From Navy to Farming
John Frise's route to becoming a farmer has some interesting twists and turns. In the late 1950's, as a 5-year old boy pulling weeds and filling potholes on his grandfather's 2,000- acre farm in San Diego, he began to develop a love for life on the farm. But after graduating from high school at the height of the Vietnam War, he had to embark on a 9-year career in the Navy, which included obtaining a B.A. degree in history from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Having finished his military service by 1978, John was then free to pursue the career that he had been longing for -- farming.
He set his sights to develop that career methodically. By 1980, he had earned a B.S. degree in Vegetable Science from California Polytechnic Institute, then worked on a farm to gain some experience before beginning a farming partnership in 1981. By 1985, John was ready to go out on his own. He leased 88 acres of land in San Benito County between Hollister and Gilroy and established his High Standard Farm. Since then, he's been working 18-hour days and loving every minute of it. His wife, Laura, and the older of their 7 children pitch in to help with some of the farming chores as well.
|At the Market
John spends most of his time on the farm. So most often you'll see Frank running the High Standard stand at San Francisco's Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market. Because High Standard specializes in leafy, cool-weather crops, you'll find Frank standing behind boxes of lettuce and salad mix at the Ferry Plaza Market year round. High Standard sells about 50% of its produce to wholesalers and about 50% at 4 - 5 farmers' markets throughout the Bay Area.
Converting to Organic
John claims that he was the first farmer at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Market to offer several varieties of pre-washed, pre-mixed salad greens and that other growers quickly followed his lead. He considers the pre-washed, pre-mixed salad greens his specialty. Year round, you'll be able to find 8 varieties of salad mixes and more than 15 varieties of head lettuce at his stand. While lettuce is one of the main attractions, you'll also find a grocery-store selection of other vegetables, including mustard greens, pepper cress, red and yellow beets, cauliflower, leeks, baby spinach, baby artichokes and carrots, etc. If you're in a hurry or do not want to make the rounds to all of the other stands at the Market, it's possible to do one-stop shopping here.
A Well-Kept Secret
High Standard is the only stand at the Market that offers beautiful palm-sized heads of limestone lettuce, generally available year-round. The heads are so small and delicate, they can be used as a one-person serving. (We serve them as a first course, with a salad of white corn, smoked chicken and fava beans tucked in between the leaves). If your weekend menu or dinner party depends on getting limestone lettuce, be sure to get to the High Standard stand early in the morning. Customers are catching on to this well-kept secret and I've found that they're selling out fast.
A Cooking Farmer
John is as enthusiastic about cooking as he is about farming and he's brimming with recipes that he's developed using the produce he grows. He attributes his culinary interest not only to the fresh produce that he has readily available at his doorstep, but also to his great grandfather who was a professional chef at the White House for Teddy Roosevelt!
John has two favorite ways to serve his home-grown artichokes: John's Baby Artichoke and Mushroom Champagne Ragout and John's Artichoke Soup (recipe is coming soon; watch for it here).
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John's Baby Artichoke and Mushroom Champagne Ragout
Serves a large group
The slow cooking of the mushrooms and artichokes in champagne intensifies their flavors while the sugar in the champagne adds a slight sweetness to the overall dish. This ragout can be used as a side dish or served over ½" wide pasta.