Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Celebrating a Milestone for Edible Monterey Bay

WHAT – Celebrating a Milestone for Edible Monterey Bay
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

Milestones and accomplishments deserve to be celebrated with free-flowing libations, scrumptious food, and scintillating conversations with friends old and new. And that’s exactly how the people behind Edible Monterey Bay wrapped up their first year in print.

One of seventy magazines in the Edible Communities family across the country, Edible Monterey Bay – which is locally owned and operated by Sarah Wood of Carmel Valley – encourages readers to get to know and support local growers, fishers, chefs, vintners, and food artisans in the Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey Counties. Their articles and events all support their mission to celebrate the local food cultures by motivating people to get involved in their local foodshed; they inspire people to explore the land on which their food is grown, to meet who is cultivating that food, and, finally, to enjoy innovative ways in which to prepare and present that food – season by season.


Tom and Constance Broz offered up their Live Earth Farm as the venue for the first anniversary party and Tom kicked off the event with a walking tour. With glasses in hand, party guests strolled along rows of tomatoes and sunflowers and beneath trellised tunnels of apple trees while Tom shared the history of his farm that was originally owned by the Mora family from the Azores.

After apprenticing at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Tom wanted to create a connection between customers and the land in the form of a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture. The concept of community supported agriculture – where consumers purchase directly from farmers – originated in Japan in the 1960s. Called teikei, the literal meaning is “partnership” or “cooperation,” but the term has grown to mean something more along the lines of “food with a farmer’s face on it.” It connects the farmers, the consumers, and the food.

Eighteen years ago, Tom founded Live Earth Farm on one and a half acres with twenty-five CSA members, most of which were families at his son’s preschool. He had two apprentices. Today Tom has thirty apprentices and the farm occupies nearly one hundred acres on which they cultivate fifty different crops throughout the year; their membership has soared to almost seven hundred shares and they sell at six different farmers’ markets throughout the week.

Sharing a snapshot of their grueling week during the regular season, Tom detailed: “On Tuesday we box up 300 shares for our Wednesday deliveries. Then we’re at the Felton famers’ market in the afternoon. On Wednesday we deliver those shares that were boxed up on Tuesday, we sell at the downtown Santa Cruz farmers’ market in the afternoon, and we box up another 250 shares for our Thursday deliveries. On Thursday we deliver those shares, box up the remaining 150 shares, and prepare for the three weekend farmers’ markets.”  

Tom described the process of dry-farming tomatoes and grafting new varieties onto the root stock from the Mora family’s original pippin trees.

While producing organic food to feed a community is a focus of his farm, forging bonds with the community is even more important to Tom. “It’s about relationships,” he declared. Live Earth Farm offers a winter CSA, primarily to maintain his workforce year-round. Tom explained that most of his workers are husband and wife teams. By growing and sharing crops through the winter, he can ensure that at least one half of the couple will be able to work – and earn an income –  all year long.

After the tour, we returned to the shade of a colossal oak tree where we recharged our flutes and goblets with some festive libations. Kelly Dearie of Creative Cultures offered a trio of elixirs, including her Beet Kvass, a traditional probiotic drink used in Russia as a “cure all,” and Pollen Up, a seductive tonic made with bee pollen and raw, local honey. Equinox Champagne Cellars poured their potation, a sparkling wine with a toasty, aromatic quality. At another Edible Monterey Bay event I attended, Barry Jackson, Equinox’s owner and winemaker, discussed crafting his wine using the traditional French méthode champenoise, “More flavor results from the contact with the yeast.” And Kate Appel, the force behind 3 of a Kind, shared a pair of her fresh-pressed creations: an effervescent grapefruit juice infused with rosemary and an apple-ginger juice blend that danced playfully on the tongue.

Guests chatted and mingled while platters of colorful, delectable appetizers circulated. Mini polenta cups were filled with soft goat cheese and topped with farm-fresh ratatouille and herbs. Crostini were smeared with a honey-walnut crème, layered with beet and orange slices, and sprinkled with snipped chives. Pan-fried padron peppers were skewered with olives, aged cheese, and charcuterie.

On one side of the crowd, the plein air kitchen was a flurry of activity – Chef Brad Briske, of Carmel’s Casanova Restaurant, and teams of helping hands clipped stems, arranged flowers, peeled beets, layed out plates, scooped crisped grape leaves from a simmering vat of oil, and garnished trays.

On the other side, the husband and wife duo Anne and Pete Sibley – winners of the Great American Duet Sing-off on The Prairie Home Companion – plucked and strummed their bluegrass tunes on their guitar and banjo, filling the air with their distinctive folk sound.

The Sibleys just wrapped up a summer concert tour where they appeared at festivals across the country. During the dinner, Anne and Pete performed an a cappella song that they had written about community. Pete shared that while they traversed the country on their summer tour, they lived in a bus with their two young children. Everywhere they went people invited them in, enveloping them with generosity and hospitality. He said that from Catskills Mountains to the Pacific Northwest and everywhere in between, communities welcomed them with warmth and open arms.

From the Edible Monterey Bay staff, contributors, supporters, family, and friends – old and new – there were so many members of the local good food community who rallied together to make this celebration amazing. But it was the groundswell of groups providing local youth with hands-on education in sustainable food systems and the culinary arts who were in the spotlight. When the party moved inside the barn that is the centerpiece of Live Earth Farm, people took their seats at three long tables that were adorned with jelly jars filled with sunflowers, dahlias, and marigolds in rich, autumn hues.

Wines from Storrs Winery of Santa Cruz and Heller Estate Organic Vineyards of Carmel Valley lined the tables. And Chef Brad, along with students participating in Lightfoot Industries, Food What?!, and Pie Ranch, began his impressive parade of delicious courses punctuated by speakers from these watershed vocational programs.

Santa Cruz native Carmen Kubas founded Lightfoot Industries to provide entrepreneurial training for at-risk teenagers, utilizing a for-profit restaurant, retail line, and innovative curriculum to model social, environmental and fiscal responsibility. Students leave Lightfoot Industries with a strong work ethic, marketable job skills, life skills, a clear career pathway, and funding for continued education. One of Carmen’s students, who is in her second year of the program, apologized in advance for the clichés, but underscored the feeling of belonging, the sense of family, and the direction that she now has because of Lightfoot. She spoke of floating aimlessly, rudderless; now she knows that she wants to be a chef.

In 2002, Nancy Vail, along with two partners, purchased the land on California’s central coast that would become Pie Ranch. Since 2005, Pie Ranch has operated as a working farm where they “grow anything and everything that you need to make a pie” and where youth from regional high schools can participate in farm-based programs and activities. Additionally, Pie Ranch provides adult education, offering aspiring farmers a resident-apprenticeship where they can spend a full year immersed in all aspects of farm operations and marketing. 

Food What?!’s Abby Bell shared two of her students who talked about how the program has bolstered their confidence and increased their responsibility. Food What?! is a youth empowerment and food justice program that uses food – through sustainable agriculture and health – as a vehicle for growing strong, healthy, and inspired teens. They partner specifically with local, low-income and at-risk youth to grow, cook, eat, and distribute healthy, sustainably raised food and address food justice issues in the community.

Watching these groups in action, we started with an albacore crudo with fermented dry farmed tomato, tomato water “silken tofu” and balsamic granita. Chef Brad called his second course ‘Clash of the Seasons In  Brodo’ because it combined roasted winter pumpkin and summer dry farmed tomato broth, along with Pie Ranch wheat berries and shelling beans, Fogline Farm chicken, sun gold tomatoes and crispy prosciutto.

The feast continued with Serendipity Farms butter lettuces, borage dressed with a Petite Syrah vinaigrette followed by a main course of Fogline Farm chicken and pork sausages paired with smoked fingerling potatoes, a Serendipity medley of greens and winter root vegetables, and a sweet apple-pear mostarda and aioli.

As the evening began to wind down, Pie Ranch and Lightfoot Industries presented a duo of desserts featuring Fall’s darling, the apple. Apple pies and apple-cranberry crisp pies were served with steaming mugs full of strong, dark coffee.

The dinner was not just a celebration of good, local food and Edible’s first anniversary, it was also an awards banquet. Edible Monterey Bay honored its 2012 Local Heroes. Chef Tony Baker and Montrio Bistro earned “Best Chef/Restaurant”; Jamie Collins, of Serendipity Farms, and Phil Foster, of Pinnacle Organics” earned nods as “Best Farm/Farmer”; Baker’s Bacon by Chef Tony Baker took home both “Best Food Artisan” and “Best Food Retailer”; and the honor of “Best Nonprofit” was shared by GMO-Free Santa Cruz, Everyone’s Harvest, and MEarth (pronounced ME/Earth). Capping off the evening was a special award for Jim Kasson whose photo essay in the Fall 2011 issue of Edible Monterey Bay included images taken from his series “This Green Growing Land.”

There you have it: the what, the why, the where, and the who of Edible Monterey Bay’s first anniversary party. Just within earshot at my table, I was surrounded by purveyors, farmers, writers, eaters, photographers, vintners, and even a couple who is on the verge of opening their own restaurant. These people are the embodiment of Monterey Bay’s amazing, local good food movement. Echoing Tom Broz’s sentiments – it’s about relationships –  and it’s about the people. It’s an absolute pleasure to be a part of this community. Happy anniversary, Edible Monterey Bay!

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