We are the masters in jumping from one crazy thing to another here! The husband and I. First a tough pregnancy that kept me either on the couch or making rounds to the doctor’s office. Sometimes multiple in a week. Then once finally the baby arrived (thankfully, happy and healthy!) and we barely got used to a newborn we thought this doesn’t cut as “crazy enough” for us, so lets buy a house. Now, if you have ever hunted for a house in the San Francisco area then you must know that its more painstaking than giving birth to an actual human being. Spending the weekdays looking for the house and weekends lugging a newborn and a 5 yr old around to open houses, nursing the baby in the car and eating pizza for lunch while rushing from one neighborhood to other. But we finally found “the one”! And then followed the whole nightmare called move. Don’t even let me go there!
Amidst all this craziness California Strawberry Commission came in with an offer we really were in need of. A two day trip to the beautiful coast of Pismo Beach, at a gorgeous resort surrounded by some of our favorite things in the world, sun, sand, beach and strawberries! I jumped at the opportunity and the commission did not let me down. They filled these two days with good food (lots of it!), fun people and 12 reasons why California strawberries are as good as they get.
They chose San Luis Obispo area, which is right in the center of California, for this tour because Central California is one of the best places to grow strawberries. The climate and soil here makes it favorable to grow one or the other variety of strawberry, making it a supplier of strawberry practically all year long. We got to meet some key people from the commission, many of whom been with California strawberries for over a decade doing some amazing work. Talk with faculty researcher at Strawberry Research and Sustainability Center, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Kelly Ivors was so fascinating. Did you know that one single strawberry has almost 200 seeds and all of them are genetically different from each other. So its practically impossible to breed a plant that is identical to the parent plant. In fact they do not even grow from a seed, rather from runner that grows from the parent. So no need to worry about GMO (genetically modified organism) strawberries because there are none. It was so interesting to see these people are working passionately doing research to find the best, disease and drought resistant varieties of strawberries. California is facing serious drought threat for the past few years so I was specially keen to see what measures the industry must be taking to cope with that. Answer: drip irrigation technique, which waters the plants straight to the root from the under ground water and plastic covering the ground prevents it from evaporation. I thought it was very smart. The strawberry industry has been practicing this kind of innovative farming since the 1960s.
But for me the highlight of the trip was meeting the strawberry growers/farmers. The first farm we visited was the Providence Farms in Santa Maria, where we met Tom and Ruth Jones. A gorgeous couple, married for 30 years and third generation farmers. At 21 after moving to Watsonville in 1984 Tom came closer to strawberry farming and fell in love with it. Since then they have slowly grown into a 600 acre of farmland, growing strawberries and blackberries, practicing both organic and conventional farming. Tom said something that I found really interesting – organic farming does not mean no pesticides. Organic farmers also have to use pesticides to keep their plants safe. Only that these are organic pesticides, like the predatory bugs that the workers at Providence Farm were sprinkling around the strawberry beds to kill the mites. Tom and Ruth let us go crazy around their farm, where a bunch of foodies scattered around stuffing their mouth with luscious, sweet and juicy strawberries. These were so fresh that they practically melt in your mouth the moment you take a bite. We ate a LOT!
Next pit stop was Presqu’ile Winery in Santa Maria. This is where we got to know Chef Alfonso Curti of Trattoria Uliveto. A fun Italian guy (with the most adorable accent!) who clearly was passionate about what he does and just loved food and talking about it. He welcomed us with some refreshing and Oh-so-delicious strawberry drinks and then took us straight to his kitchen where we got a live demo of his silky panna cotta topped with mascerated strawberry and basil and a drizzle of aged balsamic reduction. Heaven in a mason jar! And that wasn’t enough so he stuffed us with one of the most amazing Italian meals I have ever had! If you are ever in the area, make it a point to visit this guy. You won’t be disappointed.
We also shared this meal with Luis and Lorena Chavez, the farmers who also were our hosts towards the last leg of the tour. Luis Chavez embodies the American Dream. He came to the United States from a small rural town in Jalisco, Mexico. Born in 1934, he was raised in a home with no electricity or running water. He hasn’t attended a single day of school in his life. His father and family grew corn and beans to survive. Because he had eleven brothers, there was no opportunity to take over the family farm. He moved to California in search of a better life. In 1955, Chavez arrived in the Golden State as part of the Bracero program (a guest worker program between Mexico and the U.S.). The Chavez family now employs 300 people and farms nearly 300 acres. Despite never attending school himself, Luis is especially proud that he was able to put his children through college and pay for his grandchildren’s schooling. Luis’ son, Danny, attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, earning a degree in 2004 in agribusiness. Danny is joined by his siblings in carrying on the family business – and the American Dream.
A trip that started for me as a getaway from all the chaos happening in my life turned to be more than just that. The passion, dedication and hard work that each and every person is putting in, starting from the Vice President of the CA strawberry commission, Chris Christian to farmers Tom and Luis and even the workers in the field who were working non-stop under the blazing sun, hand picking every single strawberry and placing them neatly into the clam shells which we will buy at our local stores, is just commendable. It made me respect and appreciate more of the food that I have access to because now I know what it takes to bring it from that farm to my table.
I cannot forget the amazing hospitality offered to us by the Dolphin Bay Resort. Everything was just balanced and just right like the strawberry scones served to us at breakfast. I was able to get my hands on the recipe by the chef herself who was ok with me sharing it with you here. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed this trip!
Ingredients: (Recipe courtesy the chef at Dolphin Bay Resort)
2 cups All Purpose Flour
2/3 cup White Whole Wheat Flour
½ cup Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Baking Soda
¾ tsp Salt
½ cup (8 Tbps) Cold Butter, cut into pieces
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 large Egg
¾ cup Milk
6 Strawberries, chopped
Heat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together thoroughly.
With a pastry blender, pastry fork, a mixer or, most easily, your fingertips, work in the butter until the mixture is unevenly crumbly.
Whisk together the vanilla, egg, and milk.
Stir in the strawberries.
Pour batter onto clean surface, lightly knead and form into round. Cut like pie into 8 pieces.
Rub tops with a little cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for about 17 minutes.
Disclaimer: This post and my trip was sponsored by CA Strawberry Commission. The views and opinion shared are all mine.
I would also like to thank the amazing photographer Robert Durell who joined us for this trip and very willingly shared the photographs he took of the farmers, with me.