Reflection on Living La Vida Local

Diane Meier-Phelps
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Palo Alto, CA

Yesterday I practiced a favorite ritual, carefully selecting and purchasing much of the food that we’ll eat this week from the people who grow it, harvest it, or make it. There were sweet red Piquillo peppers and cucumbers grown in East Palo Alto; heirloom apples — Arkansas Black, Rome, Starr King — and cider from Dave’s orchard in Sebastapol; carrots and kale from Blue Heron Farm; Jim’s honey; Esther’s bread; and hand-crafted fresh goat cheese.

I’ve been a regular at the Palo Alto Farmers Market since moving here 10 years ago … it became a family affair when Byron was born. One of Byron’s first public appearances was a Saturday morning stroll around the market, attached to his proud Papa’s chest in a snuggly. Byron is now five years old and I’m happy to say he enjoys fresh, seasonal, fruits and vegetables as much as William and I do. We can’t help but smile at the dinner table when Byron eats his broccoli first, no matter what else is on his plate.

A trip to the farmers market is a highlight of Byron’s week. He knows many of the vendors by name and they definitely know him! No matter how busy, they stop to get a give a hug, listen to Byron’s stories, and offer him a tasty sample. He’s been photographed countless times with red juice running down his chin, eating a pepper with gusto that he’s been given by his friend Eric; or popping green peas out of the pod and into his mouth! When Dungeness are in season Pietro, who fishes out of Half Moon Bay, takes a live crab out of the cooler claws snapping, and explains all the parts, much to Bryon’s delight. Often while I’m shopping, William and Byron listen to the local musicians, or socialize with acquaintances from school, work, or our neighborhood that we often see.

The people we’ve come to know best at the Market are our friends from Full Belly Farm. The owners, Dru and Paul, and their crew drive 230 miles roundtrip each Saturday to share the bounty from their certified organic farm where they grow over 80 different crops.

Fully Belly almond butter is a staple in our house … we buy it by the case. This year the almond crop was damaged so there wasn’t enough to sell and we’ve been going through withdrawals! In summer we love sampling the six or more types of melon that are usually available; this time of year its squash in all colors and sizes. William’s favorite is sugar pie pumpkins…it’s a sure sign that Fall has arrived when our house fills with the aroma of pies in the oven.

One Saturday we went to the market with Byron’s wagon in tow because William planned on getting several pumpkins. As he and Byron rolled up to Full Belly’s stall William heard “we’ve been waiting for you!” Jan went to the truck and hauled out a large Cinderella pumpkin, a variety that’s dark orange and squatty, like the pumpkin turned horse-drawn carriage in the Cinderella story. “This fell and got a crack in it so we can’t sell it,” Jan said. “Will you take it please?” William tried to pay for it without success. Having never made a pie with one of these he was skeptical but decided to give it a try. It yielded enough pumpkin meat for four pies, one of which he brought to the Fully Belly gang the following week. A week later we found out that the pie never made it back to the farm, having been devoured in the truck on the return trip!

Full Belly Farm runs a Community Supported Agriculture Project, or CSA. CSA members support organic farming practices by buying direct from the farm, receiving boxes of fresh produce delivered to neighborhood locations across the Bay Area. We joined three years to fill the gap in winter when the Palo Alto Market doesn’t operate.

With help from recipes provided in Full Belly’s weekly newsletter, I’ve learned to roast root vegetables and to stir fry dark, leafy greens of all kinds. We’ve tried lots of produce we wouldn’t have otherwise, and have come to appreciate aligning our diet with what’s in season and what’s available fresh from farms close to where we live.

Last month we made a long talked about “pilgrimage” to Full Belly Farm to attend the annual Hoes Down Harvest Festival. Excited to finally see the farm, we didn’t know what to expect. We were blown away to find that Paul and Dru open up their home and with the help of 300 volunteers host a 36 hour party.

We learned that the Hoes Down Festival is “dedicated to honoring and promoting the knowledge of agricultural arts and sustainable rural living” and that 100% of the proceeds benefit community organizations in the Capay Valley. There were educational farm tours, a magical children’s area, dozens of hands-on workshops and demonstrations, artisans and herbalists selling their wares, live music, and swimming in the creek. One of the orchards was filled with people who would be camping overnight. A week later Paul and Dru told us that an estimated 5,000 people had attended.

We were at the farm for just a few hours so couldn’t take it all in. We did get to climb on farm equipment; touch and smell lots of animals; see acres of pumpkins; and eat great food. Byron’s favorite was the hay bale fort, which was at least 20 feet high and filled with dark passageways.

On the drive home, with Byron sleeping contentedly in his car seat, William and I shared our admiration for the very special people who run Full Belly Farm, and how very lucky we are to have them and the food they grow in our lives. We know now why it tastes so good … their dedication to ecological farming and their love for what they do is tangible in every bite we eat. We’re grateful that Byron understands where his food comes from and knows some of the people who grow it.

Dru and Paul have told us to come spend a night or two on the farm to see it all at work under normal conditions — you know we’ll be taking them up on that invitation. And, we’ll continue to do what we can to support local farmers by shopping at the Palo Alto market or the others in our area. I encourage you to do the same.




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