Farm to Table in About an Hour

The term, “Farm to Table” is touted and well-known in the restaurant business and throughout the world, but how long can it literally take?

On a chilly Saturday morning amidst the classic summer San Francisco coastal fog, we decided to take a trip into the edge of the Central Valley to find out. Brentwood, Ca. is a sleepy little town, more well-known for its retirement community and exurbs, due east of the San Francisco Bay Area. Approximately an hour’s drive away from the City, Brentwood lies in of one of the world’s greatest bountiful farm regions.

The area is laden with stone fruits such as cherries, peaches, plums, green gauge plums, pluots (a hybrid of plums and apricots), nectarines; corn as a major crop; all varieties of heirloom fancy and ordinary tomatoes; melons; peppers; and endless other vegetables and fruit. You can shop here and find just about every item on your list for healthy eating.

Brentwood jolted us from the usual morning 55 degrees to 95 degrees’ temperature (in Celsius, 10 degrees to 35 degrees). At times in the summer, there can be extreme temperature differentials as much as 50 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) between cities. Between the summer inversion layer of fog in the City and the dry desert-like heat of the inland valley, you are never fully prepared for both on a day trip.

Imagine starting out the day with leather gloves, London Fog raincoats, knee-high boots and windshield wipers to clear the dripping dew from the windshield. OK, maybe that didn’t happen TODAY but I have recalled going to work in the middle of August experiencing such in the past. After arriving in the Valley, the miragy sunlight is so blinding you can get a migraine headache just from blinking.

We learned about Brentwood after visiting my mother there, where she lived a healthy life for the last two years of her life until she was 98. We managed to visit her and take advantage of Brentwood’s proximity to the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that were grown in the area. We didn’t pay much attention to whether it was organically grown or not. We just knew it was fresh and reasonably priced, so we bought bagfuls to take home.

This time, we revisited three farms along the Farm Trail. Two were operated by small farmers of Asian descent. Chan Was NOT Missing (see photos, above) at one of our all-time favorites. The tiny stand sold fragrant, sweet strawberries still stoked by the sun. The pips were popping out like the magnified sesame seeds that MacDonald’s uses on their hamburger buns. At the next stop, we bought ripe, juicy peaches by the box. Both growers sold Chinese vegetables like long beans and silk melons (“see gua”) that we added to our bounty. Finally, we rounded up our Foray into Farmland by stopping at Smith’s Ranch for the rest–beans, nectarines, and apples.

We fondly recalled past visits to this area with friends and family to pick seasonal Mandarin oranges and cherries. Sadly, a number of U-pick farms that we loved visiting with the kids in other areas like Sebastopol have closed. Owners were unable to carry the liability insurance to cover people falling off ladders and making other careless mistakes. Fortunately, there are still a few in this area for “farm tourists”.

Being in this rich farmland reminded me of the huge markets in Uzbekistan. It supplies the massive linked continents of Asia and Europe (see my post from Day 50, September 2014). It was one of the largest markets in the world that I had ever seen.  Being so far north in far-flung Vladivostok and Moscow from Uzbekistan, we could understand how essential and significant Uzbekistan’s farms are to feeding Russians and Eurasians.

After having made a stop into town for cash, tomatoes at the local Farmer’s Market and lunch, we passed a local display of vintage cars at a nearby parking lot. It definitely conveyed an aspect of Americana and how locals like to spend their leisure time. Tents and tail-gate pantries surrounded the parking lot outside Safeway.

Technically, it took us more than an hour to get to the area, shop, and return our bounty home for dinner. In terms of distance, however, you can go one-way and get from Foggy Bottom San Francisco to Central Valley just to savor what the delicious California sun is really like “in about an hour”.

2 thoughts on “Farm to Table in About an Hour”

  1. Sounds like a great day. We are lucky to be almost surrounded by areas that are either naturally fertile or helped along by irrigation. A few years ago a friend told me that the three most productive areas in the world in terms of crop rotation are Oxnard (in So. California, Ventura County), the Salinas Valley, and the Po Valley in Italy. These areas get 3 crop turns per year. It is not measured in crop variety. I know Salinas is in the fog belt, but I’m not certain about Oxnard or the Po River Valley.

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  2. Thanks for the insight on most productive valleys in the world. You should come out with us to Brentwood some time! I imagine, as you say, that the Salinas Valley has 3 crop rotations based on the lettuce that is grown there. Even we can grown lettuces here in San Francisco (and precious little else!). Oxnard near Santa Barbara might be similar, with a mix of coastal fog and heat. As for the Po Valley, we are just lucky to claim Mediterranean-like climate to join the big boys! I think the stone fruit in Brentwood is only annual, but the corn, strawberries and tomatoes probably turn over more than once. Any thoughts?

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