As many of you know, the local produce season is winding down and we’re seeing a lot less variety coming in from the fields. Like much of the country, we look to California for fruits and vegetables when our own region cannot sustainably supply them.
To avoid sourcing from conventional, “Big Ag” corporations, we have been working with Veritable Vegetable, an organic produce distributor in San Francisco. Veritable Vegetable is a relatively small, female-run company that consolidates produce from organic farms in California and then supplies restaurants and businesses with their produce. (In fact, Chef Alice Waters places orders with them regularly for Chez Panisse.) What’s special about working with Veritable Vegetable is that we can source produce from small, family owned, organic farms in California — and what we receive is extremely high quality, unique, and incredibly fresh.
Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge is the only location on the East Coast that receives shipments from Veritable Vegetable, which means we are the only ones on the East Coast lucky enough to enjoy the bounty from these farms. And, while I will always hold New England farms close to heart, I am thrilled to be making new contacts in California. Knowing who is growing our food and feeling confident in their growing methods and practices is incredibly important, and one of the major reasons we chose to source from small farmers. That said, here are a few of my favorite farms on the West Coast, and what we can expect to see from them into the holiday season, through the deep winter and out into spring.
San Juan Bautista, CA
Size: 200 acres
Crops: Strawberries, Lil Gems, Radicchio, Frisee, Cipollini Onions, Shallots, Meyer Lemons
Coke Farm has been growing organic fruits and vegetables for over thirty years. Prompted by a doubting conventional farmer who speculated that strawberries could not be grown organically, founder Dale Coke rose to the challenge, planting his first strawberries on the home ranch near Aromas, California. The plants produced successfully and a local natural foods store became the first Coke Farm customer. Dale started planting more crops and, within a year, he connected with a chef at Chez Panisse. He expanded by adding different crops to the roster, selling more organic produce to local stores and to San Francisco Bay Area restaurants.
T&D Willey Farm
Size: 75 acres
Crops: Cukes & Zukes, Heirloom Lettuces, Bell Peppers, Spinach
T&D Willey Farm is a located in the Central San Joaquin Valley, which is in the southern half of California’s Great Central Valley. The family have been farming since 1980 and were officially certified organic in 1987. Watered by snow melt streams from the Sierra Nevada, the rich alluvial soils of the region grow exceptional produce. T&D Willey follows the four seasons of their mild growing climate to produce a year-round harvest of bountiful Mediterranean vegetables.
Size: 30 acres
Crops: Kaffir Limes, Persimmons, Blood Oranges, Kumquats, Satsumas, Minneolas
In 1982 the Becks moved from Los Angeles to Fallbrook to pursue a healthier, rural lifestyle. They settled on a declining avocado grove and began a fresh start with new crops, focusing on citrus fruits such as limes, lemons, mandarins, etc. Beck Grove is certified organic and follows biodynamic practices, ensuring a closed system using all natural and historical methods.
Size: 200 acres
Crops: Broccoli Rabe, Onions, Fava Beans, Peppers, Kale, Cukes & Zukes
Riverdog farm is a certified organic farm located in the Capay Valley. Rich creek-bottom soil, intense summer heat and winter frost encourage the growth of exceptionally delicious fruits and vegetables from their land. Partners Tim Mueller and Trini Campbell , along with their daughter and 50 full-time employees, keep the farm going year-round. They supply restaurants, select retail markets and sell at Berkeley farmers’ markets.
Full Belly Farm
Size: 85 acres
Crops: Carrots, Fennel, Chili Peppers
Located an hour northwest of Sacramento, Full Belly has been farmed using organic practices since 1985. The farm owners are Andrew Brait, Judith Redmond, Paul Muller, and Dru Rivers. With help from about 45-55 employees, the farm produces an amazing diversity of vegetables, herbs, nuts, flowers, and fruits year-round. Full Belly grows and markets over 80 different crops and provides year-round employment for farm labor. Employing sustainable growing practices such as cover crops and creating habitats for beneficial insects and wildlife, the farm is able to integrate successful farm production with long-term environmental goals.
Emily Shannon is a produce buyer and classroom instructor at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.