This was supposed to be a post about pressure canning. But somehow I got sidetracked by the Revolution. The Organic, Sustainable Food Revolution, that is. If my life were a movie (and sometimes I think it is), I should have realized last night was dramatic foreshadowing. Up here alone for the evening, I wandered into the Sebastiani Theater on Sonoma Square and into the movie Taking Woodstock. I’m too young to be part of Woodstock Nation, but I was surrounded by it at the theater last night. These Woodstock refugees were never more vocal than when The Jefferson Airplane cranked up in the soundtrack with Volunteers of America. Little did I know that the next day, I’d meet the front lines of that revolution not that far off Sonoma Square.
The catalyst was a planned canning adventure that suddenly derailed when I found my bumper crop of tomatoes only weighed 7 lbs. I needed at least 27 to fill the seven quart jars in my Mother of All Pressure Canners. Never fear. This is Sonoma. And a farm stand of organic produce is never far away. In fact, on my way to the ranch I’d passed a cute sign saying “Local Grown Tomatoe”. I decided I’d stop there first, and if it didn’t pan out, I’d head for Sonoma Market. Turns out, it was the only place I needed to know for tomatoes.
I pulled in beside a red barn and saw the man who would introduce himself as Aldo Ritz sitting at a table behind flats of the most beautiful heirloom tomatoes you’ve ever seen. Before he could take my money, he grabbed a most perfect tomato, cut it in half and handed it to me to eat like an apple. I almost fainted from the intense tomatoey goodness. This was the Platonic Ideal of a Tomato. Perfect. Juicy. Meaty. Mega tomatoey.
We got to talking and it turns out Aldo is real Sonoma. His cheesemaking great grandparents emigrated from Switzerland, landed in Sonoma and bought a large tract of land from the local eccentric and the Father of California Winemaking, Baron Agoston Haraszthy. Then they proceeded to grow vegetables and set up their own canning plant (which still stands down the road) to supply San Francisco’s appetite for Sonoma produce. Aldo is carrying on that legacy from the family homestead on Old Winery Road. But to him, it’s a political statement.
Aldo told me he believes that people who can grow food and feed people are the modern day revolutionaries. And every time you grow, market and distribute organic, sustainably farmed produce, you are knocking one more chink in the armor of Big Agribusiness. You see, Aldo’s in the front lines. He farms his tomatoes out in Glen Ellen on a friend’s land. He’s got persimmons and walnuts on his land and, on every useable plot owned by his extended Sonoma family, he’s got something organic being sustainably farmed.
It took about three sentence from “Can I buy some tomatoes?” to the point where we were bonding over the documentary Food, Inc., comparing notes on Michael Pollan’s books and cursing Monsanto. Then we were joined by another local food radical, Patrick Garcia, who organizes tours to Mexico. He told us about a friend of his, a retired Sonoma professor, a foremost expert on corn, who is encouraging Guatemalan and Mexican farmers to enter the sustainable,organic food market. That got all three of us again bashing the evils of Big Agribusiness.
I mentioned how angry the audience had been watching the antics of chemical and genetically modified food giant Monsanto as revealed in Food, Inc. Patrick said that documentary should have made us take to the streets. But who, I asked, were we going to protest against? We were viewing it at the Sebastiani Theater in Sonoma, pretty much the epicenter of sustainable agriculture in America. We were the choir.
Didn’t matter. Aldo and Patrick said the audience should still have spilled out of the theater ready to take arms. Maybe storming down the streets to the nearest Safeway. Perhaps they wanted us chanting “Down with agribusiness!” and lobbing organically grown tomatoes like grenades. Wait a minute. That would be a terrible waste of a tomato. Especially if it’s one as special as Aldo’s organic, sustainably farmed Ace tomatoes. But they still maintain, buying seasonally, locally, organically and sustainably is a revolutionary act.
Like I said, I pretty much missed the Sixties, due to being mostly in daycare and elementary school. But produce like Aldo’s is worth fighting for. And it’s great to know the vanguard of the food subversives is just down the road.
Yes, I have seen the Revolution. And it is tomatoes.
Get your Sustainable, Local Freak Flag flying and take a trip back in time with the Jefferson Airplane.
Aldo’s usual stand is on Old Winery Road in Sonoma on the way to Buena Vista Winery. Look for the signs.
Patrick Garcia can be reached to plan tours to Mexico at email@example.com