By Sustainable Solano
Building awareness of the benefits of buying local food and building a local food system that supports our farmers and food producers is a key part of the work we do at Sustainable Solano. We have seen the interest in buying directly from producers explode in recent weeks as the pandemic affects supply lines and people are seeking a reliable source of food that reduces their dependence on the grocery store and food shipped across state and international lines. In talking about this growing interest, our team started sharing how we buy locally, which supports the local economy even as we benefit from having a closer relationship with the people behind our food. We wanted to share that with you, our community. None of us does it perfectly, but we support local food in a way that works for each of us.
A beautiful selection of CSA contents
I am so grateful to our local farmers, ranchers, fishermen and producers for keeping my family well-fed and healthy. Since we started the “What’s for Dinner?” educational program in Benicia in 2012, our family food supply has been shifting toward truly local. Today, we source more than 80% of our family food from local sources. Our produce comes from Terra Firma Farm in Yolo County. Over the years, we got to know the farmers, visited the farm a few times and developed a wonderful annual rhythm of seasonal bounty: spring comes with sugar peas, asparagus and strawberries, summer is at its best with juicy tomatoes and corn, and later in the season — colorful watermelons (a favorite summer game for my children is to guess a color of our weekly watermelon — red or yellow); we slowly shift toward persimmons and squashes in the fall, and winter announces itself with endless greens and citruses. We are nourished by this seasonal rhythm and never crave an out-of-season item!
To our great surprise, we learned that our fish/seafood and meat supplies are seasonal too. All our fish comes from Real Good Fish, a collective of local fishermen. Every week we know the name of the captain who caught our fish (and the name of the boat!), the method that was used (only sustainable) and the place it was caught. Our meat and eggs come from Tara Firma Farms in Petaluma. Being a strong believer in regenerative agriculture, I am so happy to source from the ranchers who do it right. They are “the grass farmers”! Cows are roaming freely on the green hills, improving the health of the soil and nourishing us.
Our olive oil comes from Sepay Oil Company and occasionally from Soul Food Farm (we are thrilled they re-opened their CSA — their eggs were once named “The Best Eggs of the Bay Area” by San Francisco magazine). You have to try them! If I have a chance, I buy Central Milling flour, and I’m so grateful The Barn & Pantry in Dixon carries it. I pick up a bag every time I am in Dixon! Our family is not big on jams, but if we want some, Lockwood Acres in Vacaville or Cloverleaf in Dixon are our go-to suppliers. Our dairy and other random items comes from a local grocery store. We grow herbs, strawberries (you can never have enough!) and blueberries in our tiny home garden.
Ben Lyons of Lockewood Acres
Listening Circles and Solano Gardens Program Manager
Allison and I have been sharing a CSA box from Eatwell Farm for a while now. This arrangement has been great because we get a couple more items in our box. Sharing the box has been amazing since I’ve gotten to try vegetables that I would have never thought to buy in the store like broccoflower, turnips, fennel, green garlic, among others. This has led to Allison often sharing recipes with me, and giving me insight on how to cook some of the items I haven’t tried. Some I’ve loved like turnips, while some I’ve yet to find the right recipe for, such as fennel. In addition to this, I’ve also planted a few seeds in my garden including corn, cucumbers, watermelons, green beans and tomato starts in my backyard, and am in the process of researching plants that would benefit a small orange tree, in order to make my first tree guild. The current times are not ideal, but having the privilege to have a backyard to plant on and a CSA buddy that I can share the cost of a box with (and who guides me with cooking tips) has been a definite plus that keeps me well-balanced!
Another thing that I tend to source locally is honey from The Lazy Barn in Fairfield. While I do this to try to alleviate really bad spring allergies, I often indulge and put in on my teas and sweet treats too. Along with the honey, I also sometimes source raw milk from them (though I don’t do this as often, since I don’t consume a lot of milk products) as there are certain very traditional Mexican dishes where store-bought milk just won’t do. All in all, it’s been a real pleasure (and a tasty one) to support local businesses that do their best to provide the people of Solano County with local food options!
Packing up the CSA boxes at Terra Firma Farm
Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan
Chef and Local Food Program Manager
My relationship with local food goes way back to my childhood in Nebraska, when I watched my grandfather pull endless produce from his backyard garden and pass it on to my grandmother who preserved and canned a lot of it. They were young parents during the Great Depression and had more mouths to feed during World War II; having a cellar full of home-canned goods was a necessity and my grandmother carried on with this practice well into the 1980s and ’90s. Fast forward 40-odd years and here I am: a trained chef raising my own children, trying to teach them where food comes from, how to prepare it, and now — in the current COVID-19 pandemic — how we waste as little as possible, be resourceful with ingredients we have on hand and be patient while waiting for the next grocery order or CSA pickup.
When I was in culinary school in Chicago in 2003, the local food scene was just gaining momentum — farmers markets were popping up in various neighborhoods and fellow chefs were talking about sourcing locally and naming partner farms on their menus. Shortly after moving to California in 2011, I was pleasantly shocked at how the “growing season” never really ends (unlike the Midwest!), and I began looking for how to grow and source local organic food. I signed up for a community garden bed in Benicia and had raised beds installed in our backyard. Needless to say, right now I’m very thankful to be living near rural areas where there are several Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms. Around 2012, I subscribed to Terra Firma Farm’s CSA and then joined Tara Firma Farms, Real Good Fish and Eatwell Farm. While I certainly appreciated all this super-fresh food and the farmers who grow it (my dad was a farmer, too), I didn’t fully grasp all the benefits and potential of local food (economic, social, etc.) until becoming involved with Sustainable Solano in 2016. Today, as Sustainable Solano’s Local Food program manager, I’ve delved into the problems and issues behind our current food system, and have been envisioning what a functioning and resilient local food system looks like. While our world is changing every day right now — and there are experts out there who have studied food systems far longer than I have — I can’t help but think that the answer may be similar to what my grandparents had. Meanwhile, special thanks and appreciation to our farmers and gardeners!
Packing coolers at Real Good Fish
Resilient Neighborhoods Program Manager and Farm Coordinator
I have always enjoyed gardening — a word that, to me, conveys an activity more than a product. I love my vegetable gardens, and cooking for loved ones with homegrown ingredients has always been a great joy that I feel grateful to have the luxury of doing. While I have a small yard in a residential neighborhood I know that I am very fortunate to have the space, time and capacity to grow some of my own food, which this year includes eggs with the welcome addition of our three new chickens (Frankie, Charlie and Harry). But it has always felt like that — a luxury, a hobby, a pastime. Self-sufficiency and an understanding of where food comes from is a part of my love for gardening, but I never felt like that was a skill I would need to rely on in my lifetime, until the past few weeks. I am blown away every season by the incredible amount of food that can be grown in a single backyard and even with the meager crops I still have growing at this transitional time in the season, I have been able to harvest a steady amount of fresh, safe, and nutritious greens and eggs for my family and friends. Not only does this help us limit our exposure to shopping in public, sharing my food restores a sense of connection to people I love that I am unable to be with right now. The hours I spend tending, harvesting, washing and packing is perhaps more nourishing for my spirit than the food itself, and while I am preparing now for the next season planting I have a new perspective on the value and importance of what I am doing in my garden.
The backyard chicken crew
Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager
During this pandemic I realize the importance of the permaculture principle of redundancy. For every basic need we have, it is important to find multiple ways of meeting that need. So basically we aren’t dependent on one source. I would be feeling more vulnerable now if I was getting my food only from the grocery store.
In April 2019 I made a commitment to purchase a CSA box from Eatwell Farm. Every other week I pick up my fruit/veggie box and half-dozen eggs at the CSA drop-off site in Benicia. At first I was uncomfortable with the transition as I enjoy going to the farmers market to personally pick out produce to make recipes that I feel inspired to make. The CSA box produce is organic and mostly beautiful. Occasionally veggies come and lets just say, they aren’t the ones I would have selected at the market; either it is a veggie that I don’t like or the quality isn’t “perfect.” Now I totally embrace the box and my meals are created around what I am growing in my yard and what is in the box. I am learning new recipes and beginning to eat spaghetti squash. Today I am grateful that I have an established relationship with Eatwell Farm and I am now aware of all the challenges that farms have to deal with like unseasonably hot weather that makes the cauliflower begin to flower earlier than expected. Local farms also need a commitment from us. They are planting for the amount of people that are signed up for the CSAs and they rely on that financial commitment.
Making the decision in my life to source ethically and locally when funds allow has provided me the opportunity to build relationships with farmers and others in the community that I care about and want to support. A healthy interdependence has emerged and without realizing it — I have redundancy in many of my sources of food:
An Eatwell CSA box
Workforce Development and Communications Manager
I love buying local food. Yes, in my family we still make grocery runs for staples that we aren’t able to source locally, but more and more there are local options for many of the things we need. And you find that the more you buy locally, whether from a family-owned farm or at a restaurant or retail store that sources from local farmers and producers, the more familiar you become with what is available. Every other week, I split a CSA box with Gabriela, creating an opportunity for us both to divvy up what’s available in a way that works for us. I also tend to add on to the box pretty frequently, so that in addition to the produce that was just growing in the field days ago, I’m also able to get dried beans, sauerkraut, miso and even artisan salts. On the other weeks, my family receives a different CSA. These basically replace a large amount of our grocery shopping, for which I’m so grateful (and the produce is fresher, lasts longer and tastes better). It also means sharing in the harvest, whether a bad or good year, with the farmer — getting to know the farmer and the farm through weekly newsletters and social media posts, having the opportunity for farm visits and truly connecting more with your food. I don’t eat meat, but my husband does and has been more mindful of where he’s buying from, which has led to us purchasing meat from a local farm that operates in humane, regenerative ways. This mindset of buying local has influenced our restaurant purchases as well. We now try to ask where the restaurant sources from and appreciate and support those who are working to support our local farms in various ways. I’m a very haphazard gardener, so while I love the idea of growing my own food, and we have various herbs, edible perennials and annual veggies that we try to grow, I also could never rely on my semi-green thumb to feed my family. That’s why I feel so lucky to live near farms where there is a true passion for healthy, sustainably grown food, and that I can be a part of supporting the network that supports those farmers.