Sept & Oct Grower Spotlight - Steve Sprinkel - Ventura County Agricultural Education
SEEAG’s VC SEPT/OCT GROWER SPOTLIGHT
Steve Sprinkel at Ranch Del Pueblo in Ojai
I see and interact with Steve Sprinkel more then any other farmer I know. His lovely farm-to-table cafe, Farmer and the Cook, is only minutes away from my home in Ojai, and I feel darn lucky about this. The last time I was there, eating lunch with my SEEAG Team, at least 10 people stopped by our table to say hello and talk. This is one of the many things that make this restaurant so special. It’s serves as many Ojain’s “home away from home”, and is a hub for the community to not only eat, but to also see friends and share life with–Steve is no different.
In this day and age it’s not very often you see a restaurant owner sitting down, breaking bread with patrons and sharing the days events in their place of business. This is not the case at Farmer and the Cook. At noon on most days you can find Steve eating, talking, laughing and sometimes sharing his knowledgable perspective on organic farming to his customers; many of whom he calls by their first name and considers his friends.
I know one of his very good friends, John Phaneuf, pretty well. He also happens to be my videographer. Every time John and I talk about Steve a big, genuine smile comes over John’s face and he usual says, “Steve, what a character”. There is definitely love there and I have to agree. In addition to his amazing sense of raw humor, Steve is probably one of the most educated and passionate men I’ve met. He attended one semester at Harvard and UCSB. When it comes to organic farming and the phrase “farm-to-table,” it is truly an authentic experience at Farmer and the Cook. Most items on their menu have at least one ingredient grown only 1 mile down the road on Rancho Del Pueblo, the farm-side of his operation.
Adherent to the organic farming movement since the 1960s, Steve now farms on 12 acres (CCOF certified) in Ojai, and devotes a lot of his energy towards training the next generations of farmers and consumers. Four new organic farmers in the area formerly worked for Steve. The farm is an open resource and the CSA program includes a large number of volunteer harvesters, long-term and one-time participants (that would be volunteers like me). He is the president of the Ojai Center for Regenerative Agriculture and former president of the Cornucopia Institute.
The table title of their farm-to-table operation belongs to the Cook: Olivia. She fell in love with food on a beach in San Blas, Mexico while eating tortillas, beans and coleslaw when she was 18. She went to college for a Master’s Degree in Nutrition, and after eating well in San Francisco and Seattle returned home to Ojai and opened the City Bakery-Cafe in Ventura in 1988. She met Steve at the Ventura Farmers’ Market and then visited his farm in Carpinteria and remembers saying, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a restaurant on a farm?” They were both married at the time, but a decade later when both divorced, they fell in love at the Ojai Farmers’ Market, while buying kabocha squash. See details on the romantic affects of kabocha below.
I am happy to announce SEEAG just hired Greta, Farmers’ previous manager, to help with farm field trips. I hired her on the spot. I explained, “She had a 3 year interview at the cafe”. Greta always took care of me and now it’s my turn. On Friday and Saturday nights they dress up the cafe, Kenny fires up the pizza oven and Megan creates an amazing dessert, which is usually an artisan crafted tart using seasonal fruit. Over the summer,Sunday nights were particularly special when local musicians play bluesy folk tunes as the sun is setting off in the distance. If you have never visited Farmer and the Cook, please do. It’s a true, bona fide farm-to-table food experience.
Visit – Farmer and Cook
Sept & Oct Grower Spotlight of the Month – Steve Sprinkel Video
VIDEO AND PHOTOS BY – John Phaneuf