Putting our money where the mouths are

Over the last few months, I’ve made a couple of sponsorship commitments that are a little out of the norm for a farm.

One was for a food truck. The other is for a running team. Why would I spend dollars from the farm like this? It may be that I just wanted to see our new Petty Ranch logo more often. I’m proud of it and put a lot of thought into the design. So I admit… this could all be about ego.

But I’d like to think there is something deeper. Scratch is not your typical food truck, even now that food trucks are cool. It is the creation of Chef Tim Kilcoyne, and if you have followed his blog, you know he has been a champion of fresh, local and seasonal eating. With this truck, he is literally “taking it to the streets.” I’ve been a fan of Tim’s for a while, and he’s always done great things with the figs and Meyer lemons we’ve provided him. Have a look at the Kickstarter video here.

“Everybody’s Hungry” is a blog dedicated to food, health, education and the community, and its mastermind, Jason Hendrick, has been a tireless voice and volunteer. “Tireless” is an ideal attribute for someone with Jason’s pastime: distance running. Everybody’s Hungry Racing Team has been created to help illustrate the connections between food and health and lifestyle in a very tangible way. I haven’t known Jason as long, but the work he’s done for Food Share, Totally Local VC, and promoting local food and craft beers on radio has been exemplary. Read more about Everybody’s Hungry and EBH Racing here.

I am proud to have our logo displayed on the back of Scratch’s truck and EBH Racing’s jersey. And yes… I do believe it is about more than my desire to see our logo in print. These are two gents making a difference, and I’m excited to be a part of it. So if see me eating at the truck with Tim, or running at an event with Jason (albeit much more slowly), know that I’m having a good time, but also know that I’m trying to make a connection too. Food and Health and Community are important to these guys, and they’re important to farmers too. We want consumers to connect these dots, and we want to have Petty Ranch be a part of that connection.

501 Pounds!

When you plant new trees, you never really know what to expect from them in terms of production while they are young. With the vast majority of our fig trees having been planted in March 2011, I wasn’t sure what we’d see in their first season. My benchmark for success was 500 pounds of figs. As of this morning, we have now picked 501… and there is still more to come.

But as happy as I am with our little trees (and “Harry“), I am most grateful to the response of our local community. Chef Tim Kilcoyne at the Sidecar continues to be a fig warhorse, but Julia Crookston of Bona Dea Preserves has edged him out as our top consumer to date. Perennial favorite Kate Dunbar of Petite Reve Cafe has done some fantastic things with our figs, particularly the early Desert Kings. Rabalais Bistro in Santa Paula, 71 Palm and Paradise Pantry in Ventura, and the Italian Job Cafe in Oxnard have been wonderful additions to our family of customers. We are also thankful for our friends who have taken up the challenge of introducing others to Petty Ranch figs… Kat Merrick of Totally Local VC, Gianna Cagliano, and Nancy Hochstein.

The season may not be over yet, but we can’t wait to express our appreciation for those who are  sharing this experience with us. Thank you!

And the nominee is…

(I submitted this nomination to the Chef’s Collaborative, but I’m not one to let 300 words go to waste. Might as well let everybody see it!)
California’s Ventura County is one of the most fertile farm communities in the country. Nestled next to the Pacific Ocean’s fisheries, close to Los Angeles and with a population in excess of 800,000 of its own, Ventura is emerging as America’s next great local food hub. No chef has played a bigger role in that emergence than Tim Kilcoyne of The Sidecar Restaurant.
Familiar to farmers and farmer’s market patrons alike, Tim has embraced the essence of California dining. His elegant recipes always emphasize the fresh local ingredients that the season provides. Tim is quick to credit the produce and the farmers behind it for The Sidecar’s success, and local farms are prominently featured on the menu. He effectively engages his customer base through social media, and is generous with exposure for his partners at local farms and wineries in that venue as well. He frequently collaborates with other chefs and restauranteurs.
Tim has not been content to simply lead from the kitchen. He has spread the local food gospel at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Cooking for Solutions, Outstanding in the Field, and the Totally Local Dinner Series, as well as many farm themed dinners at the restaurant. Most notable is the tremendous effort he has put toward fundraising events for House Farmworkers!, a local organization dedicated to safe, affordable, and appropriate housing for the estimated 25,000 people who work in Ventura County’s fields and orchards. Today it is nearly a cliché for a chef to talk about being connected to the farm, but Tim has been focused on the connection to the hardest working people in agriculture for years.
Among the chefs one of our nation’s top agricultural counties, Tim is the undisputed local food leader. He would be an outstanding choice for the Chef’s Collaborative’s 2012 Sustainer Award.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way

In a recent interview with the New York Times, French Laundry Chef Thomas Keller created a stir when he disavowed any responsibility for the direction of national food policy. Chefs, he said, are not responsible for sustaining local farmers or fixing climate change.

Not surprisingly, his comments drew a sharp rebuke in some arenas (Civil Eats, Huffington Post.)  Should they have?

His comments raise two questions. The first is whether or not chefs can be agents of change in our food system, particularly with respect to local food. Clearly they can. I’m fortunate to work with several chef and food artisan friends who are our “local local heros”… People like Tim Kilcoyne, Rachel Main, Kate Dunbar, Julia Crookston and James and Manuela Carling of Ventura Limoncello. Customers are responding to their work, other restaurateurs are following their lead, and food and farming are receiving more attention than ever. These people are leaders and they make a difference.

The second question raised by Chef Keller is whether he personally has an obligation to lead within the food movement. He says “No” and I agree with him. He has built his career around food as art, not food as activism. He is entitled to pursue his vision, as are we all. Even if I wished for his leadership, it would be a futile desire on my part. You can not assign leadership to the unwilling. Not if you expect results, anyway. In fact, I’m glad that he risked the predictable backlash by being honest about his views, rather than assuming a false mantle of leadership.

The Marines have a saying: “Lead, follow, or get out of  the way.” Chef Keller has opted to get out of the way. That’s fine. There are a lot of great people like the ones I mentioned above who can and are leading already.

Those are the people we should be talking about.


I’m excited to be working with TotallyLocalVC.com, a new site dedicated to living, playing and working in Ventura County, and celebrating those things that make this area special. I’ll be writing an occassional column on Agriculture’s role in our county, as well as particpated in some planned farm dinners. Part of the reason my output in this blog has dropped off recently is that I have been writing and editing the pieces that will appear in TotallyLocalVC.com. My first piece, on Ventura before agriculture, should post soon.

So even though I am something of an “insider”, I was still very pleased to be profiled by D.K. Crawford in one of the first pieces published. You can read her (overly generous) article here. She does a wonderful job introducing several of the people that I am proud to call customers and friends: Tim Kilcoyne of the SideCar and Local Cafe, Kate Dunbar of Petite Reve Cafe, and James and Manuela Carling of Ventura Limoncello. The secret to whatever success I have had as a “rockstar farmer” is that I am teamed with people this talented. When you have this caliber of people using your lemons, you can’t help but look good.

I’m trying to apply the same trick to my writing. Having the chance to work with TLVC’s dynamic founder Kat Merrick, and talented writer/photographers like DK is a great opportunity. Watch this space for more work soon!

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.