"If you hear the sound of pigs squealing in the background, don't pay any attention to it," laughs Such and Such Farm's Autumn Sij. These days, her life is filled with animal sounds: the clucks of her chickens, the bleats of her goats, the gobble gobble of her turkey named Jive.
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Sij's life as half of the husband-and-wife farming team behind Such and Such Farm is about as unlikely as it gets. After hopping majors in college (English, journalism, art administration), Sij took a job working for ALIVE magazine as a fashion writer, dabbled in burlesque and worked at a hair salon.
Her decidedly urban life took a turn for the rural when she met her husband, Dave Blum, at a south-city dive bar. Blum worked as part of the Cassily Crew at the City Museum, but he was itching to go out on his own and buy some property. He asked her to join him on this adventure. It was a hard sell. "He was totally into it. Me -- not so much," recalls Sij. "I'm a city girl. I loved living downtown. The idea of us having a farm -- neither of us had grown so much as a house plant."
That was 2011. Now, a mere two seasons in, Sij has become a seasoned farmer, her produce and livestock showing up on some of St. Louis' hottest menus. She took a break from wrangling her 26 heritage piglets to share her thoughts on the local dining scene, her overweight baby Lucy, and her choice words for Cheez Whiz.
What is one thing people don't know about you that you wish they did? Whenever someone asks which livestock animal is my favorite, I always say that I can't possibly choose one. I love them all equally. But real talk: My favorite is my mini-Nubian goat named Lucy Ricardo-Ball, a.k.a. Lucy Magoo, a.k.a. Lucy Goosey, a.k.a. my Little Lucy Girl. She's my first bottle baby that I ever raised. And she's so overweight because I love her too much.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? My morning chores are probably my favorite part of my day. Fill up the wood boiler with wood, water plants in greenhouse, feed and water the chickens, goats, then pigs. All with coffee pot in hand. And I do mean coffee pot.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I would like all of the Jedi powers, please. Including evil lightning. Thank you.
What is the most positive trend in food, wine or cocktails that you've noticed in St. Louis over the past year? Of course I love that more restaurants are sourcing locally. Not just produce but meat, dairy products and specialized artisanal products. But more than just that, I'm really enjoying the move to more "accessible" food done exceptionally well. Give me specially made fried chicken with housemade hot sauce from local peppers over frogs legs and truffle oil any day.
Who is your St. Louis food crush? Mike Emerson at Pappy's Smokehouse. We met him at Slow Food's Art of Food. I feel like we're kindred pork spirits. But my St. Louis farming crush is Paul Krautman of Bellows Creek Farm. If St. Louis farmers were the Wu-Tang Clan, Paul would be GZA, the Genius. (I'd like to think that we would be Method Man.)
Who's the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene? Josh "Mother Fucking" Poletti (the Libertine) -- he's one of the most passionate and talented people that I have ever met. And I can't wait to see what Ryan "Get-R-Done" McDonald does at Truffles/The Butchery; the dude is wicked smart. And Derek "D- Money" Roe (Dressel's Pub) is always pushing himself and has a great knowledge of farming/agriculture that is becoming an increasingly imperative skill set to have in the kitchen.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? I don't know...small trace amounts of dirt? What's the most sarcastic food?
If someone asked you to describe the current state of St. Louis' culinary climate, what would you say? Super friendly, extremely talented and very badass. . Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. Cheez Whiz. Fuck you, Cheez Whiz!
What is your after-work hangout? After work? There's no such thing as "after work" when you live/work on a farm. But I do like to hangout at this new club -- Club Night-Night Time with DJ Netflix. But when we get a chance to go to the city and unwind, we usually meet up with friends at the Cabin Inn at the City Museum or at Hair of the Dog.
What's your food or beverage guilty pleasure? I eat marshmallow fluff straight from the jar. Without using a spoon. And dehydrated seaweed chips. It's like eating spicy air.
What would be your last meal on earth? Any Jewish/Eastern European food. Latkes, gefilte fish with the pink stuff, matzo-ball soup, a good pastrami on rye, liver and onions with schmaltz on rye bread, my mother-in-law's kugel, all that good stuff. If there was one restaurant I would go to right before I kick the bucket, it would be Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse on the Lower East Side in New York. It's this great little basement place that serves huge portions of traditional Jewish/Eastern European food and also entire bottles of Ketel One vodka frozen inside blocks of ice. And there's an awesome live -- and very cheesy -- DJ. We danced to "Hava Nagila" with some old Jewish grandmas between servings of sweetbreads and garlic sausage. I ate so much that I actually thought it was going to be my last meal.
Follow Cheryl Baehr on Twitter at @CherylABaehr. E-mail the author at [email protected].