Soil to Soul

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

Think shopping at Trader Joe's or farmers markets makes you a good lib? Say hello to Community Supported Agriculture, the tastiest game of craps you'll ever pay. For a set fee, participating farms will deliver a basket of freshly picked fruits and vegetables to you. You don't get a choice in what they deliver, but the trade-off is wonderful—crisp greens, luscious fruit and the knowledge you're supporting local businesses. That's a good liberal! Participating CSAs include South Coast Farms, Tanaka Farms and Morning Song Farms; call each for more info.

THE TEACHERS
Slow Food is a worldwide movement that emphasizes locally grown produce, the preservation of culinary traditions, and the subsequent amazing dishes that result from promoting the two. Slow Food Orange County is the local chapter and has already sponsored an Italian food fair featuring artisan olive oils, vinegars and meats at Onotria and a tour of the Irvine Farmers Market. Food geeks? Slow Food is for you. For more info, please contact Kim at slowfoodoc@yahoo.com.

In the past, the Orange County Farm Bureau was little more than a puppet organization for powerful farmers and citrus growers who needed big subsidies and cheap labor from the government. Nowadays, the bureau helps out farmers who usually struggle in the face of conglomerates. Howdya like those organic apples? 13042 Old Myford Rd., Irvine, (714) 573-0374; orange.cfbf.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.

Yes, commuters: The barns on the northern end of Fullerton College are fully functioning, a living classroom for students across the street at Fullerton Union High School's award-winning agricultural program. High schoolers raise crops and livestock for competition and auction at the Orange County Fair. The only drawback of the program is the youngsters learn the facts of life, namely that the cute lambs and cows they lovingly tend to over the course of a year eventually become yummy meat for the rest of us savages. 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 626-3848.

You can't tell the story of Orange County agriculture without including Japanese-Americans, yet most accounts of local farming history usually omit them. To right this momentous wrong, the Fullerton Arboretum recently opened Orange County Agricultural and Nikkei Heritage Museum. Learn about the different pioneers that influenced the growth of this county, like California Food and Agriculture Department secretary A.G. Kawamura and Seima Munemitsu, a Japanese farmer who entrusted Gonzalo Mendez with his farm during World War II and unwittingly set into motion the landmark civil-rights case Mendez v. Westminster. 1900 Associated Rd., Fullerton, (714) 278-3407; www.fullertonarboterum.org.

The Orange County Cooperative Extension is California's way of ensuring that agricultural traditions stay alive. From sponsoring 4-H clubs to assisting farming-inclined folks, this is your one-stop need if you decide to take the plunge, root up your front lawn and grow organic food. Next year will be the 90th anniversary of cooperation between the county and the University of California. See, Republicans? Government-assisted programs aren't always bad. 1045 Arlington Dr., Gate 4, Costa Mesa, (714) 708-1606.

Pomona is Pomona—namely, it's not Orange County. But we're including Cal Poly Pomona's College of Agriculture in this list because its students are frequent vendors at local farmers markets under the moniker Kellogg Ranch. If you can't wait for your local farmers market, just visit Cal Poly Pomona's Farm Store—a favorite veggie amongst the cornucopia here are the massive, cheap Maui sweet onions. Even better, the students grow and butcher their own pork and beef. 4102 S. University Dr., Pomona, (909) 869-4906.

THE RANDOM
Local filmmaker Mischa Hedges' latest movie, Sustainable Table, debuted this spring at the Newport Beach Film Festival and continues to make the film-festival rounds. It's as damning as Fast Food Nation (the movie, not the book) in its critique of agribusiness but shorter, with profiles of Irvine Farmers Market vendors, a vegan bodybuilding champion and even James Cromwell, who goes back to his Farmer Hoggett roots to argue for a humane, sustainable way to enjoy meat. And the slaughterhouse footage will make you swear off meat—at least for the remainder of the film. For more information, please visit www.sustainabletablemovie.com.

There are precious few orange groves remaining in the county that named itself after the sweet and fragrant fruit, but the most important one left is in Anaheim on the corner of Helena and Santa Ana streets. Not only does it still bear fruit, but it's also near the area where the county's Citrus War of 1936 began after nearly 200 Mexican women battled with Anaheim police officers for the rights of their husbands, brothers and sons to organize a union. There is no monument to commemorate one of the most crucial events in Orange County history—just a chainlink fence and nearby bulldozers that creep nearer to the grove every year.

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