Lately we’ve been talking about fall, which puts us in mind of harvest—the season we like to think we’re reaping what we’ve sown, at least if things go well with us.
When we hit the harvest trail we’re also, quite literally, reaping what others have sown—the fruit, vegetable, grain, fiber, fowl, and livestock crops that define agriculture in this amazing Mediterranean climate. Even now, when Fall seems to have fallen hard—we’ve had double the usual rainfall so far, this green season—harvest is a gift that can keep on giving. We might load up on bags of mandarin oranges, or bushels of new-crop apples or walnuts or fresh herbs for ourselves, sure, but we might also buy a case or two of marmalade or wine or local brew as gifts for friends and family. ‘Tis the season, after all. And what could make more sense than giving, generously, what we’ve been given? In the process we nourish our relationships with what nourishes our communities and our region, figuratively as well as literally. We root ourselves in this place. We give what we have been given to give.
Thanks in large part to Californians’ love of farmers’ markets and roadside produce stands of all stripes, these days you can stop and shop what’s local almost anywhere you find yourself, and certainly throughout Northern and Central California. Get started on your up-the-road holiday ag shopping with a starter list of California farm trails, wine trails. and miscellaneous home-grown foodie stops from the UC Davis online California Agricultural Tourism Directory. Add to that a current listing of certified farmers’ markets in California and you’re good to go.
Among high points in and near far Northern California is the Capay Valley near Cache Creek just beyond Davis—not to be confused with the Capay area near Orland, which also has its small-scale farming pleasures—now organized into a “food hub” of dozens of farms within a 20-mile radius of Esparto. Full Belly Farm, 300 acres of varied veggies, fruit, nuts, and more, also offers handcrafted wreaths and other holiday cheer early in the season, but is taking a month off this year, starting in mid-December. So add Full Belly to the list for the post-holiday season. In the meantime, check out the website for what’s on offer generally. Click on the veggies or fruits for recipes.
Even when Full Belly’s not so full, there are plenty of options, from Cache Creek Lavender and Capay Valley Vineyards to Capay Gold and Seka Hills Olive Oil. Grumpy Goats Farm is another olive oil option. Long-running family farms include Capay Organic, which offers an unusual farm–to-food-bank program, so you can sponsor donations to area food banks and feed the hungry with good food, and Durst Organic Growers, also a regional food bank contributor. Head to Blue Heron Farm, Lamb Valley Farm, and several others for citrus, nuts, and figs. Fiddlers Green Farm specializes in asparagus.
Clearly you could dig in for a long, happy harvest in the Capay Valley, but don’t—at least not exclusively—because there are many more possibilities, such as Nevada County Grown, another official food hub growing that offers farms and ranches, you-pick stops and fruit stands, herb farms, vineyards and tasting rooms, even local lumber, wool and fleece, grains, even Christmas trees. Not on the list—not really a local producer—but a long-running favorite of mine is Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply on Peaceful Valley Road in Nevada City, something of an organic gardeners’ mecca which also publishes great catalogs and sells everything you can imagine online.
Also worth checking out if you’re in gold-rush country: famous Apple Hill Growers Association, El Dorado County Farm Trails, and North Yuba Grown. If you’ll be heading north toward Oregon, be sure to consult the online Shasta Cascade Farm Finder before you finalize travel plans. And how about that California Cheese Trail?