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How-To

Hand-Farmed and Custom-Grown

Fine Cooking Issue 46
Photos: Amy Albert
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Twenty years ago, Lynn Brown was growing organic produce for northern California greengrocers and food co-ops, “banging my head against the wall to figure out a way to support my family.” When chefs began approaching him, describing exactly what they wanted out of organic produce, “a light bulb went on,” he says. Soon after, Peter Forni and Barney Welsh joined in, and the three dedicated themselves to custom-growing organic lettuces, greens, vegetables, and herbs for Napa Valley chefs on their six-acre farm in Calistoga, California. Forni-Brown-Welsh pioneered this custom-growing approach, and in the process they’ve built a client list that’s a virtual “Who’s Who” of northern California’s finest chefs, who often list Forni-Brown-Welsh specialties like lollo rossa lettuce, baby tat soi greens, and chiogga beets by name on their menus.

Chefs are demanding clients, though, and supplying them with consistently superior produce week after week as the seasons change isn’t easy. “Anyone can grow beautiful arugula in May, but growing it from February through New Year’s Eve—that’s the challenge,” says Lynn. While commercial farmers might turn their land two times a year, Forni-Brown-Welsh grows intensively and sequentially, turning the land on the tiny farm six times a year. That’s a lot of activity in a small amount of acreage, but this micro scale lets the three partners pay close attention, adjusting planting cycles as the seasons change and the daylight shifts, to meet their clients’ exacting desires.

Young, tender baby oak leaf lettuce is farmed to precise flavor, color, and size specifications.
Beautiful—and edible. Society garlic blossoms will add color and pungency to a salad of freshly picked lettuces.
Mizuna, arugula, and other specialty greens will be served just a few hours after being hand-picked, hand-trimmed, and hand-packed.

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