Tie That Binds

IMG_2559I want to tell you about our awesome time in Frostburg, MD; sharing in community with Jon Felton and his kinfolk at the Savage River Farm. And, I will tell you of all the practical ways we shared during our time with these friends, but first I need to get out a few poetic musings about community. For, as we travel, we are continually blown away and encouraged by the ways we are “put together” with others.

So, if you’ll bare with me…

Blessed be the tie that binds… There is a beautiful community out there, hidden yet available, woven together with a tie that binds our hearts in love. The deepest love possible, the love of One who would lay down his life, lay down his life for every tongue, tribe or creed. This love is unfaltering, secure and safe. It is a tie that brings freedom, not bondage. For this gift, we are thankful.

The tie allows for the flow of life to transpire, like that of the interdependent relationship of vine and branch. We stay close to the source waiting with anticipation for opportunities to be united with kinfolk, in order to exchange the witness of our creators goodness, faithfulness and grace; slow to anger, quick to love. When these moments happen, we are filled with such amazement and joy, and our cup runs over.

Honestly, I could geek out about community all day. None the less, our cup surely did run over in Frostburg, MD and continued on through Harrisburg, PA, Shepherdstown, WV and Philadelphia.

IMG_2569We’ll start with Frostburg. Our host was Jon & Leslie Felton, who we had know about for years. Many of our friends, spoke of this “Jon Felton” and when we were coming through this area, we knew we needed to spend time with his family. So, we reached out and his response was welcoming and encouraging. He invited us into his community, linking us up with friends at Savage River Farms as a place to park our bus and neighbor alongside for the week.

We arrived on a sunny afternoon and settled into our field at the farm (which later we had quite the adventure getting stuck and unstuck). We sat down with Ben and Hana, the owners, and came up with a plan that allowed us to learn, serve and share in community with them.

IMG_2570The fella’s got busy in the fields, replanting and pulling weeds. It was fun to see our bus rider, Chris, get his hands in the dirt for the first time, soaking in the goodness of growing food. The guys also learned about how shiitake mushrooms are grown, including holes drilled into logs, a spore paste lathered into the holes and once in that position, a solid years of rest. Then, moving the logs to a water source where they soaked for 24 hours, were stacked like lincoln logs, covered and with in the next few days, mushrooms began to burst forth!

Meanwhile, Graciana and I spend most of our time in the farmhouse kitchen, making meals for the crew. The farm, about three years old, offered much to do, and with the longer summer days, the crew was making hast to get things done. Needless to say, meals seemed to be the last thing on anyones mind. So, it was natural to offer this gift. Plus there was nothing more pleasing that seeing the smiles on folks faces after they enjoyed a meal, refreshed and ready for more hard work. We also helped Hana with the Farmers Market, setting up, selling, meeting town locals, and packing up.

IMG_2603Mid-week, we went to the school that Ben and Jon taught at and we shared our merrymaking, encouraging the youth in identity, reconciliation and moving towards a life that is filled with joy and love.

Later, we spent a little time in Jon’s studio laying down gang vocals for fellow creative, Mark Van Steenwyks book, Wolf at the Gate. 

At the end of the week, we moved the bus to downtown Frostburg, city of about 8,075 residence and home to Frostburg State University. We hit the area just after school let out, so got more of the local feel for the place. We learned that Frostburg was originally called Mount Pleasant until 1820, when the government developed a postal service, and the town was renamed Frostburg. We also learned that the town was one of the first cities on the “National Road,” US 40. But most of all we learned about Jon & Leslie Felton and their love for their family and community. We learned about Jon’s involvement in a traveling arts carnival, “demonstration village” experiment, and education and social outreach project, call Carnival de Resistance. We also met many of his kinfolk and one evening we all shared a foraged meal sourced and served up by local chef, Horvey.

IMG_2649At the end of the week, we shared in song at Dante’s Bar, a local establishment on the main drag. We opened the night with a song circle, then a Holland’s set and Jon’s band, Soulmobile finished out the evening with a rollicking set of originals! That night we met, fellow band mate, Jake Compton, who invited us to his hometown of Harrisburg, PA. So, we exchanged info and set a date!

As our week came to an end, we took a moment to soak it all in, the goodness that comes when we engage in community, entering into that interdependent relationship, and caring for one another. We are thankful for moments like these where we are woven together with  kinfolk in ways we never dreamed possible. We are forever bound to these friends and look forward to the day we get to roll back to through.

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Farm to Table

IMG_0749Farm to Table. It’s the new hot hashtag, all the rage. Restaurants popping up all over the country who partner with local farms so that they can claim the freshest food in town. Traveling chef’s like Jim Denevan from Outstanding in the Field have gotten in on the action by linking up with farms to put on exquisite farm to table dinners, using ingredients picked or slaughters that day, selling tickets to the first 50-200 people willing to pay anywhere from $150-$1000 a meal.

As we travel we find ourselves seeking out the freshest, organic foods we can find. Firstly because of our health, and also because we want to support local as we make our way. We thought we had a pretty good grip on where to find fresh food and how to cook with local ingredients but nothing tops what we learned during our week in Lafayette, LA on the Gotreaux Family farm.

It’s been a week since we last sat at the Gotreaux family table sharing our last meal and saying goodbye. As I sit at my desk eating my egg salad sandwich made with the fresh eggs from their farm, hatched the day we left, I am reminiscing about our rich time with them.

This was our third visit with this awesome family of 12 and unlike previous visit where we just observed farm life, this time around we were invited to actually work alongside of them on the farm and in the kitchen. Craig helped build a brooder house (nursery for baby chicks) and Banjo learned how to care for and catch the organic Tilapia. We all had our hands in the dirt on harvest day and on market day Graciana and I got to make our first meal for the whole group, 18 of us in total. We had the help of the twins and through out the week they would stay by our sides, helping us navigate in the kitchen, find or pick ingredients, and prep cook. Occasionally, some of the boys would drift in the kitchen, observing and if they weren’t busy I’d put them to work. We also had the help of our friend, Victoria Jones, one of the Gotreaux’s interns.

IMG_0755Our first meal out of the gate was Moroccan Vegetable Ragout, fresh-baked naan, Greek Salad and Blueberry Pie. All but a few ingredients came from the Gotreaux garden. The dinner was a hit, and as the week progressed we were invited to cook a few more meals. Because of the cold rainy weather and ingredients available we ended up choosing hardy winter recipes. Our menu included:

Dinner: Sweet Potato, Red Bell Pepper soup, Cheesy Cauliflower Bread, a Garden Salad and Aussie Lemon Bars.

Lunch: Turkey Burrito’s, side of Guacamole and chips/salsa.

Dinner: Rosemary Potato Soup, Fresh Baked Baguette, Arugula Pear and Fresh Parmesan Salad, Choc No-bake cookies.

Formal Dinner: Fresh Tilapia Ceviche appetizer, Savory Chicken Crepes, Spinach Apple Blue Salad, Aussie Lemon Bars.

IMG_0832There is nothing like cooking with fresh ingredient but I have never had the privilege of cooking with eggs, vegetables, dairy, or tilapia that was fresh picked or caught that day and not just that day, but moments before I used them. I could ask for anything and if it was in season and available it would be brought to me, ready to use. I might ask, do you have celery and one of the girls would answer yes, walk out the door, over to the garden and minutes later walk in with celery. And, did you know that most nutritious, delicious part of the celery are the leaves? I learned that celery is really not meant to go to stalk and the pale green celery we buy in the store looks and tastes nothing like the lush dark green savory celery I used in my Rosemary Potato Soup. I still love ants on a log, but I’m not sure I can go back to the vacant celery stalks in the grocery store without feeling like I’m being duped.

IMG_0848There is also nothing like cooking for 10 (plus our two) growing young people, all excited see what I can do with their harvest, ready to try something new. Each meal, I could feel the anticipation and when they sat down to give my recipes a try, they were open and honest about how my flavors impacted their tastes buds. Thankfully, they liked most of what I made.

I know the rest of my family had an epic time on the Gotreaux farm and that they each have individual stories that are just as profound. But for me, as far as travel experiences go, the opportunity to learn and create with the freshest ingredients, cooking alongside some of the most precious souls, and watching so many beautiful smiles as they raised their forks to mouth will go down in my top ten moments of community and growth. Farm to table has taken on a new meaning to me. It’s not just the new hot thing to do, it’s not just a marketing term, it’s an inspiring way of life and we are so blessed to have had the opportunity to live it!

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By the way if you are interested in any of the recipes that we made during our visit with the Gotreauxs please visit  Behind The Apron Strings; Recipes from the Road.

Gotreaux Family Farm

IMG_9925Chaz Jones… you remember him? He was our first bus rider. He’s living back down in Lafayette, LA, engaged to the darling Victoria, and learning alongside the Gotreaux family and farms.

Chaz definitely has the gift of hospitality and invited us down to his community for a few days. He organized a house concert, where we were going to park and how long we could stay. We were told that we could park at the farm and that it would be the first time that this family would open their home to strangers like us. We didn’t know much else, except they were a family and they ran an organic farm.

Gotreaux Family FarmWhen we arrived, we knew we were in for a real treat as our welcoming party consisted of twelve of the most beautiful, pure faces on the planet. All curious about the arrival of this big ol’ bus and it’s inhabitants.

Over the course of the next few days we would learn about Mother and Father, Dawn and Brian’s meeting in high school, Brian’s love for building car, a spiritual awaking that brought them to a deeper understanding of God and their purpose, a call to adoption and a new path that eventually would lead them to where they are now, as owners and stewards of one of Louisiana’s most innovative organic farms.

Gotreaux Family Farm is a diversified natural family farm growing nutrient dense food. They raise chickens, turkeys, tilapia and have a fantastic veggie patch. The care they took in understanding all aspects of their farm was incredible and inspiring. For instance, we learned much about their Tilapia farm, and all the science and love that is involved in maintaining their above water tanks, creating an optimal environment for fish that are raised without antibiotics, chemicals or hormones. We learned about the PH of soil and how the quality of that soil affects the nutrients in our food. And, we learned about omega 3 and 6 in the diet of a chickens and how that translates to benefit human consumption.

Learning alongside Brian was a real treat for Craig, as it tapped into his desire to someday work the earth again. And, for Banjo the running with the wind, trudging through the mud and being with all of the Gotreaux boys was just the medicine our spirited young teen needed.

One afternoon we went for a hike at a local lake in hopes of seeing “gaiters.” This part of the country is so mysterious with its brilliant greens and swampy mangroves. It beckons the onlooker to venture into the wild and leave the path. And yet, we kept our footing and forged ahead. The youth however, were enticed by the mystery and moved past the margin, to the edge of the river. Because of their bravery, or maybe insanity, not only did we see alligators but the boys actually caught (and released) a baby alligator!

During our visit, it rained a few of the evenings and because of that, the Gotreaux’s normal routine slowed down, allowing us plenty of time to just be with one another. We made blueberry pies, shared meals, talked through and encouraged each other in our parenting, marriages and faith. And, our children all ranging from 12-18, along with Rhys (our current bus rider) spent hours playing games and making music.

It’s always so amazing to us the way that the saints are woven together in this great big tapestry of humanity. The depth of connectivity we can have in just a moment and that sense of time ceasing to exist, often catches our breath. When we pulled out of the driveway, only a few days after we arrived, we were pleased to leave a little piece of our hearts at the Gotreaux family farm. We don’t doubt that it will be well cared for and we delight in the idea of one day returning and enjoying another season with this precious family.