A Backyard Farmer Harnesses the Powers of the Planet to Feed our Souls, and Bring Us Together
On weekday mornings, Matt Kennedy carves the bike path on his skateboard, shirttails flapping, Ray-Bans to the sun, with two Weimaraners in tow. After dropping his daughter off at Ross Montessori School, he skates the dogs home. Kennedy then heads to Mt. Sopris Montessori Preschool where he preps wholesome lunches for toddlers.
To the local kids, Kennedy has superpowers. He plants teeny tiny particles that morph into bundles of sunshine: kale, tomatoes, or mint. He collects weeds, cuts back plants, and gathers a variety of animal manures to grow living soils. He tends mysterious wooden boxes filled with minute beings that pollinate plants and produce amber ambrosia.
“I run Sopris Farm,” Kennedy grins. Neighborhood kids and families gather to watch his diminutive livestock gambol and cavort in old town Carbondale. “My home farm demonstrates urban sustainability in a small space. We raise rabbits— which are the most sustainable meat source on the planet—along with chickens and ducks for eggs, and eventually meat, at harvest time.”
By “we,” Kennedy speaks also of his 12-year-old daughter, Aberdeen, famous for her floral lemonade at their Carbondale farmers market stand.
Kennedy grew up in his mom’s upstate New York vegetable garden. He hunted and fished, outside on the land all day, which led to a fascination with foraging and wildcrafting plants, berries, and delicacies such as morels, chanterelles, and boletes— skills he teaches Aberdeen.
Kennedy thrives on challenges. When it comes to the epicurean sciences of beekeeping, charcuterie (curing meats), or growing mushrooms, superpowers are a must. All three function at the nexus of artistry and technology, the latter two requiring sterile, temperature- and humidity-controlled environments that he custom built into his historic log cabin home.
“I believe all these things work hand in hand and can demonstrate a more sustainable way to farm, source, cook, and eat good food,” he says. “In a healthy way that supports our planet and society, as opposed to destroying it.”
Kennedy’s “urban” farm is a profound example of how many of us can lessen our impacts on the planet and deepen our community roots.
On this sweet autumn evening, several of us—farmers, friends, neighbors, and locavores—gathered with Kennedy to celebrate food and the season through a traditional French dish, ratatouille. Our slew of wild children ran loose through the golden hour, laughing and screaming. We chopped onions from my garden, summer squash from Erin’s farm, and jewel-toned tomatoes from Kennedy’s gardens. Dusk filled the yard as the firepit slowed to small flames and embers for the roasted rabbit. Kennedy made pawpaw ice cream with the Queen’s milk from the water buffalo Erin’s sweetheart raises. We connected under the chokecherry, apple tree and stars, reveling in the grower’s life. It was an enchanting evening— as it often is through friends, family, and food.
Season’s End Ratatouille
Light a fire! Peach and apricot wood imbue autumnal smoky flavors.
Scatter thick slices of butter across the bottom of a wide cast iron skillet.
Alternating thinly sliced, freshly harvested tomato, zucchini, and yellow squash, line the skillet with the vegetables upright in bold, tidy, concentric circles. The thinner you slice the vegetables, the more they melt on the tongue.
Dash salt and pepper across the nested vegetables; scatter a few more pats of butter. Lightly drizzle the array with a vinaigrette—red currant vin marries the tart tomato and creamy squash beautifully.
Place above the coals to simmer/roast over the wood fire for about an hour. As juices form, cover with a lid. To crisp the top if you wish, finish under a broiler for three minutes, sans lid.
Quartered Rabbit Cooked in White Wine, Brown Butter, and Garlic
Place generous amounts of sliced butter, two whole knuckles of garlic, and a coarsely chopped onion in the bottom of a cast iron Dutch oven. Layer a quartered rabbit on top. Pour white wine over the rabbit, enough to simmer and steam the meat; dash salt and freshly crushed pepper to flavor.
Cover with the lid and place in the fire coals, turning frequently the first 30 minutes. Place above the coals and simmer until the flesh is tender.
Enjoy with your closest friends.