Alex Johnson is the new farm manager for Burge Organic Farm in Mansfield. A transplant from Busti, New York, she’s no stranger to farming. Until she moved here, however, what she knew about farming was in a very different climate with a totally different growing season and what she refers to as “snow challenges.”
Johnson graduated from the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill with a degree in agriculture business management. While in New York, she worked on a 250-acre farm in Eastern New York. Returning home to Busti, she had a hard time finding a job in the field she wanted. “And I was very miserable from the cold. My aunt lived in Georgia, I missed farming a lot, so I Googled farm apprenticeships, came across goodfoodjobs.com and applied for an apprenticeship at Cosmos Organic Farm, an 8-acre organic farm outside Carrollton. I got it, quit my four part-time jobs and headed down here with my dog. ”
Apprenticeship over, she’s been at Burge since November. She credits coworker Daniel Guzman with being a wonderful teacher. “He knows Burge well. He’s kind and he’s a huge asset to the farm. He works seven days a week. This is my first management position and my first winter farming in Georgia. It’s a little overwhelming at first.”
Farming isn’t just about getting the crops in the ground, caring for them and harvesting. It’s about keeping the farm’s organic certification up-to-date and handling payroll and taxes as well. “I was ready to learn some new responsibilities. My dream is to have my own farm operation one day.”
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Right now she sells her produce at the year-round Saturday morning Morningside Farmers Market, but come April 8, she’ll have a booth at the seasonal Peachtree Road Farmers Market as well. One of the things she’ll be selling will be cabbage planted back in September by her predecessors. “We’re growing green Savoy cabbage and a regular smooth green cabbage. They did OK, but the timing has been odd along with the weather. They didn’t get very big heads, but since the heads did get some cold, the cabbage is definitely sweeter. Everyone at the market loves them. The small size is nice for one person.”
Cabbage harvest began in early January and since cabbage stores well, she hopes to still have some to sell on the market’s opening day. She’ll definitely have winter radishes, the first crop she planted at the farm.
Does Johnson miss New York?
“Back home they’ve had a terrible snow storm. I was able to say, ‘Oh, it’s 70 degrees here this week,’ she said with a laugh. “The consistently cold weather there may make it easier to grow something like cabbage, but the weather is so much less harsh here. I’m really enjoying the break from the cold.”
Linton Hopkins’ Larb
Larb is an Asian salad of ground meat seasoned with fish sauce, lime juice and herbs. It can be made with most any meat including ground beef and ground chicken or with ground mushrooms for a vegetarian version.
When Chef Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch Public House makes larb at home, he likes to use ground pork. He and his family are big fans of cabbage in general and of the cabbage from Burge Organic Farm in particular. They use the cabbage leaves as scoops to serve the larb.
For the green chili, Hopkins suggests you try a Thai, jalapeno or serrano pepper.
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 pound ground pork
3 tablespoons uncooked long grain rice
1 large head cabbage (about 1 1/2 pounds)
4 tablespoons fish sauce
4 tablespoons lime juice
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed, lightly chopped
1 bunch mint, stems removed, lightly chopped
1 bunch basil, stems removed, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
1 green chili, thinly sliced
In a large heavy skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Add pork and sauté until fully cooked. Remove pork and drain in a colander until it cools to room temperature.
While pork is cooling, in a dry skillet, toast rice over medium heat until light brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
Cut cabbage into quarters and remove core. Place quarters in ice water bath.
When cooked pork has cooled, put it in a large bowl and add toasted rice. Toss with fish sauce and lime juice. Taste, as it may need a dash more of both to achieve balance of salt and sour. Fold in onion, cilantro, mint, basil and chili. Drain cabbage and serve on the side of the salad. Serves: 8
Per serving: 208 calories (percent of calories from fat, 55), 12 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 13 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 41 milligrams cholesterol, 756 milligrams sodium.