Good Food for All (part 1)

Last night I was able to enjoy some wonderful food, great company and interesting conversations at the Good Food for All reception in Los Angeles. I’ll post details shortly on our other partners at the event, but I’ll start with Jimmy Shaw and Loteria! Grill, if for no other reason than I have a picture of their  offerings. The presentation isn’t great in this picture, but that’s because their table was quite popular… once they started serving, it seemed a challenge to keep up with all the people who wanted a taste. Our avocados were featured in both the carnitas tacos and the spicy shrimp sopas. Both were awesome… Jimmy must have a gift for deep, complex heat in his dishes, which went very well with the Revolution Pale Ale being poured next door.

We were also featured in a pressed fig dessert by Loteria’s Maca Martinez. This was simple, but delicious with a whipped cream topping that was spiked with a bit of cinnamon. It was a real pleasure working with the crew from Loteria!, and I think we’ll be teaming up on avocados in the future.

New Venues, New Friends

This week will find some of our produce in two high-profile events for California diners.

“Savor the Central Coast” is being put on by Sunset magazine to celebrate the food and  agriculture of this region. Tonight, a sustainable seafood dinner paired Seafood Watch with our long-time friend Tim Kilcoyne from the SideCar Restaurant in Ventura. Some of our tree-ripe lemons will play an important supporting role on the menu. The citrus poached shrimp sounds incredible.

 Wednesday, October 6, will see “Good Food for All: A Taste of the Los Angeles Foodshed”, anchoring a conference on Food issues and policy organized by Roots of Change. 35 of LA’s top chefs and restaurants will prepare tasting menus built around ingredients from farms in our region. I’m really looking forward to it, and not just for the food. We will have the opportunity to pair with several partners. This could still be subject to change, but as of now we will be providing avocados to the Loteria Grill; Meyer lemons, and Star Ruby grapefruit and Black Mission figs to Cube Marketplace and Cafe; and lemons, Meyers and Star Rubies to the Water Grill. I’ll be attending this one, and I can’t wait to have the chance to work with some great people who are passionate about food and agriculture.

Why does a farmer care about the City of Los Angeles’ food policies?

Tomorrow I will be heading down to City Hall in Los Angeles to present the recommendations from the Los Angeles Urban-Rural Roundtable to the Mayor’s Food Policy Task Force. Why take most of the day away from the farm to talk City food policy? In short, I am going because the policies and attitudes about food and agriculture in Southern California will determine the destiny of our family farm. And if I want to shape that destiny, I need to go where the people are. (Actually the same reason I write the blog…)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But when we talk about food, then a bite is worth a whole book. We need to be finding ways to expose more people to better foods. When we do, they will want more. Maybe not all of them, but enough to start a cycle. Where there is a demand, farmers and entrepreneurs will find it. When they will succeed, others will follow. More gain access to healthy food. Demand grows. The cycle continues.

I appreciate the irony that we will be having this meeting in a room where we can’t eat. I’m taking along some of our fresh citrus as a prop. I’d love to pass them out and let everybody try some, but we can’t. Rules have there place, even the rule that prevents us from eating in a City Hall hearing room. But rules can also restrict options, narrow choices and limit selection. To solve the problems that we face today may require some new rules. But more importantly it will require us to expand our capacity for innovation and creativity.

I’m not contradicting the spirit of these recommendations to note that the rules protecting us from our food have had the unintended consequence of disconnecting us from our food. We may have little idea what we are putting in our mouths. But we are comfortable and confident because we know somewhere there are libraries full of regulations and armies of white-coated inspectors with clipboards. We know our food comes in hermetically sealed packaging with plenty of labeling. We don’t read the labeling, but it all seems very sanitary… very safe. And it is safe. The food safety record in the US is pretty good. Instead, it’s the food which isn’t very good. We have done a good job of making our food safe, only to discover that our diets aren’t. We have tried to take the human element out of the loop when it comes to food. I think it is time to put the human element back. And who better to address that issue with policy makers than a food producing human?

So ultimately I am engaged in this effort because I believe that better policies (as opposed to “more policies”) will lead to more health and happiness for the residents of our region. Sure, in the long run it may help me sell more citrus and avocados. But that is good for my happiness.

LA Urban Rural Roundtable

This week will see the second convening of the Los Angeles Urban Rural Roundtable. While I have generally always supported strengthening bonds between urban areas and the rural, food-producing areas that surround them, I have occasionally had a concern with some of the ways “Foodshed” enthusiasts have sought to implement the concept.

In a nutshell, my concern has typically been that a heavy-handed approach might be imposed by well-meaning City officials that would serve neither the farmers nor the urban “eaters” they claim to serve. Some may view studies of how much areas like Ventura could contribute to the grain, beans and forage needs of Los Angeles as just an interesting thought experiment. I have worried that this data, while not too utilitarian in the best case, could form the basis of some staggeringly bad policy decisions.

And so when I was approached about representing agriculture on a panel that would prepare food policy recommendations for the City of Los Angeles Mayor’s office, I accepted with a frankly defensive mindset. I wanted to be there to nip any bad ideas in the bud.

After the first session, though,I was very happy to see that my fears were misplaced. The group assembled from all over Southern California has demonstrated a very practical sense of purpose. There is a desire to see that the types of fruits and vegetables that are typically produced around LA’s periphery make it to the consumers at LA’s center.

A few highlights from my perspective:

1) A general understanding that the food access issues that plague inner LA are not production problems, or even transportation problems… We grow the needed fruits and veggies and most of them travel through Los Angeles.

2) While the room held many critics of the “conventional food system”, there was an awareness that the often maligned, subsidized GMO monocultures are not representative of Southern and Central California agriculture.

3) A sense that whatever faults we may have, Southern California agriculture is a responsible environmental partner… less impactful that our sprawling suburban neighbors.

I know the Roots of Change Fund (organizers of the Roundtable) are concerned that relatively few farmers will be able to attend the second session. Some of this may be the Orange County location. But I think more probably, there is a certain sense that they do not need to be there to defend themselves. From this farmer’s perspective, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.