Saturday, April 30, 2016

Dairy Visits with International Visitors

April has marked the end of the arduous but fulfilling task of organizing an International Visitor Leadership Program from beginning to end. In January, I moved to Sacramento to intern at the Northern Californian World Trade Center assisting with the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). IVLPs are short-term professional exchange programs for international leaders organized by the Department of State and facilitated by local nonprofits.  

In February, I saw a program proposal for dairy producers from the Palestinian territories. I successfully created a bid in the Sacramento region, which is essentially a collection of potential local site visits,  for the program.  Once Sacramento had been selected as a city stop, my internship advisor and I contacted various dairies and dairy research facilities. Following-up with all of our initial inquiries was a good lesson in patience and perseverance. We ended up contacting around 20 different sites. 

With all of our preparation, the finally arrived this week. Their professions ranged from a dairy researchers to a quality control manager to a dairy owner to a dairy by-product producer. 

As a part of the program we visited two dairies of different sizes. Our first stop was at Long Dream Farm in Lincoln, CA. I arrived earlier than the group (Both of us got lost), to which Krista, one of the owners, responded by giving me a tour of the emu flock. Long Dream Farm currently has an egg production and overnight stay options for those wanting a quite country getaway. They are also building a milking facility where they can milk their Scottish Highland and Dutch Belt cows. As Andrew, Krista's husband, guided us through the pristine cement space, one can only imagine how busy they will be once they open their dairy. The family hopes to sell creamy cheeses like camembert to folks in Sacramento using a mixture of the 12% fat milk from the Scottish Highland and the 4% fat milk from the Dutch Belt cows. 

At New Hope Dairy in Galt, CA, Arlin Van Grongingen and Arlan Van Leeuwen showed the group around their large dairy farm and milking facility. New Hope Dairy houses over 1,000 heifers and has one of the region's first bio-digesters. A bio-digester takes the gas produced by the cows' waste and transforms it into electricity. 

During our visit, Arlan shared the importance of having a transparent large family farm. Basically, the public can learn about the entire food system, especially from where their dairy products come. As we passed the parking lot, several of our group members asked if the parked Corvette was one of the owners'. Arlan laughed and said it was one of their employee's cars. He said that New Hope Dairy valued paying living wages for their employees. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sacramento's Slow Food Snails Visit Capay Valley Farms

Early in the morning about 20 of us lined up outside of the Sacramento Co-op to get on the air-conditioned bus that would take us to Capay Valley. Sacramento Slow Food and the Sacramento Co-op organized a farm tour featuring Pasture 42, Full Belly Farm and Good Humus Produce.

Our first stop was family farm, Pasture 42. Owners Susan and Ken greeted us with samples of freshly made ice cream, yogurt, and flavored olive oils. On their farm, they have employees, interns and WWOOF volunteers that help them with the daily chores. Pasture 42 specializes in sustainable farm practices, which incorporates routinely rotating crops and livestock. For example, their pigs help till the soil during the wet season before planting in the spring, where the pigs will subsequently be moved to another area. Their chickens are transported around the property in mobile coops and then are surrounded by fencing as they feed. Eggs and broilers hens were available for purchase in addition to dairy products, different cuts of meats, infused olive oils, and handmade soaps. The closest farmers' market to Sacramento they visit is the Saturday market in Davis.

Our next stop was for lunch at locally famed Full Belly Farms. Full Belly Farms is a multi-generational organic farm in Capay Valley which specializes in vegetable and flower production as well as catering. We were welcomed by Amom Muller at the event hall, where he had prepared a homey meal for our group. It included flavored roasted potatoes, braised artichokes, homemade sausage, a green salad, lentil salad, and sweet fruit muffins for dessert. You can find Fully Belly products at different farmers' markets in the Bay area or join their CSA to have their products delivered in and around Sacramento.

We left lunch with our bellies full and wobbled our way to our final stop at Good Humus Produce. Our tour was led by owner Jeff Main through the orchards of fruits and fields of vegetables. Good Humus farm uses natural vegetation barriers such as trees and bushes to divide the land, soften winds, and provide habitation for wild animals. According to Jeff, the animals don't threaten the farming practices, but encourage a healthy ecosystem for the plants to thrive. Good Humus' products are distributed to the Sacramento Natural Food Coop and the Davis Farmers' Market. You can also sign up for their CSA box, which is delivered on Tuesdays in Sacramento.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Slow Food Event: Two Rivers Cider Tasting & Tour

This month the Sacramento Slow Food chapter had an event at a local legend, Two Rivers Cider feature catering from Veg Cafe. The night started with the history of the Two Rivers Cider Company, which was started in 1996 by Vincent Sterne. Vincent explained the cider making process, which he begins with gathering local produce from Apple Hill near Sacramento and other Northern Californian towns. He likes to think of cider makers as the modern day Johnny Appleseed, as their need for apples increases the demand for apple trees to be planted.

Pomegranate cider 
Honeysuckle cider
Once introductions had been made, Vincent opened his taps of his seasonal ciders. Featured here were my two favorite ciders. The pomegranate has an amazing ruby color with sparkling flavors that tingle on your tongue. The honeysuckle cider was sweet and and aromatic. The pomegranate cider was luscious and refreshing.

The tasting was complemented by catering from Thai Basil's new vegetarian restaurant, Veg. A crowd favorite was the marinated tofu cubes that had a spicy kick. Another pleaser were savory samosas that tasted like Thanksgiving dinner packed a flakey pastry. Overall, the pairing of spicy flavorful with the light flavors of cider was a perfect combination for a warm spring night.  

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Volunteer Opportunity: End of Winter Fruit Gleaning

When I was looking for a home in Sacramento, I was touring the different neighborhoods in Midtown in December. I loved seeing the different homes and apartments with ripening citrus trees. As a girl from the East Coast, I remember looking forward to the winter months full of mandarin boxes lining the stairwell to our attic. Just like then, you can find me consuming three or more of these gems a day when they are in season.

After living in the City of Trees for two months, I began getting frustrated on my walk to the gym or the local cafe. Dotting the ground in a pool of sweet juice were once perfectly ripe oranges, lemons, and grapefruit. I could not stand the food waste that was happening in our community, and articulated my revulsion at any opportunity I could get at networking events. At this point, I was introduced to Soil Born Farms.

Soil Born Farms is a local agricultural organization dedicated to empowering youth and adults to create a sustainable urban food system through educational and volunteer opportunities. Harvest Sacramento is a gleaning project where volunteers pick fruit from neighborhood homes on Saturday morning and then donate the produce to a food bank in the area. One of the mornings I volunteered, my group of eight people collected over 600lbs of citrus in three hours. Not only was it fun seeing the exploring various yards of Sacramento, but I loved building a community with the other volunteers. The volunteers came from all different neighborhoods in and surrounding Sacramento as well as different cities. My favorite quality of the volunteer group was the range of ages. There are always young adults, professionals and retirees. I can't think of many other spaces where there is such age diversity.

In addition to gleaning fruit, one can also volunteer on Sunday morning and afternoons at the Sacramento Natural Co-op learning how to preserve the picked fruit.  A portion of the fruit is preserved and then sold at the Soil Born farm stand. The proceeds go to pay for the maintenance of gleaning equipment. I attended one of the jarring session where Janet from The Good Stuff  showed us how to make blood orange preserves and salted lemons. I worked during the morning shift where five other volunteers showed up. We first cleaned the jars and citrus. Then we chopped the blood oranges and combined them with sugar on a stove top. While waiting for the ruby sauce to boil, we prepared the lemons by cutting them into wedges and combing them with a spicy salt mixture. We then stuffed the salty lemons in and secured the jars. After the concoction came to a consistent boil and temperature, we could then jar the jam. Volunteers were able to take recipes and a jar of each with them home.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Coffee Culture is King: How to Home Brew

When I move to Sacramento, Californians frequently wanted to know the reason I was moving to 'cow-town.' Besides my internship, I had heard rumors of the food revolution that had hit the Farm-to-Fork capital. Unbeknownst to me, part of this movement included coffee.

Turn any corner in Midtown, and you will be face with a myriad of choices from single origin espresso to cafe sourced beans. There are seven coffee roasters in Midtown and East Sacramento alone! That isn't including the many roasters in the greater Sacramento region. When ordering a cup of dark liquid caffeine, your barista will gracefully unfold the story of the bean you are consuming from its nationality, the distance from sea level  of the soil in which it was grown, the predicted tastes on your palate, and the body features you should anticipate depending on your chosen preparation.

Like many labels of identity I held dear to me before living in California, my coffee connoisseur title was indeed challenged. Thus, I wholeheartedly appreciated Insight Coffee Roasters free educational classes held on the weekends. The classes are held once a month at their S/8th location on Saturday afternoon. Topics range from home roasting to home brewing to sourcing. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to the sourcing seminar last month, but I did attend their home brewing course.

Personally, I usually prepare my coffee by pour over and drink it black. For me, it's a comforting morning ritual. That being said, I was impressed at the selection highlighted in the course, as well as helpful hints such as grind size and grounds to water ratios. Plus, did you know that you needed to wet the filter first?

To home brew, it was recommended that you have a scale, a bean grinder that can ground different sizes, a gooseneck kettle, and the preparation method of your choice. Why so many things?! I was a little put off at first too, but in search for the perfect 'joe' in the morning, all play a necessary role. For instance, each  preparation method requires a different precise pour method (too fast and you will have a weak brew); hence the gooseneck kettle will give you more precision. Additionally, each method needs a different grind size. Each type of bean has a different weight (as well as you will want to weigh the the amount of water); therefore, you will need a scale.

Finally, why does one have so many choices when preparing coffee? Well, the different methods give feature different elements of the coffee such as the acidity or oils. Below are my notes for each method:

French Press: Grounds brew for a period of time with only a screen to filter; thus high levels of oils are present in the coffee
Bonavita: A mixture between a French press and a pour over, so you get the infusion of a French press and the extraction of a pour over
Chemex: The filter is the most important element of this method. Be sure to wet the filter and pour out the water in the carafe before blooming the coffee. Once the grounds are added, create a vortex and pour at an angle
Metal Cone: This doesn't have as much resistance as the chimex, and has an awkward balance of high levels of acid and high levels of oil.
Pour Over: The pour over requires the same preparation as the chemex, however, you want to create a cone of grounds within the filter.
Vacuum Press: This one is best for travel. This will give you a smooth brew lacking bitterness

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Beer Week in Sacramento

Sacramento's Beer Week was from February 25th to March 6th. And today, it ended in a big festival on Capitol Mall. Due to the unpredictable rainy weather, I went on a brewery tour instead investigating Bike Dog Brewing Company, Oak Park Brewing Company, and ending at the Rind for a satisfying bowl of macaroni and cheese.  As I am identifying and refining my beer palate, I am realizing that I am not a fan of blondes, pale ales or saisons, but enjoy coffee stouts or ambers.

Bike Dog was packed to the brim with children, adults, and their dogs. It was a fun atmosphere with games, but little room to sit. To stave off hunger, I ordered 'Hulk fries' from the geek-pleasing food truck, The Culinerdy Cruzer. The truck was full of comics, figurines, and was complete with a wearable Darth Vador Mask. Our fries with pesto, artichoke hearts, and spicy roasted tomatoes doused in mayo (my choice) hit the spot. While I was waiting, the chef was experimenting with a stout and a dessert recipe.

At Oak Park Brewing Company I shared another flight of beers pictured above. From left to right is the Salty Dog Coffee Porter, the Joyland Imperial Red Ale, the Steampunk Farmhouse Saison, and the Neck Thumper Russian Imperial Ale. By far my favorite was the Salty Dog porter due to the strong coffee taste.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Urban Gardening at Schools: A Garden In Every School Symposium

This weekend Soil Born Farms hosted 'A Garden in Every School Symposium' at Luther Berbank High School. As a volunteer opportunity for Sacramento Slow Food, I assisted chef Brenda Ruiz from Biba. Brenda teaches food literacy classes in local schools. She is specifically interested in incorporating food literacy into ESL courses.

For the weekend, we focused on two presentations. The first was Teaching to English Language Learners: Developing Taste. Here, Brenda developed an exercise with cilantro, romaine lettuce, lime, salt, sugar, soy sauce, and vinegar. She had the attendees try each element by itself and explain in terms of palate: bitter, sweet, salty, sour. Slowly the participants were asked to combine different flavors to eventually form a salad that incorporated all of one's palate. Afterward, she discussed teaching techniques for English Language Learners and how they specifically related to teaching food literacy.

Within this session, the feedback was incredibly interesting. Several teachers had ELL classes, where the majority of students had different native languages; therefore it was incredibly necessary to focus on the grading of the language. Other teachers gave examples of how their schools were already incorporating multi-cultural food literacy through potlucks and parent-student cooking classes.

On Sunday, the sessions were less lecture style and more experiential. Brenda facilitated a lesson with few instructions that encouraged participant creativity. Before everyone arrived, we placed all the required equipment on the table (knives, cutting boards, mixing bowls, mixing spoons, towels). We then created trays full of different vegetables or fruit such as a tray with different kinds of lettuces (focusing on bitterness) or one with various types of citrus (focusing on sour and sweet).  The class was required to create a salad with their ingredients and create a presentation explaining the process and the parts of the palate that their salad activated.

It was fun to see the how creative the students were know matter what age. Additionally, I believe the course was a good learning moment for many because they were not familiar with all of the names and tastes of the ingredients included in their baskets. The weekend opened my eyes to how much our communities need food literacy in order to take advantage of the abundance of produce we have in the US.