Zena Farm: Willamette University’s 3,000-Square-Foot Kitchen Garden

The young farmers movement and interest in campus farms is blooming, and with them, inquiries about campus farms are steadily flowing to my inbox. This information is meant for sharing­ – for inspiration, ideas, and contacts. So here’s yet another amazing campus farm to know about: Zena Farm in Salem, OR.

Adjacent to Willamette University’s 300-acre Zena Forest, Zena Farm is a 3,000-square-foot “kitchen garden” that trials crop varieties for production, a half-acre production field that grows organic vegetables, plus a 1,600-square-foot greenhouse for season extension and growing starts. Students who belong to the Alternative Agriculture Community and Compost Club work at Zena, getting the opportunity to learn about organic, sustainable farming practices plus business management. (Check out the Zena Farm video.)

Zena Farm is just two years old, but Bon Appétit at Willamette University has already bought $2,000 worth of its produce – everything from lettuce to figs to broccoli. (Want to know Executive Chef Paul Lieggi’s favorite Zena Farm fig recipe? I’ve included it below.) Food at Goudy Commons Café couldn’t get more local or delicious than this!

Like other Bon Appétit café college campuses, our chefs at Willamette support Zena through a Community Supported Agriculture-type model, or other kind of upfront loan, as well as provide steady business throughout the growing season.

The more I visit campus farms, the more excited I become. Students, faculty, and staff are teaming up with dining services across the country to take local production into our hands and on our soil. Stay tuned for more campus farm highlights.

Chef Paul’s Drunk Fig Turnover Recipe For the filling:

  • 2 lemons
  • 4 pounds ripe fresh figs (preferably from Zena Farm)
  • 2 cups honey
  • 3/4 cup brandy
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Blanch figs in boiling water and cut into quarters. (This should make around nine cups.)

Combine lemon peel, figs, honey, brandy, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt in heavy large saucepan. Let it stand at room temperature for one hour, stirring occasionally.

Bring fig mixture to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the honey mixture coats everything. Reduce heat to medium and continue to simmer until figs are soft. Remove from heat and cool to 45°.

For the pate sucree dough:

  • 2 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter brought to room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups of confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs brought to room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Place butter in a heavy duty mixer bowl, fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high until smooth and creamy. Add confectioners’ sugar and beat on medium speed until blended. Add salt and vanilla and process until smooth, scraping down the bowl as necessary.

Lightly whip eggs with a fork until combined. With the mixer running, add the eggs to the bowl and mix on medium speed until combined. Add flour and beat on medium speed until all of the flour is incorporated and then stop. (You want to stop beating the dough as soon as the flour is incorporated).

Working on a lightly floured surface, gather the dough into a ball. Cut dough into three ounce pieces and shape into a flat disk. Wrap each disk in plastic. Place the dough in the refrigerator for at least four hours.

Rolling: An easy way to roll out the dough is between two pieces of plastic wrap. (This dough can be a bit tough to roll out because of the butter.) Place plastic wrap on a cool surface, such as marble or the counter top. Place dough in the middle of the plastic wrap and top with the second piece of plastic wrap. Roll out the dough, often turning it in quarters. Flipping so you can roll out the other side. Lift and check the plastic wrap to make sure you are not rolling it into the dough or wrinkling it. If the dough becomes too warm while rolling it, put it into the refrigerator for 10 minutes to cool.

When you’re finished rolling out the dough, remove one sheet of plastic and center the exposed side down over the tart pan. Remove the top sheet of plastic and press the dough into tart pan. Roll the rolling pin over the edge of tart pan to remove any excess dough. If the dough has splits or cracks, use the excess dough to patch it. (You can moisten the excess dough with a small amount of water to bring the dough back together). Let dough rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Fill each three-ounce dough ball with chilled drunk fig mixture. Fold dough over to the half moon shape and pinch the edges with your fingers. Place a slit on the top of each turnover and bake at 350° for about 20 minutes.