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
You should see Fresh another great movie about the food industry & farmers making a difference.
Thoroughly enjoyed your post! Haven’t seen the (new)Woodstock film yet, but it’s on my list. There are things to do – vote with your dollars for starters. Don’t buy food that contains HFCS (not always easy, most times you have to change brands or find a new source), don’t buy food that is factory farmed (ask questions; if they don’t know, don’t buy it), and do (if at all possible) get to know your farmer – just like you did! In many respects it is a revolution – changing what has become a very broken food system that is controlled by a handful of corporations. And keep talking to everyone about it – so much of this is about education, people just don’t realize so many things about how our food got to our tables.
And concur with Kat – see FRESH … it will inspire you even more, I think.
Lisa, I loved this post! Yes, FRESH is more inspiring than Food Inc and focused on solutions. Jon and I are also ready to take up arms for sustainable food, to reclaim the right to purchase directly from farmers, and to protect small sustainable farms. The system since 1970 favors agribusiness and processed foods. Please check out our post with a similar Call to Action at http://www.ournaturallife.com/blog/?p=372. We have a Podcast interview with Jeffrey M. Smith about the documented dangers and risks of GMO food.
Hi there – Great work! I love the talk of the Food Revolution. We are cranking up in Brooklyn, too. I’ve been writing about it and wanted to share. It’s good to find kindred spirits — I look forward to your future posts. All the best, Nicole
Groundswell: Field Reports from the Food Revolution
what a fantastic story. i love running into people like this. and oh boy do i wish i lived close enough to buy his tomatoes!
and i was part of the woodstock generation but somehow missed it….
Thanks for weighing in Comrades. Viva La Revolucion!
Do we in California even see produce grown in California in the markets? More and more I see Mexico or Chili. No thanks.
I just hop out to my garden and shop there. Today, I bought more seeds to add to my growning fall crops.
An old time farmer here told me that if it wasn’t for the chemicals we couldn’t feed the world. He is probably absolutely right. World starvation or chemicals? Thankfully, I can grow my own.
Hope you have better luck next year with the tomatoes. Now, back to the garden.
Not sure I’m buying that Maybelline. The vast majority of heavily sprayed and fertilized crops that account for most of big agribusiness are corn and soy that are used in heavily processed foods like soft drinks and junk food. Not sure that’s actually “feeding” anyone.
Yes, we produce a surplus, but as a result of NAFTA, our farmers were able to dump cheap corn on the Mexican market. By some estimates, that put one million small Mexican corn farmers out of business. So the chemical farmers didn’t really feed any new people, but rerigged the food chain.
Aldo’s tomatoes have my mouth watering. Nice music video, too, but then the music is from one of the Airplane’s better albums.
Looking forward to your eventual (I hope) post about pressure canning.
What is the solution?
For a start, government policies that reward and favor growers who are respectful and gentle on the earth instead of masking the high cost in environmental cleanup, health issues,etc. of unsustainable farming.
did he give you any canning tips?
I don’t think Norman Borlaug was a big pesticide user and he’s credited with feeding billions of people.
Thanks for the comment pointing me to Borlaug, Pamela. How ironic:
Borlaug passed away at the age of 95, at approximately 11 p.m., on Saturday, September 12, 2009, in his Dallas home. He died of lymphoma.
Since we’re on the topic, can anyone tell me how to safely kill cockroaches in the vegetable patch. They are dwelling in my old potatoe patch that I need for fall planting. Any suggestions are welcome.
Thanks for the topic, Lisa.
Cockroaches? I thought they were city dwellers. I never thought of them as hanging out in country vegetable gardens. Here’s a link to some natural cockroach control. Turns out catnip is a natural cockroach repellant. YOur beautiful kitties will LOVE that.
Another natural cockroach killer in the vegetable garden is the Rhode Island Red hen or, just as good, the Black Australorp hen. They love those multi-legged critters. Of course, they also love certain garden crops, so it’s best to contain them in small moveable pens around your yard or garden. Perfect natural pest control, plus amusing entertainment. My hens unearthed a cricket nest one day and I spent 20 minutes watching them dart and weave around catching baby crickets. Hysterical.
As soon as I’m living in Sonoma full time, I’m definitely getting chickens. I’m looking at some heirloom breeds such as Chanticleer or Plymouth. Not as meaty as meat breeds, not as prolific layers as they laying breeds, but still with their bird-y instincts intact.
If you lived closer, you could feast on some of MB’s homegrown tomatoes. I bet they rival Aldo’s, if I could be so bold ..
I love the tomato picture! They look so yummy.
Great news for us on the GMO front! Federal Judge rules against Monsanto’s GM sugar beets, mentioning USDA failures. Read http://twitter.com/fredkzk/status/4320223934 or http://bit.ly/9KD6v