It's no fish ye're buying, it's mens lives.
--Sir Walter Scott
The Antiquary, Chapter 11
Yesterday the cute guy went to a farmers' market with me and we came home with another canvas bag of produce that we may have to give to the neighbors. He had to buy something from nearly everyone. If they'd been selling small animals we would have one. He nearly purchased a red Adirondack chair because he thought the man selling them looked like a character from a Richard Brautigan novel. It won't fit in the car, I whispered.
First we bought eggs from the egg man, his wife who was many months pregnant and their daughter who could stand up beneath the open tailgate behind them. They had pictures of their hens in plastic sleeves and took great pleasure pointing to which hen laid which color egg. I pulled the cute guy away before they started telling us the chickens names.
Then there was an old man from a Petaluma ranch that shuffled dangerously over the curb from his truck to the table wrestling with a roll of plastic bags until each new customer relieved him of it. He was nearly deaf but smiled from ear to ear when I took his picture. We almost came home with a box of onions from that interaction. A couple bunches is good, I said. The cute guy eyed the zucchinis no one was buying. I shook my head.
I was the one that had to buy beets from a young woman because she had black geek glasses and a red bandanna that made her look like a cover girl with tattoos. She consented to have her picture taken. Both of us, she asked looking towards her partner, a young man stacking basil. Just you, I said taking the shot. If the beets are half as delicious as her smile we'll be swooning too.
At the end of the market, our bag full, I don't remember which of us saw the tomato woman first, but she looked like she was going to be taking home too many tomatillas. With a shared glance we agreed to liberate them. I still had cash. We left with five pounds, a recipe for salsa and advice on the pee yellow tomatillo I planted with the peppers. Nitrogen, was her one word fix. Come back and tell me how it goes, she said.
As much as I love him, until our refrigerator and fruit bowls are empty I'm going to suggest the cute guy go sailing on market days instead.
It's no fish ye're buying, it's mens lives.
Last week I went to five different farmers markets. Lugged canvas bags of produce northbound on the #24 express from SF to San Anselmo. Repeatedly left the one and a half block perimeter of my office neighborhood to cruise tables of tomatoes, eggplants, chards and cherries. The fact I leave the office at all has co-workers prairie dogging thing from their cubicles as I near the door.
And last week I cooked. Even invited friends over for a meal. The cute guy asked me this morning, "What's for dinner?" as casually as he used to say, "Want to go out to eat tonight." That was it. One more mesclun mixed green salad, yellow beet or sweet nectarine dripping down my chin and I was going to scream.
As soon as I got to the city I went straight for coffee, no thought of fair trade, poured in half and half, and then bought a muffin, organic flour but nothing local about it. At lunch I went to a chain restaurant, nearly fast food, and got a burrito to go. A bean and cheese burrito that tasted like hot salt that still makes my mouth water. I did not ask where the beans came from, if the cheese was made from raw milk, if the slice of avocado in it had been from a pesticide free tree. I did not inquire about the health plan of the employees or if the tomatoes used in their salsa bar were raised organically and if the chicken in their fajita salads were range free. I paid my five dollars, declined the chips, took my plastic bag and nearly ran back to the office.
And now I feel better. After work I shared my bus seat with another bag of produce, smelling like onions and guarding the peaches like a mother hen. And for dinner I made omelets with our farm bag green eggs, kale and a little blackberry cobbler for dessert. The cute guy loved it.
1. The farmer's market at the San Rafael Civic Center on Sunday had as many people upon opening as it did stone fruits.
2. Starbucks gets a gold star for offering organic milk. It's forty cents extra and I forget to ask for it but I'm heartened it's available. Ummm. Unless it's from that other organic producer. I'm leaving it on the list for now. This is an optimistic blog.
3. The Chronicle has a big spread about bay area farmers' markets in the food section today and a list of them on their website with times and locations. There is a link in the title above.
4. Toby's Feed Barn has gone fully solar.
5. Specialty's Bakery Cafe in the SF Financial District is now baking with organic flour. I sent an email of celebration.
6. Mixt Greens which pounds out individually tossed organic salads during the downtown lunch hours has a new location on Sansome between Clay and Sacramento.
7. Smart cars are coming to the US next year which should make parking easier at the overflowing farmer's markets.
8. The Tuesday Ferry Building farmers' market has big raspberry and blackberries baskets, three for $5 from Watsonville. They're unsprayed but not organic and make killer cobblers. (No pun intended.)
This is Maddie. I met her today at the Pt. Reyes farmers market selling walking sticks with birds nestled on the tops. The sticks are sturdy enough to last a life time for $25, the proceeds of which Maddie is donating to The Smile Train, an organization that helps children around the world who suffer from cleft lip. Maddie made sure I left with a leaflet on the organization, as she did with everyone who stopped to talk with her, and a lot of people stopped. She's irresistible.
As is the entire Pt. Reyes Farmers' Market. Sure there are closer markets and the idea is to reduce my carbon bite but Pt. Reyes has all local vendors. I love that. It's gets tiring trying to figure out where everybody comes from. Except at the Ferry Building market that has heavenly new signs at each stand that lists their location, miles from the market and farming information in identical formats. I need a gospel choir here. Hallelujah.
The Pt. Reyes market isn't big, it's not even half the size of the San Rafael Civic Center market on Sunday mornings. It's not even a quarter of the size but what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in surroundings and local character.
I wanted to buy fruit but it's too early in that part of the world, except for strawberries, which I heard there were six boxes brought into Toby's Feed Barn that sold out right away. Instead of fruit I filled a bag half full of purple potatoes freshly dunked in a bucket of water to make them shine, which was the extent of my produce purchases. After that I adopted a duck for $5 and in the middle of the market I met a woman sitting behind a pick up truck doing watercolors of the lavender vendor. I added her photograph to those of some farmers and cruised through the community garden on the same lot, a country band the back up for it all.
Heading down main street to the Bovine Bakery and Zuma's I bought a hand loomed rag rug that may have to be framed from a woman in a cowboy hat selling them on the sidewalk. (Almost everyone had a hat on.) In front of the Pt. Reyes Bookstore I shared a bench with a tall man. This is the big city for me, he said and proceeded to tell me tales of Bolinas, with pot laced brownies, movie stars and socialites and a blog he maintained with photos that no one could find. I think he was telling the truth.
A couple of hours after I got there the market was winding down and I reluctantly headed to my car thinking about the distance to this market and reducing my carbon bite. If the morning had only been about the potatoes I'd cringe but this market is more than local food, it's local character. It's irresistible.
What I thought I would write about was going to the Commonwealth Club at lunch to hear Nina Planck in conversation about her book, real food (no caps), What To Eat And Why. The book has a recommendation on the front cover by Michael Pollan, which I can only compare to Oprah picking your book for her club. But I hadn't seen the book when I got to the club, late, and there was a $15 cover charge. I considered skipping it but I was already there, tiptoed in and ended up thoroughly enjoying it. Nina, the "patron saint of farmers' markets", as her book jacket refers to her, was bright and articulate, a warehouse of information, kind, generous. It was worth every penny and I bought her book which was thankfully in paperback so I do still have some cash left for the first farmers' market of the year in Pt. Reyes tomorrow morning.
Later, checking out the Commonwealth Club website to figure out if there would be a broadcast of Nina's talk I found an entire list of speakers that can be downloaded or audio streamed. Marion Nestle, who I think could be Nina's older sister or first cousin, was one of them and I immediately listened to a talk she gave in April about her book, What to Eat.
Marion is a lovely speaker and I don't often use the word lovely in describing anyone but she is exceptional. I could listen to her read the phone book. She talks as if she is sitting in my living room having a cup of tea, english breakfast, with a vase of watercolored flowers beside her, a soft sweater draped around her shoulders. And while she is seemingly making friends with the audience she is delivering a wealth of information. It makes me think of that saying, life is what happens while you are doing something else. I just like listening to her voice. The rest is a bonus.
Nina and Marion agree on almost everything in terms of what to eat - eat fresh, local and around the perimeters of the grocery store. Their difference - Nina likes more cheese. That's going to be good news at my house when the cute guy hears about it!
There's a link to the audio stream of Marion's talk at the Commonwealth Club in the title above.
Nina will be also be doing a reading and book signing at the Ferry Building tomorrow at noon in the North Arcade.
One of the best things about the Wednesday Fairfax market is there are no crowds or lines at the produce stands. One seller claps when I stop to study a bucket of sunflowers in the middle of his stall. Another patiently waits with a smile while I count pennies for exact change. The other best thing is the market is only a couple blocks from the Fairfax Scoop, a closet storefront that always has a line out the door for organic ice cream.
The lines at the Fairfax market though are at the food sellers. Tie dyed families and friends sit in moon shaped groups picnicking on the lawn in the park on Bolinas Road. They balance paper plates of Himalayan food with one hand, eat kettle korn by the fistfuls, bags of springs greens and beets at their side. Couples stroll with ice cream cones. Orange and purple painted comets extend from the smiles and cries of children chasing bubbles nearly the size of the redwood trees that ring the park. A solo musician belts old Van Morrison songs. I'm wishing the cute guy was with me.
Cruising the vendors I try to convince myself that I need ice cream, honey lavender vanilla, chocolate, now. Cardboard would be fine as long as it was made at the Scoop. Skip dinner or have dessert first, I reason. No. Yes. No. I pass a paper sign tacked to a tree above two chairs and a dinner plate sized table advertising a tarot reader who has taken her cards elsewhere. Is their ice cream in my future, I want to ask.
Nearby a woman stands quietly behind rows of probiotic bottled drinks and across the aisle a man and a woman hand out samples of nutmoo, a milk made with nuts as the name implies. A canopied collection of tables laden with eggs is vacant with signs for Judy's eggs at $2 for eighteen. I read the sign twice to make sure I got it right and then wonder if there is something wrong with them. But not for long. The smell of the Swedish waffle truck parked at the curb makes my mouth water and I start towards it but something else catches me, the scent of flowers. An entire field of lavender in bloom, laid out in bar after beautiful bar of hand made soap. There is no one there though and I laugh thinking they are probably at the Fairfax Scoop.
I'm always signing petitions on line these days related to the Farm Bill which is being overhauled this year. The bill is a massive piece of legislation that many with a lot more knowledge than I have suggested should be called the Food Bill so it could get the attention it deserves as it affects everybody who eats.
The majority of dollars are allocated every five years to subsidize commodity crops such as corn, soy and cotton instead of food crops, all of which is lobbied by big corporations that have the most to gain. And I doubt that we'll see significant change in this Farm Bill but I think we can make a difference, that we can start the ball rolling the other way. Already organic farming has become one of the fastest growing markets.
The title above is a link to the Environmental Working Group petition that I signed today asking Congress to support organic farming in this years Farm Bill.
It's a drop in the bucket but it's a place to start.
1. Because it's fun.
2. Locally grown foods have more color, taste, vibration.
3. To keep artisan, heirloom and native foods alive.
4. Barbara Kingsolver does.
5. Because farmers markets are as much fun as bookstores.
6. Local food is juicy.
7. It makes sense.
8. Because small farms are art in the dirt.
9. It often comes with less packaging.
10. I feel like I'm part of the solution.
11. To stay young.
12. Local food has character.
13. Because this idea knocked on the door one day and has now taken up residency.
14. It creates less garbage for the planet.
15. To make up for the places where I mindlessly use more resources than I should.
16. Because I believe we all want peace in the world.
17. The cute guy took up sailing and I have extra time.
18. It's one way to be kind to the environment.
19. I want to see if I can.
20. Because a friend said I rocked when I told her what I was doing.
21. Local eaters make the best lovers.
22. Because if we all ate one meal a week, any meal, that was locally grown and organic we would save 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.*
23. I don't always eat locally grown foods.
24. Because I've always believed in supporting local business for their tenacity and creativity.
25. It makes me smile a lot.
26. Because apricots are in season and I could live on them forever.
27. I have a thing for farmers (but mostly for sailors!).
(*Number 22 is from Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara and Camille Kingsolver and her husband Steven Hopp. There's a link to the entire excerpt in the title above.)
This feels like blowing a dandelion into the wind but so be it....
There is a great recording on City Arts and Lectures this coming Tuesday night at 8:00 PM on KQED, 88.5, with Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle.
If you don't know them the title above will send you to a link with a short bio on each of them. This is my summation before I realized I could create the link: Michael Pollan wrote the Omnivores Dilemma, a brilliant book about food production, sounds terrible yet is entertaining and illuminating. Marion Nestle recently wrote What To Eat in which she deconstructs every aisle of the grocery store in terms of nutrition, marketing and production. She's a spit fire and presents a lot of information in a very digestible way. They have both received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the James Beard Foundation, teach at Berkeley, Marion as a guest professor.
In the course of their one hour conversation as part of the City Arts and Lectures series, they talk about food of course, organic and local. They talk about the beef industry, the influx of food from China, the Farm Bill and they laugh a lot!
I love them.
At lunch yesterday I wandered out of my one and a half block radius from the office and walked straight into a farmers market at the Crocker Galleria on Sutter. I heard it before I saw it, a low hum, high heeled and button upped professionals nudging peaches for ripeness, sorting through bunches of basil, each one brought up to their nose, swinging bags of mixed greens topped with orange, blue and purple petals. The sales were smooth, efficient, cash in hand, punctuated with smiles. There was laughter. I thought I saw someone wink.
Penniless I found an ATM before I joined in and immediately bought the sexiest chard I've seen from Happy Boy Farms. They also had the first good looking heirloom tomatoes that fit into the palm of my hand, both of which put color in my cheeks. I found salsa. Salsa that brought tears to my eyes. Literally. It was wicked, made in Hollister by Swank Farms. All the ingredients from the land, nothing unpronounceable added. There were milder versions but I didn't bother. The strawberries were everywhere. Flawless strawberries, organic and not. I had to stop myself from buying them twice. I overheard someone ask for a case and then smiling myself, satisified, walked the three blocks back to the office, tomatoes and chard swinging side to side.
I saw the above organization written up in the food section of the Chronicle this morning. They've put together a "Buy Fresh Buy Local" food guide that lists farms and the vintners, retailers, restaurants and institutions that are using locally grown crops as wells as the organizations that are supporting the movement. The guide can be viewed by county or by putting in your zip code and choosing a radius in ten mile increments.
Reading the names of the farms is entertainment in itself, CowTrack Ranch, Gospel Flat Farm, Creekside Gardens. There's a small write up about each farm - Gospel Flat Farm makes fresh tortillas on site from their homegrown corn in Bolinas. Who would have known?
Where each farm sells their goods is sometimes noted and sometimes not but each entry has an address and phone number. I'm going to call about the tortillas.
And the restaurants! They don't get the blurbs that the farms do but there is an address and phone number for each. I have a new list of places to eat, Priscilla's in Inverness, Table Cafe in Larkspur, The Pine Cone Diner in Point Reyes Station which I already love. There's Marche aux Fleurs in Ross and Caffe Divino in Sausalito. The list goes on.
Lastly, I hope I don't have to visit Marin General or Kaiser Permanente but it is nice knowing they are using local products too.
Last Wednesday I got lost in stop and go six o’clock traffic at the Mill Valley, Tiburon exit watching my gas gauge head slowly south. I was following directions to pick up our first bag of fruits and veggies from the community supported organic farm, Canvas Ranch, I’d subscribed to. I approached the directions four different ways before I pulled over and called for help. I was ready to run red lights across four lanes of backed up commuters when the woman at the ranch answered the phone. She was so calm.
Two minutes later with bag in hand I wanted to unpack it right on the spot, a strangers garage, it was so beautiful, but between their neighbors barking border collie and the fact that I was late for a panel discussion of the Farm Bill at the Ferry Building I resisted. Instead I pulled the items one at a time from the bag to the passengers seat at seventy miles an hour on 101.
The bag was topped with a bouquet of kale and rainbow chard and the spiky greens of a young garlic bulb and leek. Beside the greens was a thick bunch of red leaf lettuce. I ripped a handful off the top and began munching. Deeper in the bag I pulled out a bunch of little green onions, a fifty cent piece bundle of chives and a head of cabbage so heavy I swerved trying to get it onto the seat before deciding it would be smart to leave it til later.
I began eating the brown-bagged Bing cherries immediately upon finding them as I slowed to 45 on the golden gate bridge and it wasn’t until the toll plaza that I found apricots, smaller than the half dozen chicken eggs I’d carefully set on top of everything else. Later I realized some of the apricots were actually honey tangerines, sticky on the steering wheel but so sweet I began slowing at yellow lights and smiling at tourists.
On the short walk to the Ferry Building from the parking lot I ate another apricot and although every one was seated when I arrived I hadn’t missed a thing except strawberries, which I saw people eating from dessert sized paper plates and the truth was I didn’t want another thing after my local meal on the road straight from my first Canvas Ranch bag.
Monday on The Forum, Michael Krasney talked with a group of professionals working in the field of feeding the hungry as part of National Hunger Awareness Day, which was the following day. One was a gentleman from St. Anthony's Foundation farm in Petaluma, a 315 acre organic dairy, farm and recovery ranch. I grew up in Petaluma and have always been aware of St. Anthony's rolling green fields and long barns on Valley Ford Road. A family member has chaired 12-stop meetings there. But I didn't know the ranch was organic. Not that I would have cared six months ago. Yesterday I nearly began cheering at my desk.
St. Anthony's is milking hundreds of black and white cows twice a day with the milk being sold to Clover Stornetta, a locally owned and operated dairy processing plant. You've seen the billboards, Clo the Cow, Out Standing In Her Field. According to their website Clo has gone organic too. Where have I been?
St. Anthony's also has a one acre organic garden that not only feeds the folks on the ranch but the extra food goes to their dining room in the city and to local free food programs. And they have methane burners for energy. They are doing it all.
Equally as good, if not more so, a group of men are being graced with the opportunity to recover from drugs and alcohol in one of the most bucolic neighborhoods I know with cows and cabbages to feed their courage.
The radio program offered a slew of statics regarding people going hungry all around us. More people than I would have thought possible. But the program wasn't only looking at the problem. The people repeatedly talked of what is working, where more assitance is needed, where people are stepping up. There were moments of inspiration.
A program on hunger was a round about way of being reminded of a local food source but that's where the careening comes in. I rarely get anywhere in a straight line. The cute guy and I have added a new source for cheese and yogurt, butter and cottage cheese to our list of local foods. Thanks Clo. And when thinking about where they come from I will remember the men at St. Anthony's Foundation Farm making it one day at a time, a good reminder for me too.
This morning I paid two dollars a head for locally grown butter lettuce. Not two dollars on the credit card which I wouldn't notice, but two dollars green cold cash. I've paid twice that for a latte innumerable times but I expect my lettuce to be less expensive. I'll admit it. My chest got tight handing over the money and I thought this organic local stuff straight from the grower is for people with deeper pockets than mine. I considered a cheaper Fresno grower. I considered asking if I could return it. And, the butter lettuce I bought is gorgeous. Probably the prettiest damn lettuce I've ever seen and it's grown in West Marin. Each leaf is perfect and it tastes, without going overboard, it tastes like the sun breaking through the fog, like all is right in the world. I bought three heads and long fat red onions and ciliantro because it looked so happy being cilantro and it was less than two dollars. And then I gave the grower most of my money. You are supporting local agriculture, I kept repeating to myself. This is good. I felt a little sick.
At the Petaluma growers stall I bought a bit of spinach to make a seasonal salad with feta, strawberries and almonds. I could have bought a double latte instead. With soy. I added a couple of baskets of strawberries. How much, I asked. He looked at me, looked at the remaining baskets, said hello to a customer nearby, straighted up some dino kale. I felt like he was spinning an internal roulette wheel and wherever it stopped would be my price. They are good, he added taking the last of my market money. I smiled. I hope so, I thought. The truth is they aren't as pretty as the Santa Barbara strawberries at a fraction of the price but after tasting them they are twice as delicious.
I went back to the car for more cash to buy almonds, arguing the entire time if I would buy the organic at ten dollars a pound or the others at six and wishing I could use my credit card so I wouldn't have to be so aware of the costs. Wishing I could believe that whatever choice I made didn't make a difference then believing that my choice didn't make a difference and back and forth. By the time I bought a bag I was rung out and got in the long line for a latte. It's been over a year since I've had one and I told myself I deserved it. I looked around, studied a table of cherries, a woman picking them out one by one. The smell of sausages grilling across the way, a double stroller causing a back up on the main thoroughfare and then I noticed two warm eyed women next door. They were selling coffee with no line. No steam, no foam, no soy. Just coffee. Organic, fair trade fresh brewed coffee. I paid for a medium, added whole milk to the paper cup and with my bag of nonorganic almonds I decided to ditch my other errands and found a seat with friends to settle in for a visit. The easiest decision of the morning by far.
The cute guy is being a good sport about my current surge to eat local, support the small farmers, vote with our forks as they say and minimize our carbon handprint. He's given up eatting bananas which I interpret as I love you. A lot. Just last fall we talked about installing a hook beneath the kitchen cabinet so we could hang bananas until they were ripe, rip them off as if we were monkeys and ape around the kitchen.
I love bananas for the way they taste and the soft texture but for the cute guy I think it's that they are instant satisfaction. There's no washing, no slicing, no bowl, a minimum amount of peeling which he can leave on the counter for me to throw away. They seem to be perpetually in season. What's not to love? And neither of us worried as we tossed them blindly in our basket if they were organic or not. When comparing the two we've always liked the unorganic more. They taste better. And we lied to ourselves that the thick skins would protect us and then we believed the lie.
Last night we talked about them, the bananas, and the fleets of jets or semi's, maybe ships that must be employed every day to bring us our daily supply. I thought we should have been wearing ruby crusted crowns instead of playing jungle beasts when we ate them as casually as if they grew in our backyard instead of being ferried across foreign lands to the store on the corner for our convenience.
Now we are eatting west coast fruits instead. Oxnard strawberries, California cherries and peaches, pink lady Washington apples, the last of the organic kumquats. This isn't a season for complaining. The cute guy is happily cleaning, peeling, spitting pits and slicing. A little late for work maybe, but happy. I'm not arrogant or nieve enough to think we'll never eat bananas again, love does have its season of waning, but I think it will be a special occassion. An occassion fit for a king and a queen.