Edible Monterey Bay

THE PRESERVATIONIST: QUINCE JELLY AND APPLE BUTTER

AUTUMN
By Jordan Champagne


Photo courtesy of Happy Girl Kitchen Co.

QUINCE JELLY AND APPLE BUTTER

Autumn: It’s my favorite time of the year. We have all had a tasteful journey through cherries, peaches, plums, tomatoes, cucumbers and all the other flavors made manifest under the summer’s sun. We have worked hard to preserve the bounty of this season’s harvest: Strawberry jam, crushed heirloom tomatoes, honeyed cherries, pickles and, of course, apples all help to preserve summer’s energy, captured in a jar to keep us going all winter long. It is time to celebrate! Let the harvest festivals begin!

It is autumn and the old-timers are coming out of the woodwork. Look…they are firing up their 1950s GMC pickups and loading them with half-ton bins of apples. The “built like … Read More

ROADSIDE DIARIES: A NIGHT AT THE CACHAGUA GENERAL STORE

A NIGHT AT THE CACHAGUA
GENERAL STORE


Clockwise from top left:
Diners; the General Store; soccer between seatings;

roasted baby beet salad with coconut chevre and balsamic reduction;
beef bone marrow bruschetti with shiitake, butter capers and parsley;
the author with Jones and La Guigole.

An Upper Carmel Valley Adventure

BY CAMERON COX
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JORGE NOVOA

In case you have ever wondered, here is how to open a Champagne bottle with a saber:

  1. Remove the foil and wire basket.
  2. Score the glass just below the rim with a knife or glass cutter; this will be your target point.
  3. Grip the punt—that’s the concave bottom portion of the bottle— with your nondominant hand. Gripping the bottle with a rag or towel will give added traction.
  4. Tilt the cork end of
Read More

ON THE FARM: A FARM OF THEIR OWN

A FARM OF THEIR OWN

Maria Bravo
Maria Bravo beams while standing in her field.

ALBA incubator brings pride
and produce to the community

BY RENEE BRINCKS
PHOTOGRAPH BY RICHARD GREEN

The first time Maria Olga Bravo watched growers tending land leased from the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), she was ready to sign up!

“I fell in love,” said Bravo, who grew up picking strawberries with her father. “It was the family atmosphere…small farmers had their acre or two, and they had their wife or their husband or their uncle there, and they were all picking the produce.”

Five years after that initial visit, the 52-year-old mother of four grows vegetables south of Watsonville at ALBA’s 195-acre Triple M Ranch. She earned the chance to sow there after completing a sixmonth, 150-hour curriculum and qualifying for ALBA’s small farm incubator. Bravo, who worked a desk job for 20 years before a company shutdown left her unemployed, now knows how to write business plans, prepare soil, set up irrigation systems, control pests and market her crops.

Despite its challenges, she finds her new career fulfilling. “It gives me something that is mine,” Bravo said. “I grew these things. I feel really proud.”

ALBA first helped aspiring farmers 10 years ago, though its roots reach back another three decades. The organization’s predecessors launched local programs supporting agricultural workers and beginning farmers in the 1970s. Today, ALBA’s major efforts include offering courses for growers-to-be, matching select graduates with ground and managing a produce distribution outlet called ALBA Organics. Longtime executive director Brett Melone left ALBA this summer, but organization representatives say the mission remains the same: Advance economic viability, social equity and ecological land management among limited-resource and aspiring farmers.

Interested individuals start by applying and interviewing for spots in ALBA’s farmer education program. Many participants are Latino, and about one-third are women. Nearly three-quarters of the students are current or former farm workers.

“We seek low-income people with agricultural experience and entrepreneurial drive,” said Gary Peterson, ALBA’s communications and development director. “We’re able to enroll about 30 adult learners each year, typically ranging from 18 to 50 years of age.”

ALBA staff members and industry experts lead classes and field experiences, sharing the practical information students need to seek employment or build their own farming operations. Graduates are invited to create a business plan and compete for a spot in the ALBA incubator. Approximately eight participants are accepted annually; each leases a half-acre parcel for a fraction of the regular market rate and pays a per-use fee for shared machinery and irrigation equipment.

Thriving farmers can rent additional acres for up to seven years, topping out at around 10 acres at ALBA’s full commercial rates. At that point, program administrators help growers find their own land in the region.

The goal is to provide a low-risk environment that prepares students for long-term success, explained Peterson.

“That lease rate increases each year if people continue in the farm incubator program,” he said. “Beginning farmers get a fairly real sense of the resources and routines and commitment it takes to run a successful small farm business.”

“To be successful in this type of work, you have to be there every single day and be able to work hard,” said 21-year-old Octavio Garcia, who farms nearly four acres at ALBA’s Salinas property. He believes he would not be farming without the support of ALBA’s instructors and field managers.

“They really help us. They try to give us as much information as they can. They are patient with us.” Garcia said. “It’s really hard to become a farmer outside of ALBA because everything is really expensive, and ALBA makes it cheaper and easier for us.”

“It typically takes three to four years before someone leaves their day job to be a full-time farmer,” Peterson said. “Five years after leaving our farm incubator, 80% of those farmers are still in business elsewhere.”

ALBA statistics show that incubator participants net an average $10,000 of income during their first three years, $33,000 in years four through six and $50,000 or more once they reach commercial farming status.

“That’s a trajectory that is obviously the very basis of our program: to help create wealth in low-income communities in our region by leveraging vocational skills and entrepreneurial drive with education and access to resources,” Peterson said.

The nonprofit also promotes greater access to healthy food. The ALBA Organics line sells produce harvested by program participants to Stanford University, UC Santa Cruz, Pajaro Valley Unified School District, Dominican Hospital and other outlets.

Because the graduates supplying produce to ALBA Organics must maintain the organic certification they earned while working on ALBA’s land, they help shape the region’s growing organic agriculture industry. At the same time, by providing technical assistance to community organizations, ALBA has helped triple the number of farmers’ markets in Monterey County in just six years. Its growers also establish community-supported agriculture (CSA) services and set up farm stands at local churches and schools.

Marsha Sayuri Habib, who graduated from ALBA’s farmer education program in July, sells vegetables at Santa Clara University and started a CSA that is part of an Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley diabetes prevention program. She also operates a farm stand in a low-income San Jose neighborhood where nutritious food isn’t widely available.

The 28-year-old UC Berkeley graduate was already farming near Hollister when she enrolled in classes through ALBA. Her ultimate goal is to make both culinary and cultural connections, introducing beginning farmers to urban organizations that want to make affordable fruits and vegetables available to underserved populations.

“It’s hard to market organic products in a low-income neighborhood where people don’t have a lot of extra money. Organics have a reputation of being for [wealthy people], and that’s certainly the case if a farmers’ market is marketing to that population,” Sayuri Habib said. “But I think the crop of ALBA farmers coming out, sometimes they’ll want to have some markets that are higher paying…but a lot of them also want to feed their people and not be charging exorbitant amounts.”

A recent ALBA survey found that the organization’s farmers do, in fact, measure success by more than just income. Like Sayuri Habib, they value the ability to give back.

“It speaks to what the farmers have in mind for themselves,” Peterson said. “They want not only to build a future for their families, but also to feel like they’re investing in themselves and in the community.” For information on ALBA programs, or to support the organization, visit www.albafarmers.org or call 831.758.1469.

Read moreON THE FARM: A FARM OF THEIR OWN

EDIBLE ISSUES: SAVING SCHOOL FOOD

BY DEBORAH LUHRMAN
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DEBORAH LUHRMAN
AND RICHARD GREEN

Not long after signing on to manage food services for Santa Cruz City Schools, chef Jamie Smith was moving out an old piece of kitchen equipment when he spotted a greasy, smiley-faced disc of processed potatoes on the floor.

“That potato product thing had been there for six months at least,” he said. “It had been through heat and cold, wet and dry, yet it showed no visible signs of decay. Mold wouldn’t even grow on that scary thing, but still it was counted as a vegetable by the USDA!” This fall, a vortex of factors is combining to ban those kinds of frankenfoods from the cafeteria and make school food part of the lesson plan for teaching kids how … Read More

OUT TO SEA: A NEW TAKE ON THE FISHMONGER

A NEW TAKE ON
THE FISHMONGER

Oren Frey
Oren Frey at Monterey’s harbor

Monterey Bay’s first CSF,
a CSA for fish-lovers,
will help sustain local fishermen

BY PETE RERIG
PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICHARD GREEN

Kathy Fosmark knows fishing. There are five generations of the life in her blood, and few people are in a better position to understand the nuances of the trade in Monterey.

“Thirty years ago, most of the fish and crab my family caught were sold to the local community, often right off the boat,” says Fosmark. “Now nearly all our crab goes to China and our albacore goes to Spain. The relationship between fishermen and consumers has changed so drastically, and it’s harder and harder to make a living from the sea.”

Taxes, fuel, safety inspections, crew salaries, insurance premiums— it’s little wonder why the local fleet has diminished in recent years. “We have so many forces challenging us now—stock quotas and permit acquisitions take a huge bite out of our profits and hamper our access to the ocean—and the result is young people don’t want to get involved in the business,” adds Fosmark, who also chairs the nonprofit Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries. “What we need is more desire from the public for fresh catches from local waters. We need to reconnect people with the seafood they eat.”

With a continually evolving set of rules and regulations governing what can and cannot be caught, for the past 15 years the friction between fishermen and conservationists has become highly contentious.

“The layers of precautionary management have led to a lot of uncertainty about the future,” says Steve Scheiblauer, Harbor Master for Monterey. “Unfortunately, fishermen here are undervalued, and they don’t have a strong enough connection to their consumer base. Throw in rising gas prices and a dwindling availability of fish, and the situation becomes even more bleak.”

Now, there’s help on the horizon—a community-supported fishery, or CSF, modeled on the widely popular farm-produce subscription programs known as community-supported agriculture (CSA). Enter Alan Lovewell and Oren Frey, both of whom are Sea Grant fellows and graduates of Monterey Institute of International Studies. “Alan was the first one to notice the real lack of CSFs on the West Coast,” says Frey. “There are organizations from Maine to Florida that have been operating for decades, and yet in California there are only three—one in Half Moon Bay, currently available only to Google employees, and others in San Luis Obispo and San Francisco. So the time is ripe to get a CSF up and running on the Monterey Peninsula.”

The premise behind a CSF is simple: Customers buy a share or membership in the program, and each week they receive a box of fresh-off-the-boat seafood. And because the week’s catch is dictated by what’s in season and can be caught in a responsible, sustainable way, each week will bear surprises.

“We’ll work with a buyer/processor, who’ll act as a middleman between the CSF and the fishermen. They’ll control quality and negotiate prices, making sure everyone involved is getting the best deal available.”

It’s possible, Frey adds, that a share won’t be available to customers each week, which adds to the educational aspect of the program. “The lion’s share of seafood consumed in the U.S. travels thousands of miles to get here. But when weekly boxes contain only what’s available locally at any given time, people will understand the quality of what they’re getting, as well as the importance of responsible fishing and consumption.”

As much as this will be a boon to the local food community, it will help the fishermen who participate even more. “By guaranteeing them a higher price for their catch, they can avoid the market fluctuations that plague the industry,” says Frey. “The fishermen will have a more stable consumer base, and they’ll be able to expand their business and reach a larger market.”

And there are myriad other benefits, like bringing consumers and fishermen together in a decidedly non-antagonistic way. “We want the CSF to connect people in the community. Customers can put a face to the fishermen who provide their catch. We can make them aware of conservation issues, and hopefully end the polarization between those who make their living from the ocean and those activists trying desperately to protect the environment.”

One person on the front lines of the issue is Jim Anderson, who runs the CSF arm of the Half Moon Bay Fishermen’s Association, started with the help of Google, Inc., and currently available only to the company’s employees. “We’re still a relatively small outfit, with just a handful of boats,” says Anderson. “But the response and support from Google has been extraordinary. We’ve been up and running for only a month, and the fishing hasn’t been great, but everyone involved sees good things coming in the near future.”

Lesley Milton, who belonged to a CSF in Seattle before she moved to the Monterey Bay area, is eager for Local Catch Monterey to get up and running. “Getting my weekly shipment was always a highlight of my week,” she says. “I knew that what I was eating was incredibly fresh and was helping local fishermen. It was just one small way that I could make a big impact on the environment as well as the local economy.”

Local Catch Monterey is still in the planning and organizational stage, but the general plan is to offer shares on a seasonal basis, with customers paying fishermen up front for three months’ worth of fish. As EMB went to press, Frey and Lovewell were leaning towards offering a choice of full or half shares. The weekly cost of a full share would average about $32 for three pounds of fish and the weekly cost of a half share would be about $16 for 1 1/2 pounds of fish. The species will vary with the season.

One downside of the model is that because the shares must be purchased up front, the program won’t be able to cater to spontaneous cravings or specialized shopping lists for that special fish you want for that specific number of people you’re having on the particular date you’re having a dinner party.

But the upside of the limited flexibility of the model is that it is sure to leave plenty of business for more traditional fish purveyors in the area.

Frey and Lovewell hope to begin selling shares by early 2012. “We want to create the framework, and then let the CSF grow organically. Our major goal is to build relationships in the community— we want to show that fishermen and conservationists don’t need to work against each other, that with practical collaboration everyone can come out a winner.”

And for Fosmark’s family and other fishermen plying the waters of Monterey Bay and beyond, that’s the best news possible. “If the public really wants the types of products the CSF provides, the boats will come back and the industry will grow,” she says. “There’s real value in programs such as Local Catch Monterey—we just need to rebuild the community connections that have been lost.”

How can you help? If you’re interested in becoming a customer, signing up on Local Catch’s waiting list will help the organization gauge interest. To sign up and learn more, go to www.localcatchmonterey.com

Read moreOUT TO SEA: A NEW TAKE ON THE FISHMONGER

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