Have You Ever Been Waylaid By A Farmer?

September 9, 2010 § 11 Comments

How — and where — might this happen, you ask? Well, imagine yourself walking down a fairly empty street in a city after dark, searching for a wine bar that’s hosting an event that you’re intrigued by — so intrigued that you’re attending this event all by yourself on a Wednesday night. You’ve never been to this bar, so you don’t know where it is, and after you pass an oil change shop and a laundromat but no signs of a lively affair, you feel a slight thread of anxiety weaving its way into your mind as you wonder, “What am I getting myself into?”

But then you see a giant portable pizza oven set up on the sidewalk, spitting out what looks like gourmet thin-crust pizza, and some hipster-y looking folks milling about with paper cups of what you soon discover is Four Barrel coffee, and someone pulling up on a Vespa. You suddenly recognize that you’re in the right place.

You walk into the bar, the room bathed in warm light and the walls lined with hundreds of bottles of European wine. You push your way through a huge crowd of people sipping wine and sampling the goodies offered by eight artisan food producers that are there for the evening — everything from vanilla pear butter that has an unexpected but lovely savory quality, to a whiskey chocolate truffle, to lacy florentine cookies, to spicy dry salami.

You feel a bit unmoored, being there alone in a crowd of people who have all clearly brought a friend — or five. You’re nibbling on another chocolate truffle — this one with fresh raspberry jam inside — and you’re wondering if you should go home, even though you’ve only been there for 10 minutes.

Then, suddenly, you notice a celebrity of sorts, commanding presence in the room. He stands out in this room of hipsters and young professionals. He’s a tall guy in overalls, silver streaks in his hair, and tanned skin that crinkles at his eyes when he flashes his electric grin, which he seems to do often. People seem eager to talk to him. The chocolate producer goes a bit agog when this guy comes over to nab a sweet, telling him that he visits his stand every Saturday at the farmers’ market.

You have absolutely no idea who this guy is. So, you decide to eat another whiskey chocolate truffle. When a soft moan escapes your mouth because it’s so darned good, and you ask the chocolate producer if he makes those with bourbon, and you get into a spirited dialogue about where to get the best bourbons*, you sense that the guy in overalls is smiling at you. Perhaps he’s amused that someone he doesn’t expect to loves bourbon.

Well, this is how I got waylaid by a farmer. Farmer Al of Frog Hollow Farm.

Those of you who frequent the Ferry Building in S.F. know this place — they have a shop in the building that sells their jams, pastries, coffee and some fruit, and a farmstand out back on Saturdays that sells 25 varieties of peaches, nectarines, cherries, apricots, pluots, plums, Asian and European pears and table grapes grown on a 133-acre organic farm on the Sacramento River Delta.

For whatever reason, Farmer Al and I got to talking. He brought me over to his table, where I sampled Flavor King pluots and Emerald Beaut plums, peaches and cherry tomatoes (those pluots and plums were out of this world!). He told me his life story: how he grew up in Berkeley, started out teaching in Hawaii, then realized he wanted to go back to the land before anyone was doing that. How he didn’t know a thing about farming until he started doing it by planting his first peach tree in 1976. How he didn’t think he wanted kids until he married a woman who wanted them, and how it’s transformed his life into an even better existence. About his nephew, named Khyber, after the pass. About how much he loves his life.

His passion for growing the best fruit out there, and for doing it sustainably, was infectious**. To play on a theme I wrote about earlier this week, here was a man who was clearly following his bliss.

I think we ended up talking for 40 minutes. Not that I was keeping track; I was having too much fun. And not that I had a plan for that night with which this conversation interfered.

In fact, one thing I’ve discovered this year is that often, the best things happen when you have no plan. They happen when you allow yourself to go with what feels good and right, when you are fully present in the moment, when you keep yourself open to whatever might seem intriguing.

*If you, like me, love bourbon, try Pican in Oakland, which has an impressive bourbon tasting menu (BIG thanks to our friends Andy & Georgie who introduced us to it). The San Francisco Wine Trading Company also has a killer selection.

**So infectious that I asked Farmer Al if he’d take me on a tour of his farm. He said yes! So I’ll share that story with you once it happens. UPDATE: Here’s the link to the post about my visit.


So, what exactly is this event I went to, you might be asking?

It was an event celebrating the launch of a book called Food Heroes by Georgia Pellegrini at a wine bar, Terroir. Food Heroes tells the stories and recipes of 16 culinary artisans across the world. Georgia’s own story is fascinating: she started at Lehman Brothers but decided that analyzing spreadsheets for 16 hours a day wasn’t her thing, at which point she enrolled at the French Culinary Institute and landed jobs at renowned farm-to-table restaurants (Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York and La Chassagnette in France) before publishing this book. She has another, Girl Hunter, on the way, along with a TV show.

Click here to see photos of the event and descriptions of the artisan food producers who were there, and to learn more about Georgia.

Click here to learn more about the book, Food Heroes.

I’m going to read the book over the next couple of months. If you want to read it with me, let me know. I’d love to have some like-minded locavores to read and discuss it with.

And if you enjoyed this post, please share it with someone else you think would be tickled by it.


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§ 11 Responses to Have You Ever Been Waylaid By A Farmer?

  • […] at Frog Hollow Farm for my tour with Farmer Al, which all started with my solo attendance at the Food Heroes event a week […]

  • sounds like my kind of evening. And going on your own is absolutely the best way sometimes so you have the freedom to mingle and natter to your hearts content. Enjoy your day with Farmer Al.
    Thanks for coming over to my veggie patch to say hello. I’ve enjoyed my rummage around your blog and will come again :o)

  • Katie Hart says:

    Book! I’m down to read it with you. Sounds good.

  • Matt Cobb says:

    Where can I buy the bourbon truffles? Swishing Booker’s and Hersey’s Special Dark Chocolate is getting old. You are brave to meet a random farmer in a wine bar and want to visit his farm. That would be very suspect in North Carolina.

  • mai truong says:

    Stephanie, this is my favorite blog post of yours so far. Though I’ve liked them all. Thank you for writing and sharing it with us!! It sounds like you had such a great experience…one of those that leaves you feeling so grateful for life and all it has to offer :). I would love to read along with you, though I’m not sure I can guarantee a good pace. Let me know, in the meantime I’m buying the book. 🙂 I can’t wait! and also really love the picture you have for this post, it’s beautiful. Where is it of?

    • Mai- THANKS for the feedback–it means so much to me that this post was a favorite. I’m so glad you bought the book…can’t wait to hear what you think as we read it. I have to admit the photo’s not mine, but it’s an Italian field.

      Matt – So happy to see you coming by for a visit! Bourbon truffles at Charles Chocolates in SF, http://www.charleschocolates.com. Although Booker’s with a Hershey’s chaser doesn’t sound half bad.

  • Chris Burley says:

    Stephanie, thanks for visiting our website. I’m glad to hear about your goal of growing 80-90% of your food at home. How marvelous would it be to walk outside and pick fresh heirloom tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, gravenstein apples, detroit dark red beets, and purple carrots for a summer dinner? Mmmm…. I’m so excited. Let us know when you want to come out to Hayes Valley Farm – http://www.hayesvalleyfarm.com/ – we’d love to have you share your story and learn from your growing experiences.

    Peas and borage,

    • Chris, Thanks so much for visiting my blog–I hope you come back! Yum, I love your description of walking outside to that rainbow of fruits and veggies. I’ve been meaning to go to Hayes Valley Farm to volunteer on a Thursday so will try to make it out this month.

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