Soil to Soul

Orange County’s freshest farmers, farmers markets, food purveyors—and the chefs who love them

Most county residents only care about the Orange County Fair for its rides and fried Twinkies and usually don't pay attention to Centennial Farms, the four-acre parcel on the Orange County Fairgrounds that's home to livestock and crops tended to by local kiddies. Be a pal—donate some money to the nonprofit that runs Centennial Farms to ensure Americans don't forget how to grow food. 88 Fair Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-1618.

Unlike other Orange County tycoons like Donald Bren and George Argyros, it's always been difficult to hate Henry Segerstrom. Yes, his South Coast Plaza is a world-renowned monument to avarice, his ego big enough to allow the new Orange County Performing Arts Center named after him and his late wife Renee, and his trophy wife so weird-looking, but the man is first and foremost a farmer—and the old billionaire still grows crops on land his family has tilled for over a century. God bless you, Mr. Segerstrom . . . wait, what's that? Your Segerstrom Home Ranch is now slated for office buildings? God damn you, Segestrom—there's no future in real estate! On the corner of Fairview Road and South Coast Drive, Costa Mesa.

If you're a macadamia fan—and what human being with a soul isn't?—you must enjoy the ones shucked by Morning Song Farm: buttery, sweet, as sublime as pure chocolate melting on your tongue. But Morning Song (technically located in San Diego County but with its base of operations in San Clemente) does more than merely grow nuts. Unlike other local farms, it concentrates on growing fruits—mandarins, oranges, apples and even something called wekiwas. Plus, this is the place where you can get llama wool sheared from real-life llamas! For more information, visit www.morningsongfarm.com.

John Q. Humphreys keeps it mean and green at Ramos House Cafe. Photo by Jonathan Ho.
John Q. Humphreys keeps it mean and green at Ramos House Cafe. Photo by Jonathan Ho.

THE VENDORS
The granddaddy of them all is the Orange County Fair. It's the place to see baby animals spend their last days with Mommy before Mommy gets sold to the highest bidder. Where honest-to-goodness ribbons still get rewarded for the biggest plants, the prettiest pigs, the ugliest quilts. An oasis of fried food that's nowhere close to being organic but is required eating for everyone. If you don't visit, your Orange County citizenship is hereby revoked, and you'll be deported to Riverside County. 88 Fair Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-1500. Through Aug. 5.

Orange County now has some 20 farmers markets, but all of them combined don't match the wondrous Saturday Irvine Farmers Market. Its 70-and-growing vendors stock everything you can ever want in a market, from non-pasteurized fruit juices (orange, apple, pomegranate) to flowers, roasted peanuts, cheeses, meats, olive oil, sweet potato pie, seasonal veggies and fruits, fresh breads, hummus, succulents—even organic dog food,for chrissakes. There is even a Chinese section, where immigrant vendors haggle with customers over the prices of baseball-bat-sized ginger roots, bok choy and vegetables you never knew existed. What's best about Irvine, however, are the heirloom tomatoes on sale right now by a couple of vendors—whether they're as large as a softball or smaller than grapes, you'll never eat that red crap again. Across the street from UC Irvine, in the University Plaza.

Organic to Go is technically a Seattle company, but Orange County is one of just three areas in the United States the company serves. The concept is simple—marry America's obsession with fast food with organic produce—and delicious: wraps, soups and vegetables available for quick consumption and cheap prices. Organic to Go also caters and delivers—let's see McDonald's do that! 2030 Main St., Ste. 130, Irvine; 5 Park Plaza, Ste. 120, Irvine; 695 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (800) 304-4550; www.organictogo.com.

The physical address for Baker's Best Bread in Yorba Linda holds little more than ovens. Their true specialty is hawking baked-that-morning bread to different farmers markets across Southern California. Try them out at Irvine's Farmers Market every Saturday. Enjoy plump loaves of various styles—squaw, Irish, whole wheat, even bread dotted with jalapeños. Indulge in the sweet treats—bear claws, cinnamon rolls, croissants bulging with chocolate, all of which will make you swear off Yum Yum Donuts forever. Break the asiago rolls over dinner, and enjoy friends forever. And the cheese pockets—feta cheese baked inside layers of phyllo dough—will be the messiest, yummiest lunch snack you've had since that peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. 18166 Imperial Hwy., Yorba Linda, (714) 993-6865.

Even if you don't raise livestock, you can still spend many bucolic afternoons amidst the bales of hay and wood at Midway City Feed, one of the last remnants of the central county's farming life. Opened in 1943, this business—housed in a former lumberyard on a residential street—stocks feed for animals long gone from our day-to-day life: cows, horses, goats, ducks, turkeys, sheep, even niblets for koi and trout. There's also dog and cat feed for city slickers. 14941 Jackson St., Midway City, (714) 893-2613.

Hundreds of Vietnamese immigrants have moved to Midway City since Saigon fell, and most businesses print their signs in English and Vietnamese. Only Hoa Poultry, however, includes Spanish on its marquee, and only Hoa sells live chickens and ducks to immigrants and those of us who demand our poultry still clucking. The smell here is rank, but for this kind of freshness, you'll always pay through the nose. 8261 Bolsa Ave., Midway City, (714) 894-7796.

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