Tuesday, June 19, 2007

You Pick 'Em

My favorite ways of getting closer to the earth is getting some under my fingernails. You-pick-‘em farms are wonderful family outings. It is, guaranteed, the most fun you will have procuring your food.

To find a farm near you first visit PickYourOwn.com.

Our favorite so far is Phipps Ranch near the coastal town of Pescadero, in San Mateo County (2700 Pescadero Rd., tel. 650 879-0787). They have olallieberries, strawberries, and boysenberries for the picking on a handsome farm. It also doubles as a mini-zoo park with farm animals and exotic birds on display. Their farm store has a wonderful variety of novel food items including rare varieties of beans, spices, and honey.

After picking at Phipps you should head into Pescadero to Duarte’s Restaurant for a bowl of their amazing green pepper or artichoke soup (or ask for the half-and-half and have it all). They also serve wonderful pies for dessert. Closer to Highway 1 is the Pescadero Marsh and its trails, well worth the stop.

If you want a Napa-like experience in fruit picking head out to Brentwood in Contra Costa County, where the You-Pick-‘em farms are almost as numerous as the megadevelopments threatening to engulf them. Pick up a map guide to the farms at any of the establishments that have the sign, ‘Harvest Time Member.’ Harvest Time also has a great website. There are so many of these farms in the area that you can’t miss, but if you are set on picking at specific farms call ahead of time for open days and times. Early in the week after a busy weekend is a terrible time to go as much of the ripe fruit has been picked. The best days for beating the crowds and finding sweet, juicy fruit seem to be Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Two highlight farms are The Farmer’s Daughter Produce (on Walnut Blvd., tel. 925 634-4827) and Pomeroy Farms (also on Walnut). The peaches and apricots are wonderfully ripe and warmed by the weather are a delight to eat right off the tree.

Chris, who runs Pomeroy Farms, and is the fourth generation keeping the family orchards going, is very approachable. Be sure to ask him about the ‘lay of the land’ in Brentwood.

As I mentioned before, the signs of a coming tidal wave of bulldozers is everywhere evident. The most probable future of this area is on display closer to the town center, with many new walled housing tracts sporting young lawns. But the tentacles of paved “progress” are reaching far into the surrounding fields. Many of the single lane roads have sprouted two or three additional lanes with large intersections leading to open fields. Billboards advertising monster developments with ironic names like ‘Oak View’ or ‘The Orchards’ liter the road side.

There is a Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust who, like the better known MALT in Marin County, aims to preserve farmland while increasing economic opportunities for the growers. I get the impression however that BALT has less muscle than their counterpart in Marin at the moment and is being overwhelmed by the pressure to build.

At the risk of further pontificating the fun out of your outing, picking your own will also give you a sense of what it takes to get perfect produce to you. As you work down a row of berries say, your learning curve is steep. At first you may pick every berry you can reach easily. Soon enough you realize that not all fruit are created equal. How many berries do you pass up in order to get only the ones you feel are right? These are too young. This one has cobweb on it. This one looks to have insect damage on it while others are too firm.

If you are like me, you will go through a period of ultra-selectivity with an image of a perfect olallieberry tart made only with perfect fruit. Once your eyes become sore from the bird-like scanning behavior, and your lower back kicks you back for reaching those fruit down low (where the average picker won’t go), you will revert back to pick-‘em all. But now it will not be from lack of picking wits. My realization is that berries summed up in a tart or in preserve or even eaten one-by-one are in a spectrum of flavor and beauty. It is a good lesson to learn early about the imperfection and glorious messiness we live within. There might be something here to say about tolerance as well but I will stop.

I hope the experience also makes you pause to think about the men, women, and children who do this for a livelihood.

I don’t mean to be a wet rag on the fun. When it comes to food there is room for everything under the sun (pun maybe?): you-pick-‘em, you grow it, someone else grows it locally and you get it at the farmer’s market… only we can’t continue to do it mindlessly. So this will be my only apology for pontifications ad nauseum – it’s my mission.

1 comment:

annehawk said...

Francisco - This is not the right post to put this comment, but your blog and lots of reading lately has got me thinking, and trying to be more conscious about what I'm eating...I feel like there is lots of info out there about where to get good fruits and veggies, but not a lot about where to get meat. So, I have been doing some research, trying to find local farms that raise their animals humanely. I'm sure many vegetarians think this is an oxymoron, but I think it can be done, even if ultimately they will be slaughtered. Today, I went to the Grand Lake Farmer's Market (add us to the list on your blog!!) and talked to the folks from Prather Ranch Meat Co. They have a shop in the Ferry Building and sell Beef, Pork, Lamb, Buffalo and Vitellone (which I gather is basically veal - something I gave up eating a LONG time ago). I am still learning a lot about the different ways animals can be raised - how they are kept, what they are fed, etc. But, this place seems like a good place to start. Perhaps you could do a post on organic meat, or something along those lines...anyway, Prather's website is: http://www.prmeatco.com/mission.html and they are at the Grand Lake Farmer's Market every Saturday (I bought bacon and chorizo from them).

Hope all is well,