Will Cramer knew when he was a student at East Chapel Hill High School that a typical career path was not for him.
The ideological teenager didn’t want a job that contributed to what he saw as an environmentally destructive, consumer-driven culture. Luckily, he found himself the summer before his senior year working on a farm. He loved working outside and watching things grow.
“For the first time in my life, I was having a connection to where food was coming from,” recalled Cramer, now 28. “It was eye-opening.”
Over the next few years, Cramer took sustainable agriculture classes at Central Carolina Community College and in 2008 became an apprentice at Orange County’s W.C. Breeze Farm, a farmer training program. Eventually Cramer connected with Sam Hummel, who owned a house and some land near Hillsborough but needed a partner with farming experience to help start a farm.
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The pair started Ever Laughter Farm in 2009. Hummel is no longer involved in the farm. Cramer’s partner, Tracey Slaughter, 28, works alongside him now. She was a student at the University of North Carolina’s School of Public Health when she met Cramer at the Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market.
Then Cramer and his family bought 17 acres of land about 8 miles away from the original farm, so the couple has about 4 acres in cultivation between the two properties. “It works well to have some isolation for crops and have the rotation,” Cramer explained. That way, if something wipes out a tomato crop at one property, they may still have a healthy tomato crop at the other.
The couple grows mostly vegetables, herbs and cut flowers. They sell weekly shares of produce to consumers as well as at two nearby farmers markets and have sold to restaurants such as Geer Street Garden and The Boot, both in Durham, and Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe in Chapel Hill.
Frisee, which they are harvesting now, is an easy crop for home gardeners, although it is best planted in the fall. It requires some space to grow because what is harvested are the interior tender leaves. Cramer and Slaughter shared a customer’s recipes for a frisee salad with fried eggs.
Ever Laughter Farm sells at two markets:
▪ Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market, 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays in March; 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays, April-December; 3-6 p.m. Tuesdays, May-November.
▪ Durham Farmers’ Market, 10 a.m.-noon Saturdays in March; 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays, April-December; 3:30-6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, April-September.
CSA: Shoppers can also sign up for the farm’s weekly community-supported agriculture box from May to September. A small share cost $330 and a large share costs $550. Pickup is 3-6 p.m. Tuesdays at Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market or at the farm, 2921 Open Lane, Hillsborough. To sign up, go to everlaughterfarm.com/2016-csa/.
Frisee with Bacon and Fried Eggs
Traditional Frisee aux Lardons is made with poached eggs, but this version uses fried eggs. The goal is to have the shallots and eggs ready about the same time. If the shallots are ready before the eggs, go ahead and heat the dressing and pour over salad while the eggs finish cooking. From Susan Whitney, an Ever Laughter Farm customer at the Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market.
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup good-quality red wine vinegar
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 large garlic clove, flattened with knife
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1 bag frisee, about 8 to 10 ounces
1/2 small red onion, diced
1/2 avocado, diced
1/2 pound thick-cut bacon
1 large shallot, minced
2 tablespoons butter
Garlic-Parmesan croutons (homemade or purchased)
Make dressing: Add Dijon mustard, vinegar, thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper and garlic clove to a screw-top jar. Shake to blend. Add olive oil and adjust seasoning if desired. Shake again. Dressing should be a little tart with a fairly loose consistency.
In the meantime, divide frisee into 2 or 4 portions on plates. Sprinkle red onion and avocado over greens.
Heat a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Chop bacon into 1-inch chunks and add to skillet. Render slowly to thoroughly cook but avoid extra crispy results. Remove bacon from pan, drain on paper towels and sprinkle over greens. Reserve about 1 tablespoon bacon fat in pan.
Return pan with bacon drippings to medium-low heat. Add chopped shallots and cook slowly until soft, about 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat butter over medium heat in a large skillet until foam subsides. Cook eggs sunny-side up slowly to desired doneness.
Just before eggs are done, turn heat up to high under shallots and pour about 1/2 cup dressing, stir and pour immediately over greens on plate, scraping the pan with a spatula. Top with fried eggs and sprinkle with croutons. Add extra dressing if desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Yield: 2 generous entrées or 3-4 appetizers.