Best Of :: People & Places
Think a moment about the last piece of fruit or vegetable you ate. Do you know where it came from? Do you know who grew it? If your answer to both is "no," consider this: If you were part of Morning Song Farm's Community Supported Agriculture, you'd know that it came from Rainbow, a burg in northern San Diego County. And you'd know that the farmer who grew it is a dedicated woman named Donna Buono.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), the idea behind Morning Song and other farms like it, is relatively new to the U.S. As a patron, you make a pledge by subscribing to the program; in return, you get a weekly basket of the farm's freshest and ripest. There are no middlemen, no farmers market—the goods pass directly from the farmer's hands to yours. Simple as that.
But as the seasons change, so does the variety. So don't expect to get tomatoes during winter months.
"Supporters have to love being part of the ebb and flow of a local, just-picked harvest, as opposed to walking into a grocery store and buying off the shelf from near and far," Buono says. "We like to think that our supporters are more than vegetable/fruit buyers, but rather passionate, committed, Community Supported Agriculture participants."
And, of course, everything from Buono's farm is certified organic.
Morning Song sponsors pick up their weekly baskets from four designated locations throughout the county. One, the Old Vine Café in Costa Mesa, isn't just a pickup spot for Buono's produce, it's also a showcase. And chef/co-owner Mark McDonald isn't just a customer of Buono's, but he's also a champion. He turns her macadamias into Old Vine's signature macadamia-nut butter, her kumquats into marmalade.
"I really enjoy the collaborative relationship we have," Buono says. "Poring over seed catalogs; adding more perennials like our blackberries, Cara Cara oranges and passion fruit; and then standing back and watching in amazement what he does with what we grow."
Buono's story started like those of other homegrown entrepreneurs. Her green thumb tended to a small organic garden at her home in San Clemente, where she still lives with her husband and children. She experimented with heirloom veggies and unusual fruits for use at the family table. Friends wanted in on the bounty, and she was happy to oblige. In exchange for a share in her harvest, they contributed money, time and resources to offset the costs of maintenance.
The rest, as they say, is history.
But since Orange County is no place to flesh out her "secret farming fantasies," they found 20 subtropical acres in northern San Diego County. It was a perfect fit, and Morning Song Farm as it stands today was born. Visit morningsongfarm.com to check what's in season.
We asked our favorite OC farmer to list her OC favorites:
1. "Of course I love The Old Vine Caféin Costa Mesa." 2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 545-1411; www.oldvinecafe.com.
2. The boardwalk in San Clemente: "Park at North Beach near Ole Hansen Beach Club/and or the train station."
3. Casa Romantica: "It's the Ole Hansen house that was turned into a museum and cultural center perched on the beach cliffs in San Clemente." 415 Avenida Granada, San Clemente, (949) 498-2139; www.casaromantica.org.
4. Avenida Del Mar in San Clemente: "I don't know any other place in Orange County that has such a cool main street and sense of community. Restaurants, shops, ice cream. There's an eclectic shop called Erba that I love to go to for gifts."
5. "I know this is so expected, but I have to count Orange County's beaches. The surf, the waves, the sandy beaches. Dog Beach at San Onofre is great if you have a dog."
6. "Of course, I have to count Orange County's climate. It's a pity the undeveloped hills aren't covered with frost-sensitive orange groves. They'd be easy, horticulturally, to grow here and would reduce the fire risk."
7. Lantern Bay Park: "The park near the Marriott Hotel in Dana Point is stunning. Its hilly grassland overlooks the harbor. When you can find parking, start there, and then climb down the million steps to the harbor, walk the harbor, and then return. It's quite a workout." 25111 Park Lantern Rd., Dana Point, (949) 248-3530.
Anh Do has no qualms about referring to her late father, Yen Do, in the present tense. "My father values people over profit," she says. " And he values the community over the individual. I have those sentiments. I think that's what he teaches me all the time."
Despite his death last year, theirs is an ongoing conversation that began in 1978, when Yen Do enlisted Anh and his other children to help bundle stacks of his nascent newspaper, Nguoi Viet Daily News, in the family's garage. Yen Do had been a reporter in Vietnam before coming to the U.S. with his wife and four children as part of the first wave of refugees after the Vietnam War. The family moved from one refugee camp to another before being adopted by a family in Santa Rosa, who helped them get on their feet.
Once they were on their own, Anh remembers a busy, vibrant home in constant flux. "There were lots and lots of refugees. My parents took in all these people coming over," she says. "We shared everything. We never had our own room or toys. For me, that was normal."
Throughout these years, her father harbored the dream of launching his own newspaper for the many Vietnamese refugees in the country. Anh says her mother worked full-time in the electronics business so that her father could hatch his first edition of the paper, whose name means "Vietnamese people," in 1978. "Her paycheck provided for all of us; the paper didn't provide any money," says Anh of the early years.
But her memories of helping her father bundle stacks of paper and the books and refugee friends that continually filled the Do home have served as her inspiration for the writing and community-relations work she does today. (In addition to writing for Nguoi Viet, she is a guest columnist for The Orange County Register.)
Anh is not editor in chief nor CEO of Nguoi Viet, preferring instead to maintain her close ties to the community as vice president of community relations. "I think I'm the public face of the company in the greater community," she says. People tie her and her father together, she says, and that helps maintain the paper's reputation as a place not only for news, but also for community.
"I see myself as a connector," she says. "I try to stay ahead of what's going on with the Vietnamese community, the greater Asian community and the greater community as a whole. . . . I offer Nguoi Viet as a solution to help [people] meet the people they need to meet and launch the ideas they want to launch."
Here are seven of Anh's favorite things about OC:
1. The soil: "Things grow here. People grow here. I've seen it all my life."
2. "Pacific Coast Highway on a SoCal day. Escaping with our dogs, peeking out of the window for a good whiff."
3. "The dessert case at Zov's Bistro." 17440 17th St., Ste. B, Tustin, (714) 838-8855.
4. Bolsa Avenue: "Mornings, in the embrace of Little Saigon, when your chances of finding a parking space increase so much more."
5. The abundance of grocery stores: "It helps to track down any ingredient on earth."
6. Plentiful restaurants: "Every week I try a new one."
7. "The fact that my parents live here."
If you're going to fall to your knees in front of something representing the highest power, it better be something pretty darn bitchen. The folks at Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano must have had this in mind when they commissioned 85 craftsmen in Spain to create the Grand Retablo, the massive golden altarpiece that adorns the mission chapel today. A very grand $2 million was poured into this masterpiece of Brazilian cedar and 24-karat-gold flakes, which stands more than four stories high and is adorned with swallows and saints. It brought tears to the eyes of parishioners when it was unveiled in March, and rightfully so.
Vladimir Guerrero gets the big money, Francisco Rodriguez sports the cool goggles, and Orlando Cabrera deserves all your love after that All-Star Game snub. But the man who embodies why your Anaheim Angels are no longer a pendejada is Reggie Willits. He's homegrown, not brought in as a free agent; a scrapper, not naturally gifted; humble, a sleeper prospect and plays the small ball the way the Los Angeles Dodgers did for years and are starting to do again. His unlikely storyan Oklahoma stopgap for oft-injured outfielder Garrett Anderson who built his home around a batting cagehas already graced the pages of The New York Times and the blathering tubes of ESPN. More important, though, the squirt has continued to hit above .290 through this long, hot summer. Finally, someone at whom fans can chant "Reg-gie, Reg-gie!" who actually deserves it.
Ahh, the batting cages. The underachieving brother of the driving range, the redneck cousin of the racquetball court, the Okie-in-law of the lap pool. When it comes to solitary versions of large-scale sports, it doesn't get much better than the batting cages, does it? And batting cages don't get much better than Boomers. Whether you need a few brush-up swings, or you're working on your comeback, la The Natural, Boomers' cages have everything you'll need. Grab Wonderboy, or one of the battered aluminum sticks they've got behind the counter, and go rope a few: 70-mph stingers, fast pitch, slow pitch, softballeven bumper boats! Ahem, not that that has anything to do with batting cages; they're just fun, okay? Buy 30 pitches for 2 bucks, or have your own personal home-run derby with an hour's worth. Sure, you'll have a monster blister, but that's what all those skeeball tickets are for: the free batting gloves! Do yourself a favor: Get in good with the staff, and when that time comes along in your life that leaves you at your most desperate, you'll be able to get a job working the cages. It's a step up from the ball-shagger on the driving range, and you'll get the respect of a carnybut with more permanence.
Admit it: The first time you drove past that giant, angled black cube beside Insterstate 5, you thought the actual kids' museum it belongs to was inside. Later, maybe you caught the light shining through it, realized it was hollow, and wondered what the point was. Did the designer of the Discovery Center just really, really like Pink Floyd and somehow figured kids could learn about the actual dark side of the moon? Turns out it's actually a massive solar-panel array that powers the museumif you pay admission, you can find out all the groovy details and, yes, even get inside it. If solar power is indeed the future, could it be that one day we'll all have trippy black cubes attached to our homes? We can but hope.