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Nourished by the Land

Molly and John Chester find success, sustenance and serenity at Apricot Lane Farms.

By Mark Storer

Set on 200+ beautiful acres in Moorpark, Apricot Lane is home to several farm animals — chickens, sheep, cattle, pigs and more.

 

n the Apricot Lane Farms’ website, there are several short films made by John Chester, who owns the farm with his wife, Molly. John is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker by trade, but he has turned his attention to creating a family farm in Moorpark on 214 acres. The films are engaging, heart wrenching at times, and a nod to the creativity it takes to create a diverse, dynamic farm in an area with little rainfall. But it’s also a window into a world willed into existence by the Chesters.

Molly, a former personal chef from Los Angeles, and John bought the horse property in 2011 and began the sometimes delicate process of regenerating the soil through composting, aeration, soil amendment and hard work. Now it’s home to orchards, crops and livestock ranging from chickens to sheep and pigs to cattle.

“My husband says all the time that he can’t believe we chose the desert to do this,” said Molly. “Unfortunately, there really aren’t a lot of small farms in this region, and so this is something that was really magical to us. I love the climate here and it’s exactly where I would want to be.” Molly said that John wishes there were more rain, but he’s very happy with the location and what the couple have now created.

“It really came from this search for nutrient-dense food to support my perspective in the kitchen, which is a focus on maximizing the nutrition for the human body,” said Molly. “It’s a traditional foods approach, kind of hearkening back to a time when people didn’t have the modern conveniences we have today.” The farm has achieved certification as both organic and biodynamic, which means that as nearly as possible, the farm supplies everything it needs for itself to produce both crops and livestock.

Predominantly orchards with 20 pastures of various sizes, two acres of gardens and the Chesters’ home, Apricot Lane Farms runs with the help of 60 full- and part-time employees, apprentices and volunteers maintaining a dynamic flow of complex systems, including composting, gardening, orchards, livestock and others. “We have a culinary program here at the farm and we feed our staff each day,” Molly said. “My office is right off the kitchen, so I’m in and out all day long and I’m involved with the creation of some items along with our kitchen staff.” The Chesters sell produce directly, mostly to farmers markets in the area.

The kitchen’s latest creation is a bourbon-lemon marmalade that will soon go to market. “We use only natural sugars and there was this sort of brown color to the marmalade and we thought, why not just go with that and add bourbon.”

Molly had been working as a private chef and had clients with particular diets — some based on their own preferences, some by doctor’s recommendation. “John and I would visit these farms on weekends to look at produce to make the food, and John and I began to look into farming after seeing all the kinds of foods we wanted to use.” The Chesters worked with a partner, and together they began the search for a small property to farm. “It all came together April 12, 2011,” Molly said.

John oversees the soil, agricultural and livestock program while Molly works with the orchards at every level as well as the culinary program. “We’re developing an intense amount of infrastructure,” said Molly. “Our goal is that the farm will run in the black, so we can say that the farm is working at the level we want. We don’t use any chemicals or synthetic materials so, yes, our risk costs are high, but it’s a small enough farm that it allows us to be more efficient at each level.”

Being a full-time farmer hasn’t taken John away from filmmaking altogether. He has shot several short films about the farm and now has enough footage to produce a feature film. He’s in the process of making it now. In addition, the Chesters have since added to their family with the birth of their son, now 3 years old.

Molly said that the first meal she and her family ate that included beef raised at the farm was a revelation. “The cow we harvested had a name; and in some ways, it was very hard to accept,” she said. “But it’s the cycle of life, and what you realize is that this is how it was meant to be; and when you step into it and accept it, the experience is more deeply enriched when you get it from very close by.”

When she lived in Los Angeles, Molly used to want a backyard with a lemon tree. “We kind of overshot that,” she said. “But the reality is that you’re walking outside of your house to pick your food and bring it right in the house. It’s so empowering and romantic and so delicious. It’s deeply fulfilling and nourishing. I feel so blessed and so fortunate to have created this life for our family.”

Apricot Lane Farms
10700 Broadway Road, Moorpark
(805) 523-4444
www.apricotlanefarms.com

Molly and John Chester with son Beauden.

Emma, a Red Wattle pig that gave birth to 17 piglets on the farm.

Wesley, a handsome Scottish Highland bull.

Apricot Lane’s pond came about as a native restoration project, and now serves as habitat for night herons, egrets, coots and mallard ducks.

Filmmaker John Chester is also the farm manager and heads up the Holistic Livestock Program, where he shows the utmost care in tending to his flock.

Apricot Lane Farms Lemonade
“Living on a farm with over 30 acres of lemon trees encourages one to acquire a killer lemonade recipe!” Molly exclaims. This concoction is as simple as it gets — just lemon juice, honey and water — and deliciously refreshing to the last drop. By using a blender instead of heat to quickly emulsify the lemon and the honey, the beneficial enzymes and delicate nature of the unpasteurized raw honey are preserved.

1 cup raw honey
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 cups water
In a blender, combine the honey and lemon juice. Blend on high for 30 seconds. Add water and pulse to combine. Refrigerate until chilled, then serve over ice.
Makes 8 cups

 

Sorta Raw Kale Salad
“We enjoy toasting the macadamia nuts for flavor, which prevents this salad from officially being ‘raw.’ Regardless, it’s refreshing and energizing,” says Molly.

1 bunch kale, rinsed, chopped and thoroughly dried
1/4 cup chiffonade basil *
1/2 cup toasted macadamia nuts, chopped
1/4 - 1/3 cup lemon juice, to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

In a large bowl, toss kale, basil and macadamia nuts to combine.
In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Pour over kale and toss to combine.
Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.
Note: *Chiffonade is simply thinly sliced ribbons. To achieve this, line up several leaves of basil into a small stack. Tightly roll the basil lengthwise to form a long cigarette shape and slice, forming long ribbons. Begin with 1/4 cup, and add to taste.

 

Kefir Strawberry Ice
According to Molly, this healthy take on ice cream “hits all the marks — great use of excess summer strawberries, probiotic-rich with the use of kefir and lightly sweet with raw enzyme-rich honey.” Nutritious and delicious, it should appeal to kids and grown-ups alike.

5 cups whole frozen strawberries
2 cups raw plain kefir
¼ cup raw honey
Juice of 1 lemon

Combine all ingredients into a high-speed blender.
Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and encourage the mixture together, when necessary. The consistency should be like soft-serve ice cream. If it is too loose, like a smoothie, add more strawberries, as the texture will depend on the size of the strawberries used.
Pour into a glass container.
Freeze to desired texture. If completely frozen, allow the dessert to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before scooping.

 

Cumin Lamb Burgers with Caramelized Onion Mayonnaise
John and Molly’s first animals on the farm were nine Dorper sheep. Today, Apricot Lane Farms is home to close to 100 at any given time, who enjoy wide-open pastures full of grass on which to roam. All animals are humanely raised with no growth hormones or antibiotics — resulting in happy animals and healthy, delicious meat. Molly’s lamb burger recipe is designed to let the flavors of the farm’s pasture-raised lamb, and other fresh, quality ingredients, sing.

1 tablespoon butter
2 cups ¼-inch diced yellow onions (approx. 1 large)
1-1/2 teaspons plus a pinch sea salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon plus a pinch fresh cracked pepper, divided
1 tablespoon minced garlic (approx. 3 cloves)
1 pound grass-fed ground lamb
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, divided
1 pasturized egg yolk
3 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice, divided
Pinch of lemon zest
2 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon ghee
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Pinch of powdered green stevia or 1 teaspoon of raw honey
Sliced tomato, for garnish
Sliced avocado, for garnish

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt butter until foaming. Add onion, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Slowly sauté for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally; onions will have softened and caramelized. Add 1 tablespoon garlic, stirring for 1 minute; garlic will be fragrant.Turn off heat. Remove 2 tablespoons of onion mixture and set aside in a small bowl for the Caramelized Onion Mayonnaise.
In a medium bowl, combine remaining onion mixture, ground lamb, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, egg yolk, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, pinch lemon zest, cumin, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Using clean hands, gently mix. Avoid over-mixing, which can toughen the burgers.
Divide the meat into three equal discs. Flatten each disc to about 1 inch around the edges and ¾ inch in the center. Making the center of the burger slightly thinner than the edges prevents the burger from puffing up in the center.
Heat a cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottomed sauté pan to medium-high heat. Add ghee and heat until fully melted. Tilt pan to cover bottom with ghee. Set the burgers into the hot pan, and immediately turn the heat down to medium. Allow burgers to cook for 3 minutes on each side for medium. Let rest for 5 minutes.
In the small bowl reserved for the Caramelized Onion Mayonnaise, add mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and a pinch each of powdered green stevia, sea salt and pepper. Stir well with a spoon.
Top burgers with tomato, mayonnnaise and avocado.

 

07-01-2018

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