I have joined a group of authors writing collectively about the Eat Local Challenge. You can find my first post here. If you are participating in the challenge, come and stick a pin in this Platial Eat Local Challenge map. (You can zoom in and be as specific as you choose. I stuck my pin in the heart of the village where I live.)
I tell people I live in Eden. As in, "The Garden of Eden," where "garden" in fact means "more organic/sustainable farms than any county in California," and probably the entire country. With roughly a third the acreage and population of Fresno, Santa Cruz County has 30% more organic farms.
It has become my life's work to visit, photograph, and write about these places—not just here, but wherever I travel in the world. Travel itself has taken on a new meaning: I'm not interested in going somewhere unless I can squeeze in a visit to a farm or a farmers market. Last year, I visited New York City, but only briefly. It was more enjoyable to me to stay in northern New Jersey, and drive through the beautiful countryside there, en route to Bobolink Dairy and other agricultural sites.
Bob and I had intended to travel over the weekend, escaping town for my birthday yesterday. But a surprise phone call from Katy, with the Outstanding in the Field farm dinners, convinced me to stick around: they were throwing an appreciation dinner for staff and other supporters of the farm dinners, and the dinner was to be held on my birthday. Whee!
The location of the dinner was a farm I'd photographed before: the northernmost Route One Farms site, inland from Big Basin State Park and Waddell Creek. We paused by the ocean to watch the parasailers do their thing in the brisk wind off the coast. Then we drove into the park, and through the gates to find a few people already gathered under a huge and beautiful oak tree, sipping wine and basking in the perfect weather.
After a while, we were given a tour by the lovely Willow, who works at Route One. A native Alaskan, Willow had interesting things to say about the Eat Local Challenge herself: she'd grown up near the Arctic Circle and was well-acquainted with a diet of sea mammals. She said for half the year, people in that region live on a diet that is about 80% meat, and that she herself has a very different emotional response to sea mammals than most people in the 48 contiguous United States. That led to a discussion of farming in Alaska in general: she knew the farmers from Fairbanks whom I'd met at the Eco-Farm conference in January. (Fairbanks is a great place to farm, apparently: they have over 200 people on waiting lists for the CSAs there.)
Non-staff attendees included Ron Garthwaite and Collette Cassidy from Claravale Dairy, chefs Justin Severino (my guest) and Brenda Ruiz (a long-time devotee of the dinners, Brenda even traveled to New York to eat at Blue Hill Stone Barns in October, 2003). There was also a winemaker new to me: Richard Alfaro, who approached me to ask which local wines I'd be buying for the Eat Local Challenge. I admitted I was going to exempt wine, as there is a wine from Washington state that I get at Trader Joe's for much less than most of the local wines around here. He said he's making affordable wines, and invited me to visit them out in Corralitos. Deal!
Richard Alfaro has been a personal hero of Bob's and mine for years. Why? He made bread. He made our favorite bread, bread that was so inventive. Sun-dried tomato with garlic cloves. Four-seed sourdough. Baguettes. Everything: 27 kinds of bread and rolls. He is a good citizen in the community, donating generously to all kinds of causes. We'd never met him before, and shaking his hand was a privilege. Also, the enthusiasm that lights his face is such a welcome relief to the winemakers suffering from ennui and fame.
A few years ago, he sold the business to Sara Lee, and is now making wines—making good wines—in Corralitos. See that hair? It's a charity project, too: he has eight more months to grow it before he shears the whole thing off and donates it to Locks of Love, which is an organization making wigs for cancer patients who've lost their hair to chemotherapy. He said his wife has grown to love it, and doesn't want him to cut it: I'm with her.
Logan had a splendid time with so many people to interact with, and he found a most wonderful playmate in Little Miss Bella, who is the daughter of Jane and J.P. Freeman, who grow dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes at their Corralitos Farm. (Can you detect a road trip soon?) Bella is now five and a half, and lost her very first tooth shortly after dessert was served. And when I say "lost," I mean it. It fell into the straw under the table, in the dark. When she was wiggling it, I told her, "If you swallow that tooth, the Tooth Fairy will have to leave a quarter in your underpants." Bella's the best. She and Logan ran and ran and ran, and one time she let him tag her.
The dinner table was situated in a plum orchard, still in flower, and about thirty of us sat down together. Between the rows of grey trees, brilliant California poppies dotted the mustard grass and weeds. It was April at its best, truly.
The food was all local, of course: English peas and ricotta on baguettes from Gayle's Bakery, grilled artichokes and romaine lettuce with a vinaigrette, and a black cod dish. Wine flowed very freely, or I'd have more to write about those dishes. Dessert was one of the best strawberry concoctions I've ever had: simply daubed with whipped cream and sprinkled with candied Meyer lemon peels.
It was a very happy birthday, and I'm still swimming in the good feelings.
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News from here: the newly redesigned website for the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Market is live now, with links to all four locations, as well as a linked list of producers/growers/purveyors of each market, by location and category. So you'll know what you can get. There is going to be a "Shop with the Chef" series starting this month, and two of the chefs are Justin Severino and Rebecca King. Justin's opening a new place in Sand City that I will be featuring on my blog soon: he's all about sourcing local and sustainable food for his menu. Real food, not fancy food. In Justin's refreshing words: "I am so over fine dining."
Speaking of real food, farmer Eliot Coleman offers up the word "authentic" as a replacement for organic, and I think he's onto something. He says it's "beyond organic," and his standards have much to do with being aware of one's local foodshed. (That is Eliot at left, with his wife, Barbara Damrosch, at the farm dinner at Blue Hill Stone Barns in 2003.) He also says: "The word 'authentic' derives from the Greek authentes: one who does things for him or herself." I like that very much. Authentic food. Watch it catch on.
Thought for the day: “Authentic values are those by which a life can be lived, which can form a people that produces great deeds and thoughts.”
— Allan Bloom
Remember: this month, challenge yourselves to Eat Local. Celebrate your foodshed: be a Locavore!
Thanks for visiting.