Three amigos

Terra Firma Farms stays in season with winter squash

Squish, squash, she was doing the mosh! Culinary expert Julie Cross was a punk rocker before she joined the Davis Food Co-op and turned hippie.

Squish, squash, she was doing the mosh! Culinary expert Julie Cross was a punk rocker before she joined the Davis Food Co-op and turned hippie.

Photo By E. Bija Young

Julie Cross directs the sampling, cooking and wine-tasting classes at the Davis Food Co-op.
For more information on Terra Firma Farms, please go to

Some things we have in great abundance in the Sacramento foodshed: sunshine, dirt and, fortunately, small farmers.

Why “fortunately” small farmers? Because they’re a vanishing species, and we’re lucky to have so many still operating in our area. Agribusiness, while it may be terribly efficient, is not our friend. Agribusiness will not cut a slice out of a locally grown apple so you can see if you like it, or choose the best melon for you, or pick beets a little early and bring them to the farmers’ market because you were asking about them. Agribusiness will not go dancing with you.

But Paul Homes, Paul Underhill and Hector Melendez of Terra Firma Farms might, if you hit them at just the right time. Usually they’re busy, of course, being one of the most productive farms in our area—productive enough to supply both the Davis and Sacramento food co-ops with a large percentage of their produce, not to mention more than 1,400 weekly community-supported agriculture box subscribers.

Pablote, Pablito and Hector represent a new kind of family farm, one that supports a large community of workers—about 45 people, many of whom have been with the farm for years—and a vast community of eaters, many of whom have also been with the farm for years. They’re also our friends and neighbors. On a Davis Food Co-op tour recently, a small boy asked me if we sell produce from Terra Firma. I assured him that we did. “That’s my dad,” he said, face full of pride.

Contrast that with agribusiness. To quote Underhill, “Most food in America is anonymous. It comes from a far away field, grown and harvested by faceless farmers and workers, in California, Mexico, or maybe Chile.”

Terra Firma is a year-round CSA, which means that they have to figure out how to fill boxes during the dark, cold winter months. One of the solutions is winter squash, which was harvested and stored in late September. Terra Firma grows delicata and butternut, but most winter squash can be used interchangeably.

In all cases, look for firm, heavy squash. Soft spots are to be avoided. Cut squash in half with great care, using a sharp, heavy knife, and scrape out the seeds. If you’re using squash in a purée, it’s most delicious baked. Simply put it cut side down on a cookie sheet in a 350-degree oven and bake until tender and slightly collapsed, usually about one hour. Figure a cup of purée per pound of squash.

For immediate gratification, winter squash can also be peeled, cubed and steamed until tender. Tossing the just-tender cubes with brown butter and fresh herbs—parsley for kids, sage for grownups—makes a phenomenal side dish.

For a quick and delicious dinner, use your puréed squash to top a shepherd’s pie. You can use leftover vegetables from earlier in the week for filling, or even good-quality frozen vegetables.

Winter Squash Shepherd’s Pie
serves 4

2 cups pureed winter squash
2 tablespoons cream
1 pound sausage or substitute
3 cups chopped cooked vegetables
1 onion, diced
1 cup broth
salt to taste

Stir cream into squash. Cook sausage and set aside. In the same pan, sauté onion until barely tender and add vegetables, broth and salt to taste. Pour into casserole and add sausage. Spread mashed squash over top. Bake in a 350-degree oven until hot through and topping is lightly browned, about 20 minutes.