I haven’t forgotten that I still need to write up the second half of L’Atelier du pain as well as post more Grain Gathering notes and pictures. But for now, allow me to introduce you to Larry Kandarian whose farm, Kandarian Organic Farms, in Los Osos, California, we recently stopped at on our way to visit Mark Stambler at Pagnol Boulanger. (More on Mark and Pagnol in an upcoming post).
To say the day was hot is an understatement. We live up the coast closer to the ocean, where temperatures are more, well, temperate, and simply stepping out of the car in the blistering sunshine was a shock to the system. There was no shade in sight. The hills looked roasted. Up close a lonely worker was using a pitchfork to systematically flip over what we later learned were Desi garbanzo beanstalks set to dry in the sun.
The only other signs of life were patches of green here and there and, high up above our heads, the slow circling of birds of prey (possibly the peregrine falcons the area is known for.) It was 2 PM, the time set for our arrival. Larry had recommended that we be punctual as he had to get ready for the market at San Luis Obispo later on that afternoon. I called his cell phone. He said: “Stay put, don’t move. I’ll be right over.” Ten minutes later he pulled up behind us.
Burnished and wiry, Larry had a farmer’s callous hands and a big smile. We introduced ourselves all around (we were with a visiting friend from France.) Larry said he was of Armenian and Portuguese descent and had been farming this spot for 18 years. In a previous life he had been an mechanical engineer and had worked on the first space shuttle. For the past forty years though, it had all been about seeds.
We toured the farm for about an hour. Larry could clearly have gone on but we were getting cooked alive. Our fair-skinned Parisian friend was turning an alarming shade of puce, not from sunburn (she was wearing a hat as we all were), but from sheer overheating. I don’t know what I looked like but probably almost as pink. There was no other choice but cut the visit short. Fortunately I had snapped lots of pictures and Larry was kind enough to take us back to his air-conditioned office and help me label them accurately on my phone.
We bakers are used to seeing grains and seeds in bags or bins (often already milled) but we don’t necessarily know what they look like out there in the fields. I thought that like me, you might enjoy seeing some of them at an earlier stage in their life cycle and meeting a passionate farmer in the process.
White Sonora wheat
Ethiopian blue-tinged farro
Amaranth, quinoa, etc.
There was much more of course but that’s all we had time to see before being compelled to say uncle. Back at the office Larry let me take a look at his inventory checklist for the farmer’s market and I counted 17 different grains and 22 different peas and beans as well as 35 additional items listed under Herbs, Spices and Botanicals, including ajowan, anise seed, bergamot, evening primrose, mustard, Mexican tarragon, dill & fennel pollen, etc.
Larry says he farms about 100 acres out of his 200. I knew he had to get ready for the market, so I didn’t ask too many questions. (For more on him and the way he farms you may want to read this article in the local paper.) But I did ask what he thought would be the most important thing to say about him. He laughed and replied: “That I am manic. Specifically about stock seeds. My utmost concern is purity. Nothing else matters.”
Larry has half-a-dozen people working for him. As we were talking someone was bagging seeds in the backroom. All the bags go into the freezer before being shipped out. That takes care of the little living things you don’t necessarily see but that you know you don’t want.
There is something jovial about Larry, jovial and good-natured. We joked about age and kids. About relationships too. Larry is an easy person to talk to. And astonishingly spry.
Every Wednesday morning he leaves his farm at 2 AM and drives south for four hours to set up his booth at the famous Santa Monica’s Farmers’ Market. He leaves Santa Monica between 1:30 and 2:30 PM, stops somewhere to eat and is back home by 8. The next day he is up at 5:30 AM (as he is everyday) and gets ready for another long day since the Thursday night San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market -where he is also a vendor- doesn’t open until 6 PM.
In many ways Larry reminded me of Gérard Rubaud: a passionate and resilient seeker endowed with a will of steel. Like Gérard, he eats what he grows/makes. Larry says he has a pot of grains going at all time. Just as Gérard always keeps a chunk of bread within easy reach.
Clearly men who believe in what they do. I like that very much about them.