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An Apple For Teacher : An inventive apple-peel garnish from Empire Academy's 'Iron Chef' class


Move over, organic and biodynamic; "natural agriculture" is here.

By Christina Waters

Yet Another Sustainable Farming Concept
As the public learns to embrace nonconventional agriculture, terms like "organic" and even "biodynamic" aren't so foreign anymore. However, one local farm is hoping to push the envelope even more with its practice of natural agriculture. The simple-sounding phrase is indeed indicative of a back-to-basics approach, and Shumei Farm in Bonny Doon works to educate us on what exactly it means. Beyond organic (although they are still CCOF-certified), this "educational research" farm does not treat the soil in any way, instead focusing on the farmer's intimate relationship with nature to create growth in often very difficult conditions. This philosophy has its roots in Japan, and one of only three similar North American farms finds a home on 22 acres along Bonny Doon Road. Shumei is hosting an open farm event on Aug. 31 beginning at 11:30am. It includes a delicious lunch (I know, because I went last year and was quite impressed), presentations, farm tours and lively Taiko drum performances.

Fair Play
It's that time of year again, when the sound of bluegrass and screeching kids commingles with the smell of funnel cakes and farm animals. Yes, the 2008 Santa Cruz County Fair is fast approaching, believe it or not, and the deadlines for entries in the home brewing, decorative beer label and apple pie baking contests are Aug. 24 (beer) and Sept. 2, respectively. The theme this year is "Let the Good Times Grow," so interpret that as you will and run with it. If you think you have something worth touting, submit an application a.s.a.p. before you miss the boat. Obviously, there is an age restriction for the brewing category, but all ages can partake of the competitive fun in the Apple Pie contest. Cash prizes, displays, and of course, loads of respect from all your friends and family are on the line. Find the appropriate entry forms at or at area libraries.

Tomorrow's Iron Chefs
Providing junior high-- and high school-age kids an independent, personalized, positive education is the idea behind Empire Academy, right in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz on Center Street. An emphasis on community and empowerment fuels the "home school-like atmosphere" in which students can learn in a unique format. One such class, which certainly breaks the mold of the typical home economics curriculum (oh, what fond memories), is dubbed "Iron Chef: Empire Academy." Formatted closely after the original Japanese Iron Chef show (which began long before Alton Brown came on the scene), this course incorporates basic cooking methods and skills, an attention to quality ingredients, teamwork and "an eye for the art of food," says teacher and director Sinda Merritt. In fact, this new culinary class provides credit toward the school's fine arts requirement due to elements of design, color theory and architecture. "It is the best way to earn art credit ever!" exclaims one participant. The final hour of the class is "Battle" time, in which students create one dish to be scored by guest judges on creativity, taste, presentation and how closely the day's chosen ingredient was used. Contact the school starting in May to check out next summer's schedule. (831.458.4200)

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