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Monday, September 1, 2008

Slow Food Journey - Gems of Marin

Saturday we joined a group for a bus trip, part of Slow Food Nation, called "Gems of Marin." Our first stop was Allstar Organics in Nicasio. Farmer Marty Jacobsen (pictured above) and his wife Janet Brown grow numerous varieties of heirloom tomatoes, squashes, basil, melons and all sorts of unique crops.
These are tomatillos and various squashes:

Marty's wife grows antique perfume roses and distills the petals into rose water. She also whips up batches of different flavored salts and sugars. I bought some spearmint sugar and rosemary salt. I don't really know what I'm going to do with them, but they are the sort of thing I can't resist. They sell them at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market. The blends contain both pulverized herbs and herb oils, so they are extra intense.

Marty is quite a character. Our tour guide told us he was from Wisconsin, so someone asked him if he grew up on a farm. He said, "Heck no, I'm a JEW from Chicago!" He told us he had spent most of his working life as a Creative Director for different ad agencies around the country, the last one being Hal Riney in San Francisco. At our guide's suggestion, Marty led the group as we traipsed through his fields.

Then it was back on the bus to our next stop, McEvoy Ranch. Here's our first glimpse of it from the road.

This gorgeous ranch covers 550 acres of rolling hills outside of Petaluma. The owner, Nan McEvoy, is an heiress. Her family founded the deYoung Museum in San Francisco and owned the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. (Hint: she's got a few bucks...) I have been wanting to check this place out for a long time. It's not generally open to the public.

The ranch is entirely fenced in to protect the olive trees from marauding deer. We did see 3 jackrabbits hopping about. They rent sheep to keep the weeds down. One of the companies that rents them has the cute name, Wooly Weeders.

The place is very tastefully put together. The tasting room features an original Wayne Thiebaud painting of a display of cakes. A guy who I noticed sketching during the trip and I were standing in front of it, slack-jawed. They even have an original Diebenkorn in the bathroom, fer gawdsakes. (Ok, I'll give in and move in here with you, Nan, but only if you insist. Yes, I could be your artist-in-residence. Twist my arm.)

They took us around the olive orchard and taught us all we wanted to know about growing Italian olives for Tuscan-style olive oil. They also grow a lot of lavender, which is the low mounding plant in the above photo. I bought some fragrant lavender olive oil soap. Our tour guide demonstrated the tool they use for harvesting the olives.

It was hot in the noonday sun, so we were glad to go inside to tour the pressing room. They have machinery imported from Italy to grind the olives to a paste before extracting the oil. The grindstones are huge and made of granite.

After tasting a couple of oils, we had our lunch at some tables under umbrellas. The lunch was catered by Della Fattoria. I was the last one seated, and had to sit in the sun. I've been dreaming about how fabulous this lunch was going to be, and I was sorely disappointed. It was a small green salad with a few tiny croutons, a few cherry tomatoes and about 3 slices of cucumber. The salad was fine, but (HELLO!) Della Fattoria is known for their bread, and all's we got was a few crummy croutons. They gave us water and a chocolate chip cookie too, but everyone left unsatisfied.

Back on the bus, we continued on to our next destination: Stubbs Family Vineyard in Petaluma. It's a very small winery which produces Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and some Merlot. The owners built the buildings themselves, and the architecture and decor are very eclectic. They have a lot of interesting wood carvings.

After tasting wine and poking around the grounds, it was time for our trip back. During the bus ride, we learned all about Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) and how they have managed to keep open space and keep working farms in Marin. Thanks to the foresight of a group of conservation-minded folks, we can drive a very short distance from San Francisco and find ourselves in a landscape of beautiful rolling hills and family-owned farms. The areas shown in green below are farmland.

Thank you, MALT!


Linda said...

Your photos of tomatillos and squashes really do look like gems. I'm glad you wrote about this event--I was very curious!

Dorothy Reinhardt said...

If you haven't been down to City Hall to check out the Victory Garden, you should go. They are leaving it up through November now.