells farm stories, about pests or heat, that include finding Shu missing mid-a night’s sleep before making out the glow of Shu’s headlamp dancing across the sleeping field. His farming partner and step-daughter Noey recalls many long hours spent with Shu simply starring at the field. Pondering the next crop to plant or determining when to water, but doing so by silently absorbing his land. Water is not taken lightly at The Garden Of… Shu does not have a heavy watering hand, part of the secret, I suppose. He traveled to Japan to simply meet a man rumored to grow incredible tomatoes and brought those gifts back, among others.
Shu and Noey fundamentally do not understand pesticides. It is not a decision of whether or not to use them. Shu is hard-wired to understand the cyclical process of good bugs and bad bugs and rain and drought… teetering constantly around the balance of his land. He’s got a mischievous heart. He likes to laugh. He cooks phenomenally, and I got to eat it. Noey says that Shu’s dinner’s begin when he selects the seed variety to plant. And I believe it. The true meaning of “Farm to Table” came to life at the Takikawa dinner table. I am not lying that I don’t think I have ever had a better meal. Pasta, and I don’t eat pasta. But, I did there. I would eat anything that Shu fed me, and you know what? I would be healed by it. I swear. He’s a magic man. I crave going back for another…
Although I have yet to try Shu’s famous carrots because he only grows them in the winter when carrots are supposed to be grown, I can’t imagine that they could top his lettuce. Oh my, his lettuce. His Lettuce. Holy cow. My neighbor Danette and I drove up to the Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market last weekend so that Danette could see first-hand this fantastic market, but also so that she could put to rest my incessant chatter about Shu’s lettuce. I think she was quietly expecting to say, “Yes Molly, it’s real nice,” but inside, “not all THAT though, geez.” But, she’s converted. If I hadn’t already done it with daisies, I would walk down the aisle with a beautiful head of Shu’s butter lettuce. I would put a vase of his crispy romaine in the center of any formal dinner table. It’s really worth taking a trip to Santa Barbara to try. And you would have to go there, too, because Shu & Noey don’t take their produce to LA, or anywhere else for that matter. The Wednesday and Saturday Farmers’ Market for them… that’s it. But why travel? When you got the best lettuce in town… you can just do what you wish.
Shu says he likes to grow “normal” things, but make them the best of the normal. Like lettuce. Everyone grows lettuce, but he grows the best lettuce. On my visit to their farm, Debby made a salad for us to accompany Shu’s vegetable pasta dish. First, we went out and picked our salad lettuce together. I walked back towards the house, arms full of one of every variety, using my semi-spare hand to shove leaves of lettuce in my mouth with no shame. Then, Debby made a great dressing with simply fresh garlic, nama shoyu (traditional japanese soy sauce), lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. It was delicious, simple and a perfect compliment to beautiful greens. She asked me to squeeze the garlic through the press, and I did so, relishing how they involved me in the kitchen chores which also included running out to pull a few onions from the California dirt.
Debby sent me home with several bulbs of their garlic. And when I got back to Santa Monica, I experimented with measurements for my own take on Debby’s dressing. Once close, I proceeded to eat salad for lunch and dinner until my face broke out like a pizza. As I have mentioned, Debby’s dressing helped reveal that soy and Molly, regrettfully, don’t mix.
But that doesn’t take away from the simple pleasure of this dressing for the rest of you. Especially when a quality soy sauce is used, this recipe is delicious, easy and super healthy.
In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk well.
* Unpasteurized soy sauce found in most health food stores. Because it has not been heated in order to pasteurize, it still retains all the good “bugs” (probiotics) created during fermentation of the sauce.
** A garlic press makes for a great texture, but chopping with a knife is fine, too.
P.S. Danette writes a great blog called Mad Organica, and she also provided me with the gorgeous lettuce photo. Click here for her side of our Farmers’ Market story, including a beautiful collage of her bounty from the market.
xo – Organic Spark