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Photo courtesy of Jamie Kingham
The winter edition of "edible Reno-Tahoe" just hit newsstands and pasted below is the beginning of an article I wrote about some fascinating farmers along the East Side of the Sierra...a portion of the story had to be cut from the print version in order to make word count so I've included it here. The omitted section shares how the farmers, Dan and Rachel McClure, met and got started farming. Knowing the background and history of a farmer is just as important as knowing what they grow and how. Because really...how can you know your farmer if you don't know their "story"? And often, it is the best part as you will find out below. For the complete story, go to the edible Reno Tahoe" website.

As we walked through the greenhouse, clipping and sampling leaves and flowers, it felt a little like a scene out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where everything seemed edible. It was magical as licorice exploded from the French Tarragon and the taste of cucumber from the Starflower made my eyes widen in surprise. 

I wasn’t on a movie set; rather, this was the small, specialty-crop farm of Dan and Rachel McClure with Sierra Edibles and Nevada’s Own. On 10 acres of land below the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains in Wellington, Nevada, the McClures produce more than just edible flowers but also a variety of herbs, hardy perennials, native berries, heirloom tomatoes, free-range eggs, and one unique variety of mushrooms.

Dan and Rachel first met in Palm Desert, California in 1996 and moved to San Luis Obispo a year later to attend Cal Poly. There, they sealed their fate together...Upon graduation in 2000, they stood on life’s frontier. With youthful enthusiasm, they wrote their mutual goal together and displayed it on a sign in their backyard greenhouse. The sign read: “In five years, we will be growing food for market.”

Dan’s love for plants and flowers, however, began long before, when visiting a sick relative who was on an extended stay in the hospital.

“I noticed that people only smiled two times when in the hospital … when they heard a baby was born and when they received flowers,” Dan recalled. “I knew then, I wanted to be in the garden business and make people happy.”

Dan’s horticulture science degree took them to Oklahoma after graduation where he pursued a career in commercial greenhouse production. But a conversation that began at Cal Poly itched at them through their early profession...A college lecture discussed the threshold of pesticide use in the field. Dan and Rachel struggled with this industry practice, knowing it was not how they planned to fulfill their goal. And when they had their first son, Roark, with brother Atlas following six years later, they knew the game had changed; they wanted to pursue a type of farming that was good both for their family and the earth. By 2005, it was time to move and start their own more ecologically sound practice.

Dan had grown up in the Sierra, so it was a natural choice to return home and settle in a place that was both scenic and in close proximity to several consumer markets where the McClures could sell their food. As they unpacked, they discovered the sign they had made five years earlier in San Luis Obispo...something to be said for the power of intention.

Read the rest of the story at edible Reno-Tahoe magazine!


 
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Beet Ravilois (sample photo, not from the actual recipe)
One thing I didn't want this blog to become was another recipe site. But one's love for food is what drives them in their fight to protect it. Recipes are a reminder that food is something to be celebrated and enjoyed.

I know I like something if...I close my eyes, start to chew slowly and try to unravel the flavors parading down the runway of my tounge. We've all been there. At least I hope!

At our Slow Food Lake Tahoe's annual fundraiser two weeks ago, Cooking Outside the (CSA) Box, Dragonfly chef/owner, Bill McCullough put a spin on two rooted vegetables like I've never seen. It was the epitome of "cooking outside the box." I fell compelled to share them both.

The first recipe is...roasted beets, delicately sliced to form raviolis then stuffed with a truffle infused goat cheese and dressed with a balsamic glaze and arugula salad. OMG! The second is...scalloped turnips! Like scalloped potatoes but better and it opens up a whole new door to what you can do with this funky, rooted veggie. Let's get cookin...

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Beet raviolis (sample photo, not from the actual recipe)
BEET RAVIOLIS W/ TRUFFLED GOAT CHEESE

3 each- Red Beets- similar sizes
3 each- Yellow Beets- similar sizes

    In deep hotel pans- or heavy pots,  place beets- with no tops. Red in one and Yellow in the other. For each container: Fill with water ½ up beets. Then, add olive oil until the beets are covered. Add 2 T chopped parsley, 4T kosher salt, 2 cloves- chopped garlic, 6 black pepper and juice of 3 lemons.  Bring liquid up to quick boil- cover and roast in oven for 35 minutes or until you can just easily put a knife into the beet.  Cool beet a bit- peel with hands then cool all the way.

Truffled Goat Cheese Filling:
1 ½ #- Cheve Goat Cheese- room temperature
4T-      White Truffle Oil
4T-      Basil- chopped
Mix together

To Make Ravioli:
Slice beet on a mandolin slicer so they are about 1/16” thick. Basically, they should be a little bigger than transparent.  Lay beets out on a sheet tray putting matching sizes next to each other. Lay about 2t of filling in middle of beet, but this also depends on beet size. Use your judgment! Then put a similar size beet over the goat cheese. Press down sides.

Balsamic Glaze:
Reduce 4 cups of balsamic until syrupy. Reduce at a simmer and when you have tight bubbles, it should be done. This will make extra, but you can put it on strawberries for dessert! 


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SCALLOPED TURNIPS

Makes hotel pan- 18 x 12
Pre-Heat Oven to 375 degrees

8 cups-      Turnips- peeled and thinly sliced
1 ½ cups- Yellow Onion- thinly sliced
5 T-          Garlic- chopped
10 T-        Butter
4T-           Flour
1 T-          Salt
1 ½ cups- Milk
2/3 cup-    Heavy Cream
1 t-            Black Pepper
3 cups-      Gruyere Cheese- grated

-Spray hotel pan with pan spray
-Melt butter in sauté pan- sauté onion and garlic until just soft
-In a bowl,  mix everything together- except cheese.
-Once well mixed, layer in pan so turnips are flat and even
-Sprinkle cheese evenly over top
-Cover with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil then bake for another 40 minutes or until top is golden brown.


 
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Spring Bounty
Nothing gets me more fired up then a farm tour. Yesterday I traveled to North San Juan outside of Nevada City, CA to pick-up veggies from Mountain Bounty Farm for our annual Slow Food Lake Tahoe fundraiser.

Mountain Bounty Farm is Tahoe's largest CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture) with close to 400 veggie shares. Owner, John Tecklin, is also a big supporter of all things Slow Food managing a 15-acre, organic farm.

For a budding farmer, I soaked up everything John was saying as we toured the rolling fields inquiring about planting tips, trellising ideas and crop suggestions. I was enamored by the abundance. Acres and acres of food popping out of the ground. It was glorious! No better time to be on a farm than late Spring...everything is so green and a cool breeze still lingers in the air before the dog days of summer settle in. As we passed by a row of lettuces, John volunteered the role a food hub could play in his business. I was delighted to hear his interest...John is a successful direct-to-consumer farmer not needing to depend on other retail markets to make a living. As much as I want a farmer like John to participate in the food hub, a part of me thought he may not have the need. On the contrary!

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John Tecklin - Mountain Bounty Farm, North San Juan Ridge, CA
He may not need a food hub to make a living but it is not to say he doesn't have food to contribute or that he doesn't see an opportunity to make a little more money...He points to the row of lettuce and says, " See this crop here, we will harvest it tomorrow but we only need 2/3 of it. The rest will get turned under as green manure. My first priority is my obligation to deliver quality, on-time produce to my customers not to manage the wasted food. But it kills me to see it go uneaten,"

John plants six successions of crops in a summer. That way he has a new crop to harvest every two weeks. He has to plant enough in each succession to factor in crop failure, low yields and last minute orders. But when the crop comes in full and healthy, what do you do with the surplus?

He doesn't have orders lined up for surplus. Nor is it cost effective to call around trying to sell a few heads here and a few heads there to area restaurants. But one call to a food hub and that's 1000 more heads of lettuce in the regional food system and $750 more in the bank account of a small farmer. It affirmed even more the necessity of a food hub...to rescue the food that goes unharvested.

When we talk about feeding the world, we don't need to look much further than the amount of food wasted in this country. The average hovers around 40%. As we just saw, the waste starts on the farm. Once at market and after it pasts its sell-by-date, it gets thrown away. What makes it home, often times doesn't get eaten and spoils. If we just learned to manage our food better, we could feed a lot more people. And organic farmers like John Tecklin are proving you can grow strong yields sustainably. Combined with a food hub to help move food through a community more equitably and we've solved a lot more than one farmer's dilemma!

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Billy McCullough - owner/chef, Dragonfly Restaurant
A COUPLE SIDE STORIES...

Side Story #1: On the drive home, NPR's Neil Cohen was interviewing first lady, Michelle Obama on Talk of the Nation. It couldn't have been more timely. Until listening to her, I was starting to think her backyard garden, school lunch and Let's Move campaigns were little more than green washing. But hearing her speak, helped me see how genuine she is in her quest. She talked about the initial transition that she made with her family from processed foods to whole, natural and real foods. It wasn't easy but they did it together. They worked in the garden together, went to farmer's markets together and experimented in the kitchen together. By including her kids in the process and not just making them eat their broccoli, they transformed.

Kids are adaptable! They aren't callused with years of poor diets like adults whose eating habits are hard to breakdown. They can change and they can help lead the change. With the parents involved, the kids will change and they will be hardwired to lead healthier lifestyles. "It starts with the kids," Michelle commented.

My favorite part of the interview was an anecdote she shared from a garden class she had at the White House, "I asked the kids, would you water your plants with soda? And they all crinkled their noses, shook their heads and said no! I reminded them, we are living organisms too just like those plants. What you feed the plants, like our own bodies, affects how it grows." Hearing her retell the story, gave me goose pimples just thinking about all the light bulbs that were going off in the brains of those little kids standing in that garden on the front lawn.

Side Story #2: To bring the conversation full circle, and then I will close...tonight at the Slow Food event mentioned earlier, "Cooking Outside the Box, "Chef Billy McCullough of Dragonfly Restaurant in Truckee, CA, took the veggies of Mountain Bounty Farm's CSA box and created the most delicious and simple recipes."Many of my recipes include just five, whole ingredients. I like to keep it basic and let the flavors shine," he said.

Six tastings were paired with local wines for people to savor. He blew everyone away with samples of scalloped turnips and curried carrot salad but the showstopper of the night was the thin slivers of golden beets stuffed like raviolis with herbed, goat, cheese drizzled with balsamic vinegar and dressed with fresh arugula! Oh my goodness!

As he addressed the crowd during his cooking demo, he advocated for the importance of good, clean and fair food. "We are co-producers of our food! The choices we make drives what is produced. Safeway didn't start carrying organic because they wanted to save the world. They did it because they saw a business opportunity. There was a demand for better, healthier, more ecologically grown. By embracing our role in the produce what we eat, we can change the way food is grown.

 
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Sexy, isn't she? This is the Somat Pulper 3000. Okay, it's just called the Somat Pulper but 3000 better describes its powers. It looks like a widget maker but this little beauty gives a whole new meaning to "it slices, it dices." Feed it a mixture of food scraps and paper products and it will excrete a pulpy slurry that can be used in farming and garden compost. It's being used by institutions like schools, corporate dining rooms, hospitals, etc. that want to reclaim their food waste. Not only does it save them money at the dump but it is good for the earth too.

No, I didn't see it on a rerun of Home Improvement with Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor - although it is right up his alley - but I did see it an unveiling yesterday at Oberlin College's dining hall. It was the inaugural demonstration. Oohs and aahhs went up from those in attendance as the waste went in and even smaller waste spat out. The water used to process the waste is recycled versus being flushed down the drain like a conventional, garbage disposal. The Pulper can handle not only fruits and vegetables but also meat, dairy, napkins, cardboard, paper plates and even the bones. Typically, meat and dairy can't go in regular composting projects because there is not enough heat generated to break them down. But with the pulper, everything gets pulverized allowing the meat and dairy to decompose easier requiring less heat. The process is speed up even faster when composting with earthworms known as vermiculture. The relationship between Oberlin College and George Jones Memorial Farm where I work is the ultimate closed loop...food comes in from George Jones to the college cafe and then goes back as vermiculture compost. Pretty nifty!

I haven't visited a college dining hall since i graduated in 1992. Boy, have things come a long way. Felt more like a restaurant than a cafeteria. I realize that Oberlin is not indicative of most colleges but it is a good model to follow. In advance of the pulper's arrival, Oberlin initiated two policies to make students more aware of how much food is wasted when they take more than will be eaten...first, food scraps were collected and weighed in effort to challenge students to reduce their food waste and second, trays were removed so students could take only what they could carry. Programs like this were the collaborative brain child of both Oberlin staff and their ecologically conscious dining service, Bon Appetit Management.

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The dining hall is called a "cafe" versus a "cafeteria" to suggest an eating experience instead of just a feeding. Bon Appetit creates a space where food can be appreciated...recessed and natural light, appetizing displays and stories about the food and where it comes from - as pictured here with Executive Chef, Dean Holliday. Dean told me how the college sources 23% of their food locally. "Local" is defined by Oberlin as food purchased within 150 miles or from companies smaller than $5 million. In addition to George Jones and other area farms there is a campus garden and a kitchen garden for easy, on-site picking. To get local food in the off-season, they enlist the technology of companies like CIFT which can flash freeze vegetables such as beans, peas, strawberries and more during the summer/fall harvest which can later be enjoyed in winter months. It's frontier days meets the 21st century!

 
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Arrived back into Truckee jonesin' for a Burger Me burger. They source their meat from local ranches where the cows roam free on grassy pastures. And they proudly display the relationships they have with their food producers on the chalkboard. It's food you can feel good about. Restaurants and markets should be proud to tell their stories. If your local eatery doesn't wear it's sources on its sleeve, then ask, "where do you get your meat?" If you get a blank stare in response, chances are your meat didn't have a happy ending. All food has a story. And if its good food, it will be a good story - who doesn't like a good story?? Perhaps a local gal makes jam from fruit grown within 100 miles. Maybe the new farmer at the farmer's market use to work on Wall Street till he gave it all up to own and operate an organic farm. Even if it is box of Annie's Mac & Cheese, there is a story you can feel good about. The more we demand transparency from our food producers, the better the stories will become. Those with foodlust are good story tellers. And the people who grow our food should have foodlust. If they don't, we should be concerned because it's not food they are producing its just fuel for the "machine." Get the full story!