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Jaime Bustos, Terra Madre Mini Farm
Jaime Bustos is a man with a mission. “I guess you could say I have a cause,” he said. His cause is a healthier city.
Both of Bustos’ parents died of diabetes, and it runs in his family. While Bustos is free of this disease, he has seen firsthand how it wrecks lives. Bustos knows that a healthier diet is the key to a happier life. His produce does more than feed people; it makes their lives better.
Ten years ago, Bustos heard a story on the local public radio station about the Slow Food movement based in Torino, Italy. That story inspired him to become a farmer. He named his new farm Terra Madre Mini Farm, after Slow Food’s global small-scale farming network.Terra Madre is Italian for Mother Earth.
When Bustos started his garden, he had just retired after 37 years at CCAD. The arduous work of farming fit his retirement and personality. His tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and broccoli quickly expanded beyond his backyard, so he leased some land from Pee-Wee’s Animal Shelter to plant. He now has approximately an acre of vegetables under cultivation.
Bustos designed his produce business around the Downtown and South Side Farmers’ Markets. He believes an acre of vegetable production and two markets is plenty to keep him busy. “There is a lot happening with on-going preparation to grow vegetables, whether you’re weeding or preparing a bed or loading produce for the market,” he said. He and his hired helper sometimes works nights to get transplants into the ground before the rabbits eat them, but he prefers to garden in the cool hours of early morning.
Bustos fertilizes his plants with composted horse manure from the stock at Pee-Wee’s Animal Shelter. He tries to grow vigorous, healthy plants that are strong enough to withstand pests and disease on their own. That way, he doesn’t have to spray them with chemicals. He uses cardboard as mulch and weeds his garden with a rolling torch that burns the weeds out of the soil.
Most of all, he’d love to see more young people get into farming but knows it’s a hard sell. He hopes to make converts among them to vegetable gardening. Jumpstarted by a global farming movement heheard on public radio, Bustosis changing the world, one vegetable at a time. And he wants you to join him.
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David Fanchier, Commercial Drum Fisherman
David Fanchier was born to fish. You might say he has saltwater in his blood.
Clyde Fanchier, David’s father, started taking him fishing when he was just out of diapers. As a boy, Fanchier stayed with his dad on a houseboat in Baffin Bay several days a week, just to be closer to the fish. Fanchier has been fishing now for forty-five years.
Fanchier’s commercial drum business is one man and one small boat. Still, this fisherman catches nearly 50,000 pounds of fish every year.
He sustains his astounding production by going out six days per week, every week of the year. In the summer, he catches between 200 and 500 pounds of fish per day; in winter, it can be double that amount.
Fanchier’s income is based on the sheer tenacity of math, the slow addition of one fish at a time hauled heavily into the boat, day after day. There is no sick leave, no paid vacation, no time off. It’s an old-fashioned equation for earning a living.
Delivery of his catch occurs each morning to Morgan Street Seafood. Charlie Alegria, the owner, sits at his workbench to gut, head, and filet the fish as customers stand in line and call out their orders. It is as fresh and good as any fish, anywhere.
Fanchier, like Alegria, is a man of integrity. Fanchier can leave his catch at Morgan Street Seafood and never look at the scale. He knows Alegria will mark the exact weight every time. That type of handshake agreement, that type of trust, is rare in business these days.
David Fanchier is the real-life embodiment of Ernest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. He goes out into the dark water every morning in a tiny boat to take his chances, to grapple with the writhing and slippery weight of big fish, to make his living from the sun-drenched waves. He brings home his catch, a few dollars each day. He is simple, humble, faithful, and kind.
This lone man, this artisan of a by-gone age, supplies the folks of The Bend with some of the best seafood in the world, and few people even know his name. But he is out there for us, every day, out on the glittering water, living his faith through fish.
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Dennis Gray, Yellow Rose Honey
If you look closely at a jar of honey from Dennis Gray, you will notice something peculiar: there is “stuff” in it, tiny black particles. Some of the jars are lighter or darker in color. Each jar of Yellow Rose Honey is unique.
Gray explains that you want those tiny particles; pollen, beeswax, royal jelly, and other natural elements, in your honey. According to Gray, the “stuff” is what makes local honey so healthy and so delicious.
“Industrial honey is sugar water,” said Gray. The heating and filtration systems at big honey processing plants remove all those particles. Industrial honey is refined into an identical sameness of color, texture, and consistency. “But real honey is never like that,” he said.
Gray can see differences in his honey from one harvest to the next, from two hives side-by-side, and even differences in the honey harvested from the same hive.
Gray explains how domestic bees require wild, feral bees to reproduce. A domestic queen will fly up to five miles to mate with a wild male bee, then return to the hive to produce her domestic brood. Gray said this would be like a farmer sending his sows into the wild to mate with feral boar hogs, then getting them back to the barn to throw a litter. Keeping twenty-five hives is a full-time job for a small-scale honey producer. Good hive management requires the touch of an experienced and thoughtful beekeeper.
“We’re just like other farmers,” said Gray. “We pray for rain, we get dirty. There are those days when you get hot, the bees are angry, you’re angry, and you wonder why you’re doing this.” But then, Gray connects with his customers, and they reignite his passion for the business.
“I have customers who love this honey, they just adore it. It makes them so happy,” Gray said. “Nobody ever got that kind of joy out of a supermarket.”
You can find Yellow Rose Honey at your local farmers’ market. Be prepared to stand in line. This honey is popular. But the wait is worth it, because your personal jar of honey will be unique to you, and there is no other honey like it.
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Curtis Miller, Miller Seafood
Life on an oyster boat is not for the faint-hearted.
You will stand in the blistering hot sun for hours, bent over your sorting table, rapidly separating the spiny catch, then dredging up another batch as the boat drones in circles above a bed of oysters. Or perhaps it will be a cold, cutting wind, with needles of rain in your face, your body aching with fatigue. But still, your frozen hands must flash tirelessly to sort the catch, as you get paid by the pound.
Curtis Miller is a tough man. You don’t acquire a fleet of oyster boats on the Texas coast without being tough. But he didn’t start with a fleet. Miller began his career forty years ago catching one oyster at a time.
At ten-years-old, Miller waded into the bay behind his house in Port Lavaca with a plastic bucket to pluck oysters from the shifting sand. He shucked the oysters with a Bowie knife and sold them to his neighbors.
At age 13, he got a job as “freezer boy” in a big shrimp house. Then, in 1981, Miller’s father bought a shrimp boat, from Miller’s uncle, and young Curtis signed on as a deck hand. That single boat was the genesis of Miller’s Seafood.
Today, Miller manages a fleet of up to fifty oyster boats; some he owns, most are leased from independent fishermen who deliver their catch to Miller’s expansive warehouse. From there, Miller sells his oysters across Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and up the Eastern Seaboard.
Competition on the water can be fierce as fishermen fight to stay in business. Miller has survived and built a sterling reputation, while many in the industry have gone bankrupt or simply given up. It takes more than a boat to dredge up oysters; it takes discipline, insight, and staying power.
Oyster fishing is more than a business for Miller. “It’s a way of life,” he said. When he talks about his children, his face lights up and his kindness shines through. Miller reveres his father, who taught him to appreciate the little customers just as much as the big ones.
Miller took this advice to heart. He still works the counter at his store, handing bags of shrimp and oysters to his loyal customers, smiling, personally thanking each one.
If you have ever eaten oysters on the half-shell at Water Street Seafood, or by the pint at a Winn-Dixie up in Birmingham, chances are good they came from Miller’s Seafood. And you can be sure that Curtis Miller, oyster fisherman, is thankful for you.
Our chef, Dean Sprague, offered recipes for each producer to show how to turn their wholesome ingredients into beautiful meals. Click here for recipes: http://thebendmag.com/dining/recipes/locally-produced-recipes/