Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 January 2010 18:14 )
"How can we have a democracy if a huge percentage of the people whose daily task it is to put our food on the table don't even have the right to be here, to say nothing of voting?"
Andrew Griffin, who wrote that paragraph, is an organic farmer in Watsonville. He is the sort of fellow who can make us feel we would be better off not having him around to remind us of exactly how awesomely deceitful our society is, right down to the sentences blasting unbidden into your poor head while you read this.
Mr. Griffin is riffin' off of John Steinbeck, whose birth 100 years ago we marked last year. In "The Harvest Gypsies," Steinbeck said that "If our agriculture requires the creation and maintenance at any cost of a peon class, then it is submitted that California agriculture is economically unsound under a democracy."
Which means that our red-white-and-blue evolution has yet to catch up to what you got on the end of your fork. Yeah, and me too; I'm not drawing a pass, just because of past affiliations, grape boycotts, lingual dexterity, and more than a few shared meals. I hire a few hands off the parade down on the corner these days, once in awhile, but back in the days of Don Miguel it was me more alien in my own homeland than them here. They make peace somehow in this strange fiction of a republic while I feel on the lam from my own life. It's me that wants to go to Mexico, instead, and forever. Country? How about community? It was all them Flores and Hernandez people that laid the foundation bricks of the organic farming movement in California. I may have worn out the knees on my pants with them, but I did not hoe weeds under the waning light of the moon that often, except to savor the romance of it, nor without fail have five cases of lettuce picked before dawn. Our most profound spiritual experience was irrigating corn at midday. Now that those days are gone and irrecoverable their beauty can at least be measured by what replaces them.
Latino births are a majority now in California. Sort of provides additional permission for government to exempt methyl bromide once again. I mean, it's not like we got an endangered species on our hands. Why else would government suggest that we ignore science, and allow the continued use of such a dangerous threat to human health as well as a proven environmental contaminant that helps to carve a bigger hole in the ozone every year.
Maybe if we raised the issue of skin cancer for all the fair-haired Aussies instead we'd get a choke hold on methyl bromide [see story on page 9].
This past January, you noted Mexican farmers in Mexico City, trying to hack at NAFTA but their machetes wouldn't reach that far up. For them, it's all about corn and cooking oil. The big subsidized corn industry of the United States, newly unfettered by trade restrictions, will now crush the last life out of rural small farmers who grow the Mexican manna, corn for the tortilla, which is eaten like a sacrament there three times a day. Now the bitty towns will crumble and more men will trudge north to pick it and pack it and truck it and shrink wrap it and process it and truck it again. An endless supply of labor which keeps many of us working too cheap. I am not against immigration at all. What causes the invasion from the south flares my sense of indignation. Capital is shoving cultures around like past-due cartons of cottage cheese. Evil lies are masquerading as holy truths. The folks who claim that free-trade will create jobs are the same crooks who fire half the work force as soon as they make out with that nifty merger.
They tell me now that I have to go pick more collards. When something as simple as collards can rule my life, perhaps there is hope yet, and it's Miguel and Angel whose wisdom reigns, and not a miserable obligation to the growing gratification of the consumer.
Down at the big Natural Products EXPO in Anaheim in early March you are flat out not going to see or hear mention of Hernandez, et al. You'll get your genuflection, about as meaningful as giving the truck driver a can of coke, but talk is cheap, and paying the real price for food is too scary for mere merchandisers to contemplate. Imagine that all the sharpies hustling packages of farm-essence paid more than lip-service to the real work of getting raw product out of the ground. Don't derail me with your Fair Trade Coffee yada. How about Fair Trade Broccoli?
The EXPO is all about the package. Down here we are all about fresh. At weed level, the wild flavor of raw collards makes one believe that the sun is one big honeybee, the whole field tastes so sweet. The khaki-klad cognoscenti measure it as brix, dressing up that sugar-co-efficient with a fancy foreign word draped in science. But I don't need a machine to tell me those greens are going to be good.
You can see where we are splitting apart, once again, over food we expected to create as new, and yet I am nothing but naive for ever believing that money would not hunt us down and make us obey. And, more reasonably, however, measuring brix indeed does have benefits, not just in harvesting wine grapes but in figuring out if bugs will leave you and yours alone if your brix is just right.
Returning finally to collards, they are such a curious crop, don't you think? Usually appearing in the same breath with words like "corn-pone, chitlins and hominy," collards have become a bit of a fave for the culturally creative health seeker because their delivery on calcium, vitamin C and other key nutrients is paired with taste superior to kale. I used to grow collards and ship them, solely to Texas, because collards are a staple in the South. But now they are prized and confirmed in sentences featuring words like "immune-system, raw-food-enzymes, garlic and rice-wine-vinegar." We are glad that collards have grown popular within our tribe.
Steve Sprinkel grows fruits and vegetables in Ojai and co-owns The Farmer and The Cook with Olivia Chase. The store is located in Meiners Oaks, near Ojai, not far from the farm where the produce is grown.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 January 2010 18:07 )
From Farmers to Restaurants: A fine relationship
by Anne McMahon and Cheryl Price
In the global economy, keeping local dollars circulating in the local economy may seem elusive – if not nearly impossible – but we can keep more dollars here at home with every bite we take. Establishing a “local food system,” where food is purchased and consumed close to where it is produced, can reap dramatic benefits for a local economy, especially when local food is purchased in quantity by chefs, schools, and other institutions. (Local food systems provide numerous other benefits: for example, improved health, a reduction of childhood obesity, greater food security, and protection of the environment through encouraging sustainable and organic agricultural practices.)
One study found that if only 10% of California’s food expenditures were spent on food produced in California, the state’s farmers would reap almost $850 million in additional income, and approximately $1.38 billion would be injected into California’s overall economy. That report defines a local food system as “one that circulates, to the extent possible, dollars regionally between locally owned and operated food producers, manufacturers, retailers, restaurateurs, eaters and all other supporting businesses.” (See www.VividPicture.net. )
We all have to eat. So it’s not a matter of if you will spend money on food, but where you spend your food dollars – or, more to the point, where the food originated.
Fortunately, a rising cadre of Central Coast farmers and ranchers are exploring ways to sell their products closer to home. And the local food system concept is getting a lot of attention – in a growing body of formal research (see sidebar: Food Dollar Facts), as well as in informal conversations happening on farms and ranches, and in restaurant kitchens, school cafeterias, and boardrooms.
One of the first challenges to making the leap from talk to action is bringing those conversations – and farmers and ranchers and chefs and consumers and food service buyers – together. Face-to-face. Hundreds of successful local food system models in varying stages of evolution exist throughout the country. In California, there are more than a dozen organizations involved in various “buy local” campaigns, including Placer Grown, Capay Valley Grown, Marin Organic, and several regional “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaigns organized by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF).
A new organization, the Central Coast Ag Network (CCAN), recently kicked off its “Central Coast Grown” campaign to spearhead the creation of a local food system in San Luis Obispo County (www.centralcoastgrown.com). The event, which was attended by farmers, ranchers and chefs, was held at The Range – a new restaurant in Santa Margarita, owned by Jeff and Lindsey Jackson. Jeff, who has been a chef for many years, is just one example of the many chefs who want to feature fresh local food on their menu but have a hard time getting out of the kitchen to find local ingredients.
That’s why many local food system advocates have focused specifically on connecting farmers and ranchers with professional chefs. In Oregon, the Portland Chapter of the Chefs’ Collaborative and Ecotrust (www.ecotrust.org) sponsored an inaugural Farmer-Chef Connection conference in 2001, attracting 42 farmers and 26 food buyers. The annual event has been so successful that it now attracts more than 200 attendees. One of the highlights of that conference is “speed dating” – an orchestrated session with food buyers consecutively taking turns meeting one-on-one for several minutes with each farmer. From those short conversations, contacts are made, ideas are exchanged, and relationships are born.
While it’s a given that professional chefs worth their salt care about the quality of every ingredient that goes into every dish and meal they create, the idea of chefs actively seeking out ingredients specifically for where they come from is a relatively new phenomenon. With freshness so important to food quality, it’s not surprising that serious chefs are looking locally.
CCAN will be sponsoring events like the Portland model to facilitate easier communication, but for now it is up to individual farmers and ranchers and chefs to find each other.
While there are plenty of growers on the Central Coast – where we the rich soils and diverse microclimates mean farmers and ranchers are capable of producing an abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and meats year-round – their typical routine does not often bring them face-to-face with the chefs. So it has been far easier for chefs to purchase ingredients from a one-stop wholesale distributor who can deliver consistent products at any time of the year at a price that may be significantly cheaper than what a local farmer can offer.
“Chefs don’t need last-minute surprises. Dealing directly with the farmer is a huge commitment on the chef’s part,” says Kathleen de Chadenedes, a professional chef with more than 25 years of experience in the food and beverage industry. “The places where this is really working are places where chefs and farmers have been cultivating their relationships for 10-15 years.”
One local farmer who has been thinking about the idea of a local food system for many years in Bill Spencer, who with his wife Barbara, owns and operates Windrose Farm, an organic farm in rural Paso Robles (www.windrosefarm.org.) They grow a diversity of specialty fruits and vegetables, including heirloom tomatoes and potatoes, several varieties of dried beans, 40 varieties of apples and other stone fruits and more. Ironically, while Spencer has long espoused his vision for a sustainable local food system in San Luis Obispo County, most of his products are sold in Southern California to high-end restaurants and at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market.
Spencer sells to some local restaurants, and when he arrived in his delivery truck at The Range restaurant for the CCAN event, Jackson saw what Spencer had to offer and became another local customer.
Spencer believes that if only more people shared his vision, the time could come when a significant portion of the food grown in San Luis Obispo County – and at Windrose Farm – would also be consumed in the county, but he understands better than most the very real and practical barriers to that vision.
“Many small local farmers now operate cash-and-carry operations, that’s why they love selling at farmers’ markets. When they sell directly to a restaurant, they often are not dealing with the owner, but with the chef or the sous chef – someone who can’t write them a check right on the spot,” explains Spencer. “Many farmers also don’t really speak the language. They are not foodies and some are really not very good cooks themselves. The willingness of a farmer to grow things that chefs really want may not be there. Many farmers are just not willing to add that kind of complexity to their businesses.”
Cheryl Price, owner of Earth to Table, is an exception – in fact, she has sought out exactly that kind of complexity. Price, who farms four acres in Arroyo Grande, can trace her passion for growing unique heirloom vegetables back to the time she spent growing heirloom watermelons with her grandfather when she was five years old. “Heirloom varieties have such pure flavors,” says Price. “They have deeper and richer colors and flavor. Growing them is really about quality rather than quantity.”
While Price is saddened that our culture today is so dependent on large agribusiness and chain supermarkets the food most Americans consume and has lost so many heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables, but she is too busy rediscovering some of those lost varieties to let it dampen her passion. Price, who calls herself a “chef’s gardener,” specializes in raising custom-grown specialty vegetables and herbs for customers who share her passion.
She has forged an almost-symbiotic relationship with Joe “Giuseppe” DiFranzo, owner of Palazzo Giuseppe in San Luis Obispo and Giuseppe’s Cucina Italiana in Pismo Beach. DiFranzo offers Italian regional specialties that are inspired by the Pugliese region in Italy, and he uses local produce whenever possible. He frequents local farmers markets and also buys from the Cal Poly Organic Farm. Price said she began her relationship with DiFranzo when he told her he just couldn’t find parsley with the flavor he remembered from his childhood.
His philosophy and approach to cooking – though anchored to his Southern Italian roots – is grounded in Southern California, where he grew up eating and enjoying dishes that were created with fresh ingredients grown in his family’s garden. He notes that while their garden wasn’t thought of as “organic” – as that term had not yet become a household word – it was grown in harmony with nature and to compliment the circle of life. The specials he now features in both restaurants change daily so he can offer selections that include the freshest seasonal produce at its peak, and he especially enjoys introducing dishes created from ingredients that might not be familiar to his guests: “ingredients with more earthy flavor profiles.” Working with local growers like Price gives him the chance to connect local farms to local diners and to experiment with ingredients not available from wholesale distributors.
And Price has literally searched the world to help him do just that, trying to locate specialty crops from the Pugliese region so she could provide him with the ingredients to create the authentic regional dishes he has built his business on.
“I knew there were plenty of farmers growing traditional crops in this area,” says Price. “I’m a small grower, and I knew I couldn’t compete unless I found a niche for myself. My focus now is to grow unique ingredients that inspire creativity, and I feel privileged to be an extension of these exciting culinary talents.”
Price spent much of last year sending out letters to seed savers in Italy, and, after months of letters, got a response from a specialty grower who happens to live right down the road from where DiFranzo’s ancestors lived! The holy grail she and DiFranzo hope to find is a tiny purple artichoke his family grew and cooked with when he was a boy. Price is hopeful that the seeds she located from that grower and the plants that are now growing on her farm in Arroyo Grande, will produce the very artichoke DiFranzo remembers.
That’s some complexity – and commitment. “I will see no revenue for a long time,” says Price. “For the last couple of months I have been growing onions, harvesting them at different sizes and taking them in for Joe and his chef to try. We are looking for the perfect size and time to harvest. I want to become intimately involved with them to help them be successful.”
Another local chef who goes that extra mile to use local ingredients is Pandee Pearson, executive chef of Windows on the Water in Morro Bay. Her menus feature modern California cuisine, and dishes that work in harmony with the seasons. Pearson frequents local farmers’ markets. Armed with her wallet and accompanied by other Windows on the Water kitchen staff who help bring home the bounty, she imagines the dishes she will later prepare in the kitchen, inspired by whatever is fresh and in season at the market on any given day.
Farmer Spencer explains the stark contrast between the way chefs like Pearson and DiFranzo approach their work and the way most restaurants operate.
“Most restaurants feature the same menu 52 weeks a year, 365 days a year, but that has become passé for really high-end restaurants,” he says. “That approach is contrary to nature and contrary to a local sustainable food system. It is not unusual for restaurants where the chef has developed relationships with local farmers to have a highly variable menu that is printed that day, reflecting the efforts of a chef who is highly skilled and motivated to be among the best of the best.”
Even as chefs and farmers begin to establish the relationships that are the foundation of any local food system, educated consumers are another essential variable in that equation. Consumers who insist on having tomatoes on their salad in the dead of winter will need to be educated about the joys of eating seasonally. Eating dishes prepared with local, seasonal ingredients can often mean trying new ingredients and experiencing new tastes. It might mean enjoying a winter salad made with kale grown a few miles away, instead of a more typical salad made with imported produce that was picked several days ago and shipped from another country – or hemisphere.
Educating consumers about the many benefits of eating seasonal food and the “pleasures of the table” is central to the mission of Slow Food (www.slowfood.com), an international organization which has 80,000 members in more than 100 countries. Those members participate in the more than 800 local “convivial” groups – including one in San Luis Obispo County. Chef de Chadenedes is a co-leader of that group, and she also is on the CCAN Advisory Board.
“We are living in a cookie-cutter world of industrial food companies that can supply chefs with uniform, consistent, neatly boxed produce, says de Chadenedes. “Chefs and farmers need to learn each other’s craft to really understand the pitfalls the other faces. That understanding will be the thing that cements their relationship during rocky times. Local produce direct from the grower doesn’t typically come uniform, so kitchen staff has to be trained how to prepared it. That’s where a really committed chef comes in.”
As more chefs make that commitment and more consumers learn to appreciate the many benefits of eating and spending their food dollars on local-grown, our own local food system will begin to take shape – and the local economy will thrive.
Anne McMahon is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Margarita, California. She is on the founding board of the Central Coast Ag Network (CCAN), and she believes family farmers and ranchers on the Central Coast are the purveyors not only of food, but also of clean air, clean water, and our quality of life.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 January 2010 18:09 )
The latest report of the Dalidio Farm is that the SLO City Council voted 3-2 against acceptance of the EIR Report. The Dalidios will now move their development plans to the County for possible approval. Meanwhile an organization calling itself Friends of the Farm has formed with the goal of preserving the 160 acres of prime farmland between Highway 101 and Madonna Road in San Luis Obispo. The following is their press release.Friends of the Farm will be an activist organization promoting preservation of this world-class farmland with its adjacent habitat areas, which are home to threatened and endangered species as well as other species of interest.
Once Friends has rallied sufficient public opinion behind the preservation idea, it intends to partner with experienced land conservation organizations and enter into negotiations to reach a conservation arrangement with the land's owners. Ultimate preservation could take many forms, up to and including purchase of development rights or outright purchase of the land.
This stunningly beautiful and bountiful farmland is the first view travelers from the south have as they approach central San Luis Obispo. This open expanse of land, with its working agricultural operation, is a characteristic defining feature of San Luis Obispo's distinctive image. This image makes our city uniquely different from mall-lined freeway approaches to cities north and south along Highway 101.
An agricultural image for our region, as contrasted with commercial sprawl, is one of the things that makes San Luis Obispo attractive to residents and tourists alike.
"The preservation of this land is doable! Even at this late date," says Friends of the Farm spokesperson Richard Schmidt. "Other high-profile local land conservation projects also began with desperate fights against developers' plans for their property and ended with conservation success. Because property owners ultimately realized conservation was a great deal for their own pocketbooks, today we have local success stories like the East-West Ranch in Cambria and the Cayucos Bluffs. We want to add the Dalidio Farm to this list of successful projects.
Friends of the Farm believes this preservation project is one of the greatest challenges we face as San Luis Obsipo continues to grow. "What will be our legacy to future generations?" asks Schmidt. "Will it be commercial sprawl, built to satisfy the perceived needs of a passing moment in human history? Or will it be to preserve this incredible natural gift - fantastically rich soil in a rich growing climate that can provide food for people, a home for wild creatures, and green vistas that enrich the human spirit?" Background Information on the Resources of this LandThe 160 acres between Highway 101 and Madonna Road are asset-rich in ways many citizens may not realize. Here is a preliminary inventory of the land's assets:
1. Prime Soil - the best farm soil in the world for growing crops. (Source: US Soil Conservation Service ag soils maps for Coastal SLO County.)
2. A 12-month growing climate, which makes these fine soils among the most productive in the world.
3. Abundant underground water supply.
4. Marvelous riparian habitat along Prefumo Creek, providing a home for riparian species of plants and animals, including threatened and endangered species.
5. Readily restorable riparian habitat along a secondary stream.
6. Nesting areas for blue herons and hawks, a rare resource within an urban place.
7. A buzzard roost.
8. A Monarch butterfly roost. Development is contributing to the decline of this beautiful and once-plentiful species through removal or degradation of its winter roosting areas.
9. Restorable habitat areas to increase habitat available for threatened and endangered species.
10. Historic ranch buildings
11. A viewshed of incredible importance to our community's character.
It is the goal of Friends of the Farm to preserve these resources - to pass them along intact to future generations.
Friends of the Farm is seeking comunity support at two levels at this time: level 1 being people willing to lend their name to our effort, level 2 being people willing to also lend their energy and time as volunteers. Please contact us if you can help at either level.
Contact: Richard Schmidt 544-4247 or Richard Kranzdorf 543-5578
Friends of the Farm e-mail: