May 14, 2014 -
Q+A with Plated Landscape Dinner Host and Owner of Muddy Fork Farm, Monica Bongue
Chef Ben first met Monique of Muddy Fork Farm more than 7 years ago at the Shaker Square Farmers Market and have since put on several (as in too many to count for Monica!) Plated Landscape Dinners at the colorful farm teeming with wildlife. On June 1st, they’ll host one of many more dinners highlighting Monica’s favorite vegetable of the season.
Read on to learn more about this sustainable farm that’s tucked along the Mohican River in Wooster, Ohio and how Monica is doing her part to bring local produce and agriculture to consumers in Wooster and beyond.
Q. Muddy Fork Farm, what’s the story behind the name?
A. Our farm overlooks the beautiful valley of the Muddy Fork of the Mohican River. Also, forks and food just go together.
Q. Did the farm life choose you, or did you choose the farm life?
A. I’d say both. I grew up in a rural area in Colombia. My grandfather had a coffee farm and I’ve always been interested in agriculture and farming. The way the farm chose me is when we moved to Ohio from Davis, California, we were looking for housing in Wooster. My husband had gotten a job at OSU, but there wasn’t a job for me in the same field of science. When I found the farm, I said, “That’s going to be my job!” I’ve been running it since 1996.
Q. Set the table, so to speak, for us of what one can expect from a Spice-catered Plated Landscape Dinner at Muddy Fork Farm.
A. I can tell you that one of the highlights on the menu will be a purple asparagus. Ben chooses the menu of course. But you can also expect rhubarb, salad greens, and green shallots. We have a beautiful colony of Purple Martin birds that have moved in. They’re a migratory bird and they establish residence here every year. They’re delightful songbirds and insect eaters.
Q. What kind of preparation is involved leading up to an event like this?
A. We spend a lot of time keeping the grounds looking nice in preparation – weeding, mulching, and general maintenance. The day of the dinner, we’ll harvest our crops, just like any other day.
Q. What produce grows best at Muddy Fork Farms? How do you practice sustainability in your growing techniques?
A. We have a big summer season with peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and that sort of stuff. We grow from asparagus to zucchini, as I like to say. We do root – crops, beets, carrots and things like sweet potatoes, onions, leeks, specialty potatoes (purple, red, fingerling). I probably have about 40 different of varieties of tomatoes, 20 varieties of peppers, and 10 varieties of eggplants. I’m also a painter so I like to have very pretty and diverse vegetables. I look for different colors, shapes, and flavors.
At Muddy Fork Farm, we try to grow without generating any waste products. We don’t throw anything away. We recycle, reuse, and reclaim everything we can. We don’t use any toxic chemicals or pesticides. We’re certified organic and use a lot of water conservation techniques and barrier methods to prevent insects and weeds. We also try to conserve wildlife areas by making this a very beautiful place with native plants and by making sure it is ecologically healthy and diverse. One of the reasons I have attracted the Purple Martins is because they eat mosquitos, so we contain that with live things that are appropriate rather than with chemicals.
Q. Is Muddy Fork Farm involved in any community-centric initiatives?
A. I manage two CSA’s, one for Muddy Fork Farm, which is already filled for the summer, but the other is a cooperative I started with a grant last year called Farm Roots Connections. The point of the co-op is to get multiple farmers to collaborate on a CSA and to give back the distribution to the farms by eliminating the middle-man.
I’m also a founding member and board president of Local Roots Market and Café, a local food hub we started here in Wooster four years ago to connect local producers with consumers.
Q. What’s your favorite farm-fresh seasonal dish to make right now?
A. I like to take some purple asparagus, slice it diagonally, and slightly sautee it with a little bit of salt and olive oil. And that’s it! It’s a great compliment to any meal.
*Monica will be giving a talk on nutrition on May 19th at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lyndhurst campus.
**If you’ve never ventured this far South, note that Wooster is a large farming community with plenty to do and see. If you’re making the trek, you may want to consider staying at one of the local bed and breakfasts and a visit to Amish Country while you’re in the heart of Ohio’s farmlands.