FARMBELLY / FARM-BEL-LY / NOUN (N.)
1. The belly of a person nourished by seasonal, wholesome and delicious meals—with produce grown by the hands of local farmers, friends or best of all—homegrown!
There is nothing quite like a home-cooked meal. Simple, fresh produce can brighten up any winter dish—a plate full of color, nutrients and stories. Meet Michelle Aronson, farmer by day, chef by trade.
This is not your typical cooking school, this is education from a farmer. Starting the classes in 2016, Aronson is first and foremost an educator: the garden manager and sustainability coordinator for dining services at Westmont College. Inspired by her culinary education at Ireland’s Ballymaloe Cookery School, a 100-acre organic farm and teaching kitchen, she wanted to bring the same culinary ethos to the table, from field to fork and into your home.
“Farmers work like dogs and eat like kings and that totally epitomizes why I love farming,” says Aronson. “I love working hard and being physically exhausted, then eating like a king.”
Arriving at our house (Farmbelly cooking classes take place in the comfort of your home), produce was laid out gracefully, each item sourced from a local farm or rancher. Promoting an ingredient-driven menu, “Knife Skills 101” was an edible array of local produce: farmers’ market green salad with homemade vinaigrette; roasted butternut, apple and leek soup; lemon-herb roast chicken over local root vegetables; and honey mascarpone citrus parfait with pistachios. Prepping each ingredient, we became familiar with the basics of chopping, dicing and mincing, as well as how to source the best local produce.
“You don’t have to be a farmer to eat like one,” says Aronson. “If you start with the best ingredients, let the produce speak for the dish.”
Using our “magic wand,” we were ready to begin. Encouraging questions and stimulating confidence, Aronson is inspired by the seasons, using recipes as a suggestion. Slicing and dicing, each of the veggies was nourishing and colorful, a perfect menu for the wintertime blues. Empowering each of us to cook with the seasons, the class flowed effortlessly, gaining confidence with each stroke. Intimate and educational, classes typically last two-three hours, with a maximum class size of eight people to ensure the highest quality of instruction.
“I love seeing people have that light-bulb moment go off,” says Aronson. “Once you have power and confidence in the kitchen, you can do anything.”
Sampling the best of local farms, the menu highlighted items from The Garden of…, Roots Farm, Fair Hills Ranch, Mary’s Chicken, Friend’s Ranch and Santa Barbara Pistachio Company. Tailored and customizable, menus change seasonally, in alignment with the farmers’ market. Knowing the story behind our food, we were encouraged to share our favorite veggie or farmer, pairing knowledge with nutrition. Tasting as we went, the fragrant spices, sweet citrus and savory herbs filled our kitchen.
“Most farmers I’ve worked with never used recipes, it was just instinctual, they knew the techniques,” says Aronson. ‘Whatever was in season, that’s what was in the oven.”
With the chicken golden brown, the root veggies marinated and the salad dressed, we sat down to enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of our labor. Mastering knife skills, the sense of accomplishment was immense—a beautiful, wholesome spread of flavor and knowledge. Dessert followed, a creamy, citrusy delight to top off an incredible evening of hands-on learning. We all left with full bellies—with farm bellies.
“The best kind of gift you can give someone is an experience,” says Aronson. “My classes will leave you feeling nourished in the moment and well after you leave.”
For more information or to schedule a class, visit farmbelly.com.
Six Farmbelly tips for shopping at the farmers’ market
Plan meals ahead of time and make a shopping list to avoid being overwhelmed.
Do a lap around the market before making any purchases (look for quality + price).
Don’t be afraid of “ugly” produce (usually great discounts for the same delicious produce).
Use whole vegetables whenever possible (i.e., don’t throw away those beet greens).
Buy in bulk when seasonal produce is in abundance (and preserve by canning, freezing, etc.).
Shop early for selection and go late for deals.
This story was originally published in the winter 2016/17 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.