The Schmitt-Bates-Skupny Family Portrait

Back in August, I was in Philo, CA for a brief retreat. During that time, I took the opportunity to visit the Apple Farm and take some portrait for the Culinaria project. The original idea was to photograph Tim and Karen Bates who own and operate the farm. I went to meet them and scout the location the day before the proposed shoot day. During the visit, they introduced me to their daughter Rita and her husband Jerzy Skupny who both work at the farm. Then I met Karen's dad Don eating a peach outside the kitchen door. Don and his wife Sally are culinary royalty. They are the founders of The French Laundry and before that, The Chutney Kitchen, putting the little town of Yountville on the culinary map. I floated the idea of doing a family portrait to Karen and Tim and soon the shoot grew from one couple to three couples spanning three generations.

The more people in a photo, the richer the narrative due to the multiple stories embodied by the subjects. This single family portrait touches on many different issues Culinaria explores.

Sally and Don Schmitt embody the California Cuisine revolution. They did the locally sourced, farm-to-table thing before the term got coined. They strongly advocated the California wines being grown by their friends before California wines were taken seriously. Sally's prix fixe dinners announced the idea of the chef as a creative being rather than a service provider. Their daughter Karen and her husband Tim Bates have run the Apple Farm since the Schmitt Family purchased it in 1984. They can tell you stories about the romance of going back to the land to grow some 1700 trees of apples but they can also tell you tales of the hard, uncertain life that is part of every farmer's experience. In the Bates, you also have the story of the ecological awareness of their generation as they converted their farm to organic standards then later to biodynamic certifications. Their daughter Rita and her husband Jerzy Skupny will be the next generation to run the farm. Today, many small family farms are in danger of disappearing as the farmers near retirement age and their children largely lack interest in continuing. Tim and Karen have avoided that fate as Rita and Jerzy have expressed interest in continuing the Schmitt-Bates legacy at the Apple Farm.

There are many more in the Schmitt family of course, including a florist daughter, a hotelier/restaurateur son, an award winning chef grandson, a rancher grandaughter, and many more, including a circus stiltwalker. But that's another story and perhaps another family photo for the future.