A Visit With Linda Hezel at Prairie Birthday Farm

A Visit With Linda Hezel at Prairie Birthday Farm

Prairie Birthday Farm is a peaceful safe haven for more than 150 native species of flora and 45 bird species. Owned and operated by farm steward and artisanal producer Linda Hezel, this 22-year-old farm is also a momentary refuge for anyone that knows how to take the right combination of turns away from the highway, along back roads, across a narrow bridge and up the drive. By invitation, naturally. I headed to the farm last week in search of a story for the August issue of Northland Lifestyle magazine and returned to the city with a rich store of words, images and delicate gems from nature’s bounty.

 

Hezel’s approach to farming is to focus on raising or growing foods that are artisan, heritage breeds, heirloom plants or native to Missouri. She doesn’t grow large-scale crops for sale at farmers markets or commodity exchanges in the service of agribusiness. She grows hundreds of varieties of fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers, and produces honey, eggs and other goods as well. Prairie Birthday Farm’s bounty finds a second life in the kitchens of area chefs and cocktail bars of ingredient-focused bartenders at The Rieger, Manifesto, Novel, Affare and Voltaire to name a few.

This mode of artisan farming seems unconventional and unpractical in an era of convenience where cheap food is expected to be available year-round at supermarkets. Does it make sense to have tomatoes and strawberries available year-round and out of season? Hezel and other local, small-scale growers take an alternate approach to the food they grow, raise and bring to farmers markets, CSAs, or wholesale customers at restaurants and bars.

Don’t get me wrong. Large-scale farming has its place and methods to produce enough volume to supply manufacturers, feed a nation and contribute to the economics of import/export markets. That’s really a separate, complex discussion.

The day’s visit to Prairie Birthday Farm reaffirmed the importance of Hezel’s methods and thinking to nurture healthy prairie soil, follow sustainable practices and champion farming that values biodiversity. Within the microcosm of her 15 acres, Hezel’s approach prompts a realignment of thinking in how we might better eat on a seasonal basis. How we might consider and value a far greater range of foods readily available if more consumers supported small farms within their community. How foods grown and raised without pesticide and herbicide not only impact what we put into our bodies, but also affects the land and waterways near our homes. The prairie and pasture that supports flora and fauna, pollinating bees, insects, birds and other wildlife are part of a holistic, integrated environment that includes us.

We’re not typically attuned to the richness of the land around us with such immediacy. Most of us live in the city and suburbs, developed land connected by highway, avenues and boulevards. We connect to each other through text messages, emails and screens that carry data on digital winds. A visit to a farm, whether it is Prairie Birthday or the network found on Cultivate Kansas City’s Urban Grown Tour last weekend, is a homecoming in a way. An opportunity and choice to be in contact with local farmers and growers and the land itself.

Prairie Birthday Farm is one star in a dynamic constellation of food producers, massive and miniscule, that comprise our food systems. It is important to pay attention to these stars and constellations that sustain us.

Nature follows its own rhythm. The seasons are a song cycle. Plants and animals follow the natural course of internal music refined, cultivated and evolved over millennia. Farmers like Hezel are conductors that get their hands dirty, brow sweaty and muscles aching. Ever learning and laboring, Hezel is attuned to the orchestral music of what the land will yield in concert with the weather. Her orchard of apple, wild plum and quince may shine one summer, only to falter after discordant hail or freeze in subsequent seasons. This performance of prairie and farmer need not take place in a vacuum, far away from urban dwellers that eat fast, out of convenience and out of tune.

By the end of the visit, Hezel sends me home with a dozen eggs from her heritage chickens. She fills a bag of fresh-snipped bronze fennel, radish seed pods, French sorrel, wild arugula, parsnip buds about to blossom and more herbs from her garden beds. Head filled with the musical names of a dizzying array of native and cultivated species that populate Prairie Birthday Farm, I can’t wait to return home with this bounty and eat well.

Summer Dining: Prairie to the Tropics

I’ve been trying to eat lighter and healthier this summer. Partly, it’s a response to the heat and a natural adjustment to seasonal eating patterns, but it also helps to offset a carbohydrate and protein-centric diet that goes hand in hand with drinking craft beer. Buffalo chicken wings, hearty burgers and fries don’t burn off the way they used to when I was twenty years younger.

A recent visit to Prairie Birthday Farm and a haul of fresh green leaf lettuce from my Dad’s garden made it easy to opt for fresh, light dishes. This prairie farm salad (above) uses Dad’s leaf lettuce and assorted greens, herbs and flora from Prairie Birthday, including bronze fennel, radish pods, parsnip blossoms, French sorrel, wild arugula leaves and blossoms. I added a few spoonfuls of clementine thyme marmalade from KC Canning Company, diced lemon peel, and basil pesto chicken sausage. The local Cooper’s honey, sesame oil and lemon dressing topped off the dish with a light seasoning of beer barrel smoked sea salt from Savory Addictions.

The mango avocado salad was a simple quick mash of avocado with diced mango, red bell pepper and onion seasoned with salt, pepper and a dash of lime juice.

This pasta dish was a way to use up some leftover spaghetti noodles with pan-seared basil pesto chicken sausage, and a poorly poached Prairie Birthday Farm egg. I made a quick side salad of sauteed julienne red bell pepper and wild arugula with arugula blossom for a garnish.

Fresh Eggs From Prairie Birthday Farm

Fresh Eggs From Prairie Birthday Farm

 

I visited Linda Hezel of Prairie Birthday Farm a few days ago. She sent me home with these jewels, a dozen heritage chicken eggs in speckled brown, cocoa, pale blue and green shells. The yolks are dark yellow, an indication of the higher nutritional value of the eggs. The coloration traces directly back to the organic, non-GMO feed that Hezel imports from out-of-state because it is the best quality around. She supplements the diet of her chickens and ducks with compost scraps and natural goodies that the chickens turn up while foraging.

 

Prairie Birthday Farm eggs 1

 

Hello, Big O

Hello, Big O

Last weekend I met Bill Foster and Kathy Kuper, co-owners of Big O, a ginger liqueur, while at Le Fou Frog. The couple were in town from St. Louis to promote Big O and meet with local accounts. They poured me a sample and I was immediately impressed with the liqueur’s balance and depth of flavor. It was smooth, not cloying and sweet, with a mild bite of ginger on the finish. The taste brought to mind Caribbean islands and the suggestion of autumn spices.

Foster and Kuper grew inspired several years ago to create a liqueur after tasting a home-made limoncello. They decided to build their liqueur around ginger. Small test batches became bigger production batches as they refined the recipe. By 2011, they launched and brought the liqueur to market around St. Louis, gradually expanding to Chicago and Kansas City with an eye on New Orleans.

Big O is made with hand-chopped fresh ginger, whole spices, citrus, wine-based vodka, and brandy. It can be sipped straight, used in cocktails and in cooking. They’re working on a barrel-aged version that isn’t quite perfected. I sampled this other version and grew even more excited about the taste of Big O, aged and straight.

The liqueur is available at retailers throughout Missouri. Ask for it if you don’t see it on store shelves, or order it online.

RECIPES

Ginger Manhattan

2 oz. rye whiskey
1/4 oz. Big O
1/2 oz. vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters

Pour the whiskey, Big O, vermouth and bitters over cracked ice. Stir well until chillled. Strained and serve in a Collins glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a twist or a maraschino cherry.

Ginger Sparkler

1-1/4 oz. Big O
1/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
Prosecco

Combine Big O and lemon juice in a Champagne flute. Top with Prosecco. Garnish with a slice of fresh ginger or a lemon twist.

Kathy Kuper and Bill Foster

Magic Places in Kansas City:  The Ship

Magic Places in Kansas City: The Ship

The Ship is one of several magical places in Kansas City. This West Bottoms cocktail lounge has a storied history that dates back to 1935, when it was located at 411 East 10th Street. I remember going to the original Ship in the early Nineties shortly before it was decommissioned. The full story of its past and present is one worth reading. I won’t recount it here except to acknowledge the roles of Adam Jones, Bob Asher (pictured below) and Josh Mobley in preserving and resurrecting many of the original fixtures to ultimately reconstruct this timeless lounge.

In its early years since 2004, the modern Ship was a secret destination for artists, musicians and West Bottoms dwellers just as much as the original space remains a legend for those that entered its nautical confines. Nothing stays secret for long in the small town-big city of Kansas City.

The Ship is alive and well as people from all walks of life hang out for drinks. Depending on the night, a crowded house dances to the sounds of soul as Superwolf or Fat Sal spin records, or groove to bands like The Grisly Hand or the Dirty Force Brass Band, a legend in their own right.

My favorite moments at The Ship, which are more rare than I care to admit, are when it isn’t packed. There’s time to watch the bartender banter with customers, settle into a spot at the bar without elbowing other patrons and simply take in the history and quiet grandeur of the space. More often than not, I’ll run into an old friend or acquaintance. The low lights and nautical decor both transport me to a distant place and remind me that The Ship exists as part of Kansas City’s ongoing history.

It’s magic to me.

 

Bob Asher smile

Bob Asher no smile

The Grisly Hand.

The Grisly Hand.

The Grisly Hand.

The Grisly Hand.