Posts tagged: California
The men walked along the rows of artichokes, following long, straight, ribbons of green that stretched out to the horizon as far as the eye could see. Moving toward the big mobile processing trucks parked on the road that marked the boundary of the field, they harvested artichokes without stopping. As they walked, in one swift motion, they cut and then tossed the artichokes over a shoulder into the strong fabric baskets strapped to their backs. When they reached the truck, the men dumped the contents of the baskets, put them back on, turned around and started again, this time moving in the opposite direction, marching toward another road and another truck.
A few smiled at the crowd gathered along the side of the road watching and taking photos, but most faces were unreadable as they passed us. There was still a lot of work to be done.
On the open trailer, an artichoke processing plant on wheels, men and women wearing hair nets and gloves sat one behind the other in a line of busy hands that didn’t pause as they quickly sorted, washed and packed the fruit. The boxes were filled and taken away.
The company they worked for, Ocean Mist Farms, has a four-hour “cut to cool” policy. Everything must move from the field to the cooler in that time and an elaborate system of bar codes and time stamps tracks it all along the way as the produce moves from the field to boxes to coolers to tables around the world.
I’d joined a private tour of the artichoke mega-producer’s fields and distribution center and it was an eye-opening experience.
Like most people, I’m relatively ignorant of the process by which my food arrives on my table. Oh, I read labels and worry about food safety, but beyond that I don’t know much. I like—I need—fresh vegetables all year, even in winter, even though I live in a place where nothing grows in the winter. So I depend, like most consumers, on the good practices of growers and producers in places like Salinas, Castroville and Monterey County, California.
Walking through the distribution center I noticed pallets of produce labeled for its destination, for the stores where it would be sold. Sitting side by side were cases destined for Kroger stores, Trader Joe’s and for Wal Mart. Food democracy in action.
I found this distribution to be a most interesting thing. We put such a negative label on “big.” Big is bad. Big is careless and always looking for a shortcut. Big is for “them,” not for us. We forget it takes a big effort to feed a hungry, demanding, world, even our small corner of the world.
At dinner that night I ordered an artichoke with my meal. Marinated and fire roasted, it was perfectly prepared. As I pulled each leaf from the cluster, dipping it in sauce and then stripping the tender meat with my teeth, I thought about the process that brought it to me. I could see the faces of the men who’d walked past me in the field, the people washing and packing what had been picked or driving the forklifts speeding pallets into coolers or onto trucks.
My artichoke now had a story. The big company behind it was suddenly small and intimate to me.
Although the fields are open to the public during the annual Artichoke Festival in Castroville, I had an exclusive look into the Ocean Mist Farms processing center and I came away thinking an occasional public tour might be a good thing. It’s reassuring to see the path our food has followed, that there isn’t always a caste system to quality and the same food really can be available to all of us.
Chances are, unless it was raised in our own backyards or in the fields of an area farmer, our produce was prepared in one of the fields of a company big enough to grow, process and distribute what we desire. To step into the fields, to follow the boxes, to see the safeguards and quality control is a good thing. To put a human face behind an artichoke, brussels sprout or head of iceberg lettuce shrinks even the biggest company profile.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Winter seems to have faltered in the Inland Northwest this year, bringing weeks of freezing fog but little snow to the region. So, when a trip to Sonoma County, California was suggested, I didn’t think twice. I’ve been hearing about Healdsburg, the small city in the heart of wine country, and was happy to do some research.
Go: With Alaska Airlines offering direct flights from Seattle and Portland to Santa Rosa’s Sonoma County Airport, it’s easy to escape, soak up a little sun and spend a few days in wine country. The Charles M. Schulz Airport—look for some familiar faces—has car rental facilities and is only 25 minutes from downtown Healdsburg. (No need to fly into San Francisco and face Golden Gate traffic.)
Eat: The small city of Healdsburg is charming, historic and home to some of the most creative chefs in wine country. Don’t miss dinner at Spoonbar! Chef Louis Maldonado is on the current season of Top Chef New Orleans and his food is as good on the table as it looks on TV. Another standout was Dry Creek Kitchen at the Healdsburg Hotel. The setting is upscale and sophisticated and the food is outstanding. How good was it? When the chef Charlie Palmer stepped out of the kitchen, he was treated to a round of spontaneous applause.
Stay: After three nights tucked into a big bed in a pretty room on the top floor of the Grape Leaf Inn, I could feel the difference. I was rested and refreshed. The rambling historic house is within walking distance of shops, tasting rooms and restaurants in downtown Healdsburg and the inn’s gourmet breakfast and frozen fruit “shooter” was a great way to start each morning. Coffee, tea and cookies are always available for late night snacking or an afternoon pick-me-up.
Taste: I tasted some wonderful wines but Lambert Bridge Winery was a standout. Winemakers JillI Davis and Jennifer Higgins create small-batch wines in a beautiful setting of manicured gardens and valley views. Lambert Bridge is recognized as a food destination. Be sure to book one of chef Bruce Riezenman’s wine-pairing tasting events in the barrel room. Riezenman is also the creator PairIt! of a successful wine-pairing app for iPhone and Android users.
Dip: I didn’t expect to bring home a suitcase full of olive oil, but I did. After tasting Dry Creek Olive Oil Company's oils, I was a believer. I also learned a lot as I sampled, including the fact that to be considered true extra Virgin olive oil, olives have to be picked and pressed within 24 hours, something many of the highest priced European oils might not be able to guarantee. Northern California is gaining stature as an excellent olive growing region and Dry Creek oils took gold at both the New York and Los Angeles international olive oil competitions.
Shop: If you like vintage finds you’ll enjoy Healdsburg Vintage. The rambling antiques mall is filled with everything from vintage clothing to one-of-a-kind architectural salvage. I spent an hour poking into every corner and my find-of-the-day was a $10 sterling silver photo frame.
Tip: The annual Winter WINEland festival each January is a great time to visit.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at email@example.com