CSA Farm Spotlight: Wilkinson Acres

By Sustainable Solano

This is an ongoing series profiling local farms that have Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) available in Solano County. CSAs create a way for community members to buy a share of the harvest directly from local farmers. Customers pay a set amount and receive a box of seasonal produce or other farm products in return. Such arrangements help farmers receive a greater share of the money paid, bring customers fresh, local produce and promote health, community and the local economy.

Mike and Courtney Wilkinson of Wilkinson Acres

Mike and Courtney Wilkinson started thinking about their future together after they were married — and what they really wanted to do with their lives.

“After a lot of discussion, we decided what we wanted more than anything was a lifestyle — one in which we could provide good, healthy food for our community while enjoying the freedoms (and responsibilities) of owning our own small business,” Courtney said.

The two left their jobs as a building engineer and high school teacher and started Wilkinson Acres in Fairfield about a year ago, where they use low-till and organic practices to grow vegetables and fruit for their customers, which include restaurants, weekly visitors to their farm stand and, starting in January, CSA members.

Below is a Q&A with Courtney about Wilkinson Acres:

  • Wilkinson Acres
  • Fairfield
  • 5 acres
  • 2019

 

When did you start offering a CSA? Why was it important to offer?

Our first ever CSA starts in January 2021! 2020 was a crazy year of pivoting due to COVID-19. The closure of many of our restaurant accounts required a shift in our business model towards our direct community. We realized that now more than ever it’s important for us to make healthy, organic food accessible to our immediate neighborhood and county. The CSA model allows our community to give us a boost at the beginning of the season, ensuring we can provide them with the best of our product for the 16-week season!

Are there special perks for CSA members? Why do people tend to subscribe?

There are definitely perks to being a member! For starters, all members get an extra 10% off at the farm stand (on-site), as well as a weekly Member Newsletter, featuring recipe ideas for the week’s produce. We’re working on more perks, in conjunction with some of our farm stand partner vendors. Stay tuned!

What’s something that makes your farm stand out?

Our organic certification. We’re certified organic by CCOF and, as far as we can tell, we are the only officially certified organic farm in the Fairfield/Suisun Valley area. We take a tremendous amount of pride in our organic transparency and the quality of our certified organic product. We are looking to implement even more organic and sustainable practices around the farm in the years to come.

We use low-till growing practices to build soil health, which, in turn, grows better produce. Encouraging all the good bugs and bacteria to live in our soil by not tilling up their ecosystem and by adding in organic compost benefits the farmer and the plants. These beneficials, as we call them, help the plants take in and process nutrients, resulting in healthier, tastier food. Low-till farming is environmentally friendly, sustainable, and low-waste. It may not be the easiest way to farm, but we believe sustainable growing practices create better farms, food and families.

Anything exciting on the horizon? What do you see happening and what do you want to see happen with interest in local food?

The opening of our first CSA! We’re focusing hard on making the CSA kickoff in January an exceptional customer experience. Check out our website (WilkinsonAcres.com) for all the details.

With regards to interest in local food — we’d love to see more! We’ve had the great fortune to start creating relationships with a lot of passionate foodies in Solano County, but we know there are so many more people in our county that can and should benefit from the fantastic variety in the local ag and hospitality industries.

Anything else you’d like to add?

A big huge thank you to all of our customers! It’s been a wild couple of years for all of us and we know we would not be here without them. We are so deeply grateful for the welcome we’ve received from the agricultural community in Solano County. If you haven’t visited us yet, come see us every Saturday, 8 am-noon at the farm stand [winter hours: 10 am-2 pm]. We’re looking forward to meeting you!

Wilkinson Acres has its Solano County CSA drop site at the farm. Learn more about how to sign up here.

Find out more about local CSAs here.

Stocking Your Pantry for Uncertain Times

By Lisa Núñez-Hancock, Culinary Arts Instructor

Whether it is fire season, an earthquake, a pandemic, the busy pace of life, or unexpected guests, it is always a good idea to have a well-stocked pantry of healthy, nonperishable items on hand. Eating healthy foods, maintaining a good gut microbiome, getting enough sleep, and minimizing stress are all important to optimum health.

Having nutritious staples in your pantry will steer you in the direction of eating better and staying healthy. Beans, legumes, whole grains, dried pastas, brown rice and rolled oats are all foods with a long shelf life and can be a base for soups, stews, salads and grain bowls. Combined with fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits, eggs and sides of meat, if desired, the variation of nutritious meals you can create with basic staple foods is endless.

In no way am I implying that you should be stockpiling or hoarding food. That is ultimately wasteful and not neighborly. I also recommend practicality and economy when furnishing your pantry. Purchasing local products whenever possible supports local farmers and food crafters, and benefits both the local economy and our immediate communities.

There is a culinary pleasure and satisfaction in throwing open a well-socked cupboard and being able to create a meal on the fly. Of course, there is Google and you could get someone else’s recipes, but there is a lot to be said for being creative, inventive and spontaneous, in life in general, and especially in the kitchen.

Beans and legumes have a good shelf life and are a healthy source of essential vitamins and minerals. They are an important plant-based protein and a good source of fiber. They are easy to prepare and versatile in recipes. Rancho Gordo, a company specializing in heirloom beans and located in Napa, stocks a selection of glamorous beans in a rainbow of colors and flavors. In my pantry right now, I have Marcella white, Midnight black, a beautiful purple bean called Aycote Morado, and a quirky heirloom called Vaquero (I love them — they are spotted black and white and remind me of miniature cows). All beans are wonderful and make delicious one-pot soups and stews.

Grains! If any of you have attended my cooking workshops, you know I am all about the grain bowl, a bit of a fanatic in fact. Ancient grains like quinoa, millet, farro, bulgar and amaranth, to name just a few, are healthy for you, and full of important nutrients, minerals and essential fiber. Although not local, I have been having a long-distance relationship with Bob’s Red Mill for many years and his grains makes me happy and healthy more than I can tell you!

Dried pastas are always good to have on hand, especially if you have children and picky eaters in your home. Combined with a variety of innovative herb and nut pesto sauces or tomato-based sauces that you can make from your garden’s yield or CSA box. Add shelf-stable olives, capers and marinated artichokes to create pasta dishes that are easy and quick to make, and a filling meal for one or a group. Locally produced Baia Pasta in Oakland is a good source.

Which brings me to the subject of canning and preserving. If you are growing your own vegetables, a member of a community garden, get CSA boxes, or frequent your farmers market, you should know how to can and preserve your produce, so as not to waste a bit of nature’s beautiful bounty. Your homemade canned products will be a “lush” addition to your pantry of staples, as well as a source of pleasure when cooking with them. I can’t tell you the satisfaction of cultivating a plant, harvesting it, and “putting it up” (on your pantry shelf or in your “root cellar”). Knowing where your food comes from, how it was prepared and that you created canned tomatoes from your summer crop or your own delicious pickles and jams is truly a heightened experience.

Although not necessarily shelf stable, don’t forget an important realm of crafted foods — probiotics like sauerkraut, pickles and fermented vegetables. They must contain lactobacillus acidophilus, which is essential for good gut health and proper immune functioning.

And especially, don’t forget the spices! Think of your spice drawer as a medicine cabinet. Spices not only make food taste better, they are medicinal, have healing properties that will boost your immune system, add much needed spice to life, and keep you healthy.

A short caveat: I have listed local food sources, but I understand that not everyone can afford these items. The basic staple list can be adapted to fit your budget with an eye to supporting our local food producers when possible.

Suggested Items for Stocking Your Pantry

Below are some items as well as local sources. You can find locally sourced staples at some of these retail shops and restaurants.

Beans

  • Rancho Gordo

Grains

  • Bob’s Red Mill, Community Grains

Pastas

  • Baia Pasta, Community Grains

Rice & Noodles

  • Lotus Foods

Olive Oil

  • Il Fiorello, De Vero, Katz & Company, Soul Food Farm, Sepay Groves

Vinegar

  • Il Fiorello, Sepay Groves, Katz & Company

Local Honey

  • Be Love Farm, E.G. Lewellen’s, (check your CSA box add-ons)

Nuts

  • Nut-N-Other Farms, Sierra Orchard, Cal Yee Farm

Dried Fruit

  • Cal Yee Farm, Frog Hollow Farms

Sauerkraut

  • Salt & Savor

 Pickles

  • The Cultured Pickle Shop

 Tea & Coffee

  • Numi (tea)/ Moschetti, Ritual (coffee)

Jam

  • Erickson Ranch, Bridgeway Farms, Inna, Frog Hollow Farm

Hot Sauces and Salsas

  • The Salsa Chick

Granola

  • Nana Joes, Tom’s ‘Best Ever’, Frog Hollow Farms

Spices

  • Whole Spice, Savory Spice Shop, Lhasa Karnak, Bazaar

Mustard

  • Mendocino Mustard

Canned Fish

  • Katy’s Smokehouse

Basic Baking Ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, yeast

Note: Have a local source for some of these items we should add? Let us know at allison@sustainablesolano.org 

Access Food Resources Here

Discover recipes with seasonal ingredients

Learn more about Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) — boxes of produce from local farms

Learn what’s in season now

Find out more on our Local Food page

Explore our Community Resilience Resources for more food resources

Alliance Members Reflect, Connect to Deepen Local Food System Conversation

By Kassie Munro, Program Manager

Solano County Farmbudsman Sarah Hawkins and Kaiser Vallejo Nutritional Services Manager John Healy, both Alliance members, connect during the February meeting. Kaiser Vallejo is the first healthcare organization in Solano that has started sourcing consistently from small farms in the county. 

The Solano Local Food System Alliance held its first quarterly meeting of 2020 at the beginning of February to continue its collaborative effort to foster a strong local food system within the county.

At the February meeting, Alliance members began by reflecting on insights gathered during the October listening sessions, including the nuanced importance of building community health and community wealth, and the strong interest around developing robust farm-to-school programs.

The meeting included a discussion on climate change and agriculture lead by Wendy Rash and an in-depth review of fees and regulations that farmers face to sell their food at different venues compiled by Jahniah McGill and Priscilla Yeaney. A deeper conversation developed around policy and the actions needed to bring about meaningful change that would help our farmers thrive.

The Alliance received updates from the Sustainable Solano team on the recently awarded CDFA Specialty Crop Block Grant that is supporting the development of a number of key initiatives. Those include farm-to-institutional customer sales, public education on the importance of eating locally and the abundance of produce grown in Solano County, including cooking classes across the county, and the development of the first Bounty of the County event slated for August 29.

You can find more details in the meeting minutes here.

Curious about the Solano Local Food System Alliance? Learn more about the USDA grant that led to the creation of the Alliance and find out more about its work here.

Explore Local Farms at Open Farm Days in Vacaville

By Lisa Murray, Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association

Last year, Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association hosted their first-ever Open Farm Day, held at four Vacaville farms. For many in the Vacaville area, it was an introduction to local farms and to the history of Pleasants Valley. 

This year, PVAA will host Open Farm Days, now held over two days, Saturday and Sunday, July 27-28, from 9 am- 3 pm at seven Vacaville farm locations. At each location, there will be even more Vacaville farmers present to introduce themselves to the public. The date was moved back from last year to coordinate with Visit Vacaville’s Farm-To-Table Dinner happening on July 27 on Main Street in downtown Vacaville. Many of the PVAA farmers’ goods will be included in the dinner. So visitors can visit the farm, meet the farmer, and then attend the farm dinner and taste the farm-fresh goodness from the farm they just visited! Because the food spends less time in transit, it’s fresher, healthier and just tastes better. Local food encourages diversification of local agriculture, which reduces the reliance on single crops grown on a wide area, which depletes the soil of nutrients — no nutrients in soil means no nutrients in our food. 

“We wanted our first Open Farm Day to be a light introduction with only a few locations as to not overwhelm visitors. This year we are excited to include more of the PVAA farm locations to show just how diverse the farms and agriculture businesses are in Vacaville’s rural areas.” – Rose Loveall, owner of Morningsun Herb Farm and one of the founding members of PVAA 

Open Farm Days is an opportunity for small, Solano County farm owners in Vacaville to open their doors to the public and show what they do. Participating farms offer free talks, tours and demos, games for kids, farm animals to meet, and space to picnic with the family. Visitors get a chance to learn from and support these different farms. 

From 11 am-3 pm, wine tasting from two Vacaville wineries will be a new addition this year. For those 21 and over, they will have two locations to visit. At La Borgata Winery & Distillery, on Pleasants Valley Road, wine and liqueur (grappa, limoncello) tastings will be available. At Soul Food Farm, also on Pleasants Valley Road, visitors will be able to taste Sky Ranch’s wine. Sky Ranch is in Mix Canyon, but it is currently not open to the public. 

Visitors will also be able to shop for local produce and other goods, including everything from organic fruit and vegetables and dried lavender to wine, grappa, olive oil and honey. Buying local boosts the local economy. Less travel from a far away farm to the store to us means we end up using less fuel and generating fewer greenhouse gases. Buying local food preserves open space by helping farmers survive and thrive, keeping land from being developed into urban sprawl. And finally, buying local creates more vibrant communities by connecting people with farmers and local food sources. 

“Open Farm Days is a great time to meet local farmers and experience life on the farm.” – Alexis Koefoed, owner of Soul Food Farm

Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association is a group of farmers and agriculture and ancillary business owners located in the rural areas of Vacaville, with a collective interest in agriculture tourism, preserving agriculture land and cross-promoting with local businesses in Solano County. 

The Open Farm Days locations are Joyful Ranch, Soul Food Farm, Morningsun Herb Farm and Be Love Farm, with the new locations this year at Brazelton Ranch, La Borgata Winery & Distillery, and Menagerie Hill Ranch. 

As the schedule is still being developed, it is recommended to visit VacavilleFarmers.com to view and download an event schedule and map. 

More Details on Open Farm Days

  • Joyful Ranch, the 19th century farm that is the original “Pleasants” family farm. There will only be two tours offered each day of this historic place (10 am and 11 am) and will be given by a “Pleasants” family descendent herself, Ethel Hoskins. Other PVAA farms that will be at the Joyful Ranch location include Girl on the Hill offering their lavender products for sale, as well as a lavender distillation demo, and Sola Bees offering honey tastings and a free talk about honey. Hoskins’ grandfather, William Pleasants’ book, ‘Twice Across the Plains – 1849, 1856’ will also be available to purchase, with a portion of the proceeds going towards the Joyful Ranch nonprofit organization. 
    • A tour of the farm, vendors and lots of room to picnic is what awaits visitors at Soul Food Farm. Karen Ford of Clay’s Bees will be offering tastings and a free talk on the benefits of local honey. Lockewood Acres will be on-site selling organic produce, farm-fresh eggs, jellies and vinegar. Sky Ranch will be offering wine and olive oil tastings as a fundraiser for Sustainable Solano. Soul Food Farm will be selling dried lavender, olive oil and eggs. 
      • Having just celebrated their 24th anniversary this past May, Morningsun Herb Farm is a midsized plant nursery with a diverse selection of plants, herbs and garden gifts. There will be free talks and the schedule will be posted when it becomes available. Children will be able to get their pictures taken with the Morningsun Herb Farm donkeys. 
        • Be Love Farm, a small, family-owned and operated farm focusing on regenerative farming techniques, is on Bucktown Lane. Be Love Farm opened their Farm Store in early July 2018. The Farm Store is a place where visitors can shop for organic fruit and veggies, wine, olive oil, sunflower sprouts, bread and so much more. Back by popular demand, Be Love Farm will be offering their “Regenerative Farm Tours” with times TBD.

        The new farm locations this year include: 

          • Brazelton Ranch will be open this year to offer talks and tastings. Details are still being developed. 
            • La Borgata Winery & Distillery will be open this year offering wine tastings, grappa and limoncello tastings for those over 21 years of age, and a plein air (outdoor landscape) painting demonstration. There will be games for kids and families and an area to picnic. Other Vacaville farms/ancillary businesses that will be present include 36 Oaks Spa (a country destination spa), and Jasmine Westbrook will have a Great Pyrenees dog and young lambs for kids to pet and to learn about sheep and livestock guardian dogs. Details are still being developed. 

            Menagerie Hill Ranch is an alpaca farm in English Hills. Get up close and personal with the cute and cuddly alpacas, purchase alpaca fiber and other gifts in their gift shop. Details are still being developed.

            PVAA organizers are asking everyone posting about the event on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to include the hashtag #pvaafarmdays2019 

            To learn more about the Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association, and to view/download Open Farm Days farm schedules and map, visit VacavilleFarmers.com or email pleasantsvalleyaa@gmail.com 

            Find out other ways to support your local farmers here!

            Lisa Murray is a filmmaker and the owner of the SkyGirl SoMe Marketing Agency in Vacaville. She is also the founder and festival director of the Ag & Art Film Festival premiering this year in Vacaville.

            Here Are Some Ways to Support Local Farms

            By Sustainable Solano

            We’re always looking for ways to support our local food system, so we turned to Lisa Murray with the Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association for some of her favorite tips on how to support local farms. Here are her suggestions:

            Follow your favorite farms on social media and/or subscribe to their email lists.

            Thanks to the internet, smartphones and social media, gone are the days when it was hit or miss if we happened to catch a farm stand open on our way home from work. Every farm now has either a website or a social media presence — or both. One of the ways you can support local farmers is to sign up for their email list and to follow them on social media so that you can receive alerts of what they are selling and when (and in some cases, where!), and to be notified of any new classes or events they are offering.

            Attend farm classes, events and tours year-round.

            Many of the farms in Vacaville offer classes, events and tours in both summer and non-summer months. Attending these events is a great way you can support local farms. If there is something that you would like to learn and you don’t see if offered, ask the farmer if they have ever considered offering that particular class. They may consider it and it may become popular, with you to thank!

            Help farmers with their marketing!

            Farmers are busy taking care of their land, their crops, fixing tractors and caring for animals. Marketing is last on their list. But you can help get the word out about your favorite local farmer by posting about their great [peaches/olive oil/wine/ strawberries/whatever!] on social media. Make sure you tag the farm’s page or account or include their address/contact info. If you include a photo or video of their incredible strawberries or lavender oil, you get extra bonus points! And the farmers will really appreciate the extra help getting the word out. The more business they get, the more they can keep planting and growing and making the things that are so good for all of us.

            Buy local farm goods at local stores and cafes in town.

            Keep an eye out for local farm goods at your favorite local cafe, restaurant or deli. It’s a win-win-win. The store wins, the farmer wins, and you win. And if your favorite cafe, store or deli doesn’t carry local farm goods, let the owner/manager know that you’d be interested in purchasing from them if they did. Store owners are happy for the feedback and farmers appreciate the extra business. 

            Leave a positive review on Yelp, Google or Facebook.

            Can’t get enough of the delicious watermelon from the fruit stand on your way home from work? Leave a positive review on Yelp, Google or Facebook. Not only will you make your favorite farmer’s day, you will alert the people who are hesitant to make the trek out to the farm that it’s a great idea! And if you add a photo (or two or three) along with your positive review, you’ll really rake in the good agriculture karma points! 

            Lisa Murray is a filmmaker and the owner of the SkyGirl SoMe Marketing Agency in Vacaville. She is also the founder and festival director of the Ag & Art Film Festival premiering this year in Vacaville.

            Interested in checking out some local farms? Visit Open Farm Days in Vacaville on July 27-28.

            For more ways to connect with local food and find more local food happenings, click here!

            Ways to Connect With Local Food

            By Sustainable Solano

            At Sustainable Solano, some of our deepest commitments to sustainability, health and community are tied to the importance of food. It is critical not only to provide access to healthy food, but also to support the local farmers, chefs and others that help us bring that bounty to our tables.

            One of the challenges we’ve run into is how to draw attention to the different parts of the food system. Toward that end, we’ve created a new page on the site that highlights local food happenings and maps out local farms, farm stands and retail, CSAs, farmers markets, retreats and wineries.

            We believe a functioning local food system is a collaborative network that ensures environmental sustainability, economic viability for farmers and others working in the food chain, responsible waste management practices and equal access to fresh, healthy food by all members of our communities.

            Toward this end, Sustainable Solano has taken steps to strengthen our food system here in Solano County.

            We’ve organized a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Center in Benicia, and we’re starting one in Fairfield as we look for other possible sites around the county. We also hold regular “What’s for Dinner?” cooking workshops to help county residents learn new dishes to cook with seasonal vegetables. Meanwhile, we continue to explore new ways to connect farmers with local customers, whether institutional buyers seeking healthy food or individuals wanting a more sustainable way of putting food on the table that supports the local economy.

            Learn more about our local food efforts here.

            You’ll find the map below on the new local food happenings page. If you click the icon on the top left of the map, you can select different types of properties and learn a bit about them.

            As for the local food happenings, we’ve included upcoming events, such as festivals and workshops on cooking local food, as well as ways to get involved in the local food system, whether arranging a tour with a local farm, subscribing to a CSA membership that secures you a part of the harvest or exploring other agricultural adventures.

            If you would like to see anything highlighted that isn’t on the map or event list at this time, please contact Allison Nagel at allison@sustainablesolano.org for consideration.