Dan Gannon goes about his work as a farmer as if his feet are planted firmly in the 19th century.
On his small plot in West Sacramento, goats and chickens roam the property; they're the ones that fertilize the organic crops.
Gannon, 33, has no tractor and no mechanized equipment of any kind on the half-acre he named Humble Roots Farm.
"It's part of what I try to do, mimicking natural cycles that are already in place so that I don't have to do a lot of the work," he said. "Nature is a much more reliable system than I am as a manager, so a lot of my work is observing how things work in nature and conforming my system to fit into that."
While many of his methods might seem like a progressive take on old-fashioned farming, Gannon is very 21st century about selling what he grows and harvests. He may not be into heavy machinery, but he and other young farmers know how to make good use of their computers.
Gannon has just launched an innovative website, anewfarm.com, which will serve as an online farm stand. He and other farmers will post what fruit, vegetables, meat and other items they have available. Consumers will soon be able to go online and order during a 24-hour window starting at noon Mondays. (That feature, Gannon said, should be up and running next week.)
What's the big deal? This kind of cooperative farming just might help new farmers thrive by extending their reach, increasing their visibility and enabling them to tell their story to more potential consumers.
"It's the only place where you know your food purchase is making a difference in helping a new farmer make a living," said Gannon, who is growing a variety of row crops, including lettuce, chard, mustard greens, kale, potatoes, onions, peppers and garlic.
On the website, each participating farmer lists what's available that week, complete with pricing and other details. Each farm decides how much detail it wants to provide about the food, the way it's grown, etc.
Consumers zero in on what they want and pay in advance with a credit card or food stamps. The farms deliver the food to a pickup site Thursday mornings.
Gannon already has community supported agriculture boxes in two sizes available at Humble Roots Farm and the farm has an iPhone app for ordering them. He also sells at the farmers market in West Sacramento and supplies a limited number of restaurants, including the highly regarded Eatery, not far from Humble Roots.
To succeed as a farmer, Gannon, who has a degree in agricultural ecology from UC Berkeley, knows he has to grow flavorful produce and be true to his values. But he also has to dream up new ways of doing business.
"I'm inspired by Dan's constant ability to innovate," said Molly Nakahara, 33, who operates the 45-acre Dinner Bell Farm in Grass Valley with partner Paul Glowaski. "I think that's a crucial component of surviving as a small food producer. He has idea after idea and is making it happen. The website will help us have a direct retail outlet with Sacramento."
Part of the challenge facing small farms is simply telling the story about how their food, especially heirloom vegetable varietals and heritage livestock breeds, has superior flavor to much of what is found in standard grocery stores. Dinner Bell, for instance, has a variety of fruits and vegetables, and specializes in hot and sweet peppers. But it also raises chickens, pigs and ducks.
Asked how her chickens taste compared to commodity chickens confined with cages, Nakahara said, "It's apples and oranges. You can't even compare. The chickens that we raise, partly due to their heritage genetics and because of where they live they're out eating an array of grasses and bugs and leaves, so their flavor is amazing."
Those chickens are the kind of things the farm will be able to list on the website when they're ready for market. Fully dressed and packed in a freezer-safe bag, a medium-sized chicken (3 to 4 pounds) will likely sell for around $22; a large chicken (4 to 5 pounds) for about $27.
"Along with redefining the American farmer, we're also redefining the way the American eater accesses food," Nakahara said. "The name of the game is diversity. The more options the better, because we're all trying to find our niche."
Anewfarm.com is expected to start with about a dozen small farmers, mostly from Yolo County. Among them is George House, 27, who runs 40-acre Csarda Haz Farms in Davis. Best known for its organic walnuts, which are already sold through brokers, the farm also raises Mangalista pigs, highly coveted by foodies and chefs alike for their impressive flavor and fat content.
"I like Dan's approach with the website. It's really just me running the ranch, so I don't have time to really market," House said. The best way to sell his pork, he said, is to educate consumers about the breed and the way he raises the pigs.
"You can totally taste the difference," said House, whose mother is a veterinarian and father is an ecologist. "The meat almost looks like beef because they're pasture-raised and they can run around. The meat is actually red because it's oxidized. The only reason pork is white meat is because the pig is not pasture-raised."
Radishes are plentiful, but short-lived. Enjoy them for a little longer with these simple preserves.
You may also have garlic growing from last fall, waiting for summer harvest. Pinch a few of the green tips to give you a taste of what you're waiting for so patiently.
A great lettuce that will grow through the winter to give freely of itself in the spring is Rouge D'Hiver, which fittingly translates to Red Winter.
With these three garden gifts, a few fresh herbs if you have them, a little bread and a meagerly stocked pantry you can enjoy a spring meal fit for a farmer.
Here are some basic farm-tested recipes for spring, courtesy of Dan Gannon.
1 bunch white icicle radish
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed black peppercorn
Bring vinegar, water, salt and sugar to a boil until dissolved. Meanwhile, cut tops from radish and slice thickly, roughly 1/4 inch. Once salt and sugar are dissolved, remove liquid from heat and add black pepper. Pack radish into clean pint jar. Pour liquid into jar to submerge radish.
Cover and let cool. Refrigerate. Ready to eat in 24 hours. Keeps in fridge for one month.
Radish compound butter
Makes 3 half pints
2-3 bunches radish
1 1/2 cup room temperature salted butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
1 tablespoon finely sliced fresh green garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh fennel leaf
1 fresh cracked black peppercorn
Purée radish in a food processor (or mash with mortar and pestle if you're more traditional). Add butter and herbs until combined. Add black pepper to taste. Store in half-pint jars. Keep in fridge.
Simple spring salad
4-5 leaves Rouge D'Hiver lettuce
5-10 toasted walnuts
One part liquid from pickled radish
One part olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon finely sliced green garlic
Combine dressing ingredients in a jar with tight-fitting lid and shake until well mixed. Tear lettuce leaves and top with toasted walnuts. Pour dressing on. Garnish with pickled radish. Serve with toasted bread and radish butter.
Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.