EDIBLE INNOVATORS STILL FARMING Organic vegetables and “the world’s second oldest profession” go hand in hand on Whiskey Hill BY DEBORAH LUHRMAN PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHELLE MAGDALENA Rowdy cantinas and brothels once lined the stretch of road now called Freedom Boulevard, just outside Watsonville. Gambling, girls and lots of drinking went on there in the 1800s, earning it the name Whiskey Hill—at least until law-and-order types decided a different name might help change the area’s unsavory character. But residents rejected efforts to be tamed and chose the name Freedom, as in freedom to party on. Up on the ridge towards the ocean, stills were hidden in the forest and used to make whiskey and aguardiente for the saloons below. ey were shut down during Prohibition, but now the stills are back as part of a multi-faceted project to sell distillation equipment around the world and grow local organic produce for Monterey Bay area markets. Aptly enough, the operation is called Whiskey Hill Farms. e 14-acre property on Calabasas Road includes five acres of glass greenhouses which once grew roses for Kato Cut Flowers. Renowned alternative fuel activist David 32 edible MONTEREY BAY WINTER 2016 author and organic agriculture consultant for the USDA around the world. Now 60, he has no shortage of provocative opinions and he is brimming with several lifetimes’ worth of ideas for the farm. “My background is in ecology, which is a science. Environmentalism is a religion, and ecology is a science. It’s a good place to come from to be a farmer,” he says. His interest in alternative fuels began at San Francisco State University, when a professor challenged him by saying he could run a car on home-brewed beer. “I went to the library thinking that gasoline was the only fuel in the world and found an enormous stack of books from right after Prohibition about how to use alcohol as fuel, mostly written by contractors for the USDA. I was shocked!” he recalls. en when the oil crisis hit in the 1970s he began making alcohol fuel, also known as ethanol, on a small scale and taught 7,000 other people how to do it. Blume and his partner Jannet Schraer bought the place in 2014 and have spent the past two years working to get both businesses up and running. What was once a giant packing shed now houses fermentation tanks and 12-foothigh distillation towers where Blume has been practicing what he calls “mankind’s second oldest profession”—making alcohol. e objective is to manufacture and sell distillation equipment that converts food wastes into alcohol, which can then be used for dozens of purposes from fuel to vodka. Inside the hothouses, the couple is growing tropical crops like ginger and turmeric, alongside out-of-season produce such as melons and cucumbers—using ingenious low-tech methods that include using water heated in a giant compost pile to keep their plants warm. ALCOHOL AS FUEL Part mad scientist and part folksy farmer, David Blume has been a teacher, TV host, continued on p. 36 Whiskey Hill reclaimed: page 33, David Blume and partner Jannet Shraer and their turmeric tonic; pages 34–35, clockwise from top right, Blume with one of his stills; the view from Whiskey Hill Farms; Blume’s demonstration of the cleaner-burning nature of alcohol, on left, as compared to gasoline; cattails, which produce 20 times the biofuel per acre as corn; Blume’s tropical crops; center, from left, ginger, turmeric and galangal.
edible Monterey Bay Winter 2016
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