BY AMBER K. STOTT

 

farm to fork defined

For three years, Sacramento has been trying to define for itself what it means to be America's farm-to-fork Capital. Is there a definition? Is there a set of standards that restaurants must follow the way farmers are required to abide by rules for growing organic foods?

No matter where I go or who I speak with, the question of farm-to-fork boils down to two important elements beyond the obvious "buy local" mantra: education and intentionality. Our grandparents likely remember a time before canned soup and processed foods, before the first chain grocery stores and before fast food. They likely cooked most meals from scratch using ingredients sourced from their local corner store, which in turn sold a variety of items purchased from local farmers. This wasn't necessarily intentional. It was all they had.

Read more: Farm-to-Fork Defined

BY PAUL TOWERS

Mead Donors

Bees across the country are declining at an alarming rate. But with the attention to the plight of these pollinators has come a bright spot: increased interest in bees and the products of their labor. Enter the oldest alcoholic beverage know to humankind: mead.

Mead is not just a drink of ancient texts or fantasy novels. The history of mead and beekeeping date back thousands of years, touching parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. A combination of honey, water, yeast and sometimes fruit or spices, good mead is the product of just the right balance of ingredients, along with the time allowed for fermentation. The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau regulates it like wine, though not without some lingering confusion.

One of the oldest, if not the oldest, commercial mead makers in California is Chaucer's, part of the Bargetto winery founded in Santa Cruz County in 1964. And there haven't been a lot of new entrants into the market, until recently. According to the American Mead Association, 42 new mead-making businesses opened in 2014 and produced a total of 138,632 more gallons of mead, a 46% increase from the year before.

The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, part of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine Science, hopes to accelerate and support these emerging meaderies.

"It was an accident, serendipity," said Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center. "A beekeeper approached me at a conference in San Diego and suggested we create a new program on mead. The thought had never crossed my mind. But within a week I spoke to the chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology, and within the year we offered our first course."

That was spring of 2014. Interest exploded and the class was soon at capacity, including visitors traveling from across the country and around the globe.

The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center is building on last year's success to host an intensive two-day course in mid-November entitled "Beginner's Introduction to Mead Making", to learn about, taste and make small batches of mead, working with the Department of Viticulture and Enology's winemaker Chik Brenneman. Professional mead makers from California and across the country—including Mike Faul, the proprietor of Rabbit's Foot Meadery, and Ken Schram, author of The Compleat Meadmaker—will also take part.

"You learn your grapes with wine, but there isn't that level of knowledge yet with mead," Harris said. During the class, participants will have a chance to leverage the smarts of mead makers and the scientific prowess of university researchers, sampling and learning about the main varieties of mead.

Harris also plans to expand the course next spring to bring in more advanced levels of mead makers, and notes that there is a "great need for research on mead. Beer and winemaking have tremendous resources, but mead is still in the dark ages. [No two mead makers do] it the same way, and there's a need to better understand how honey and sugar levels interact with yeast."

That is good news for the emerging mead makers.

An increasing number of meaderies has opened up in California since the 1990s, including Rabbit's Foot in Sunnyvale (1995), Heidrun in Point Reyes Station (1997), Golden Coast Mead in Oceanside (2010), The Mead Kitchen in Berkeley (2012) and San Francisco Mead Company (2013).

One of the rare examples in the Sacramento region is Dan Slort who founded Strad Meadery in Fair Oaks in 2011, making traditional mead as well as apricot, Chardonnay, pomegranate and strawberry varieties.

Harris, whose family also runs Z Specialty Food, a gourmet honey and nut butter business, acknowledges honey prices are on the rise, and this can be challenging for a country that imports 70% of its annual honey usage. The continued loss of honey bee populations adds another serious challenge for meaderies.

According to the most recent data from the government-sponsored Bee Informed Partnership, bee populations are declining at unprecedented levels, over 40% in California last year—twice the loss rate considered sustainable.

An international research authority, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, recently reviewed over 800 studies and found that scientists are increasingly 38 | EDIBLE SACRAMENTO FEAST 2015 EDIBLE SACRAMENTO FEAST 2015 | 39

linking bee declines to pesticides. The chemicals are either killing bees outright or weakening them and leaving them susceptible to other factors like pests, disease and poor nutrition.

The Sacramento City Council declared the city a Honey Bee Haven in March, and councilmembers have been working to decrease pesticide use while also increasing healthy forage for bees.

Tim Clark, owner of Brew Ferment Distill in Sacramento's Oak Park neighborhood, said the uptick in local beekeeping has been one of the drivers of interest in mead and mead making. And that's good news for businesses like his that equip people with the tools to make "fermentables."

"When you've got an abundance of honey, you can be more creative with how you use it," he said. "Honey can be expensive to purchase unless you have a plethora available. But now we see more and more people ready to experiment."

He also noted that while many have tried and been turned off by large-scale commercial varieties of mead, people should try making their own, or visit the emerging craft makers. "Some commercial varieties can be cloyingly sweet and not pleasing to the palate. Homemade or craft varieties, by comparison, can be much more effervescent and nice."

To encourage people to try making it for themselves, Clark hosts classes with local advocate David Teckam, an Elk Grove home brewer and grand master beer judge.

"It's too easy not to make mead," said Teckam. "Without a doubt there's growing interest in mead and more California meaderies help prove that."

Clark and Teckam note that the interest in beekeeping and mead are growing in tandem.

According to Bee Culture, the average age of beekeepers is nearing 70 and only 8% are under the age of 40. But that's fast changing. A new crop of emerging 20- and 30-something beekeepers calling themselves the Next Generation Beekeepers Initiative are leading the way and hosting a gathering in mid-November in Sacramento as part of the annual California State Beekeepers Association convention.

"The sticky, sweaty, stingy, nomadic life isn't for everyone. When you factor in bee losses and financial hits, our vocation becomes less attractive. It's the most challenging time for beekeepers, and also the most exciting time for new ideas, opportunities, and growth," said Sarah Red-Laird, executive director of Bee Girl, and one of the leaders of the new initiative.

The success of beekeeping and mead are both wrapped up in the success of bees that make the honey. That's an awful lot resting on the shoulders of these powerful pollinators. And, according to Red-Laird, a lot on policymakers to keep them buzzing.

More information and registration for mead-making classes at UC Davis is available at honey.ucdavis.edu/mead. Registration is available through November 6.

More information about the statewide get-together of young beekeepers in Sacramento is available at beegirl.org or californiastatebeekeepers.com.

BY ANN EVANS

he greater Sacramento region may be home to as many as 4,000 hobby beekeepers, estimates Nancy Stewart, owner of the long-time family-run business Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies. Although the store doesn't officially keep track, Nancy says many of these beekeepers are families with children.

Children, starting at about 5 years old, can be beekeepers too. I began educating my grand-nephew, Finn Pegg, about my hives when he was 2, primarily for safety reasons. Along the way he developed a sense of curiosity about the hive, especially upon hearing stories about how there are robber bees, queen bees, guard bees and even nursery bees.

Together we read Lela Nargi and Kyrsten Brooker's The Honeybee Man, a story about Fred, an older man who keeps bees on his rooftop in Brooklyn. Through learning about what Fred does with his bees, Finn became even more curious to see the bees inside the hives in my yard. When he was almost 5, I got him a beekeeping suit.

Bees are responsive to the beekeepers' emotional signals, I told him, so we need to be very calm and move slowly when we work the bees. One morning with good weather, about 10am, we suited up and worked them for the first time. He showed no fear, held the smoker and the hive tool, and concentrated while we looked through three hives.

BY ANN M. EVANS

daisy

Almost every city worthy of the title "culinary destination" has a chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier (LDEI), an organization of professional women leaders in the food, beverage and hospitality industry. Why not Sacramento, the farm-to-fork capital of the nation? Elaine Corn, reporter at large for Capital Public Radio, former food editor for the Sacramento Bee and a long time member of LDEI San Francisco, decided it was time. Sacramento had become a culinary force.

Read more: Sacramento's Culinary Women

BY AMBER K. STOTT

 

darrel corti

Darrell Corti, owner of beloved grocery store Corti Brothers, is world-renowned for his knowledge of wine and food. While his reputation places him on a very tall pedestal in the food world, he's actually a true blue Sacramentan at heart, a practical guy, a home cook and purveyor of quality products that help everyday folks shine in their own kitchens.

When it comes to tradition and to holidays, Corti's approach blends his love of history with a realist's simplicity. These are his tips.

Read more: Holiday Food Traditions from Darrel Corti

By Joan Cusick

aj bogle
At the end of a white-knuckled drive on County Road 144 in Clarksburg, Bogle Winery offers a welcome respite from the twists and turns of the outside world. It's peaceful here: lush and welcoming.

If there's any doubt about what makes Bogle different, it's spelled out in foot-high letters on the tasting room wall: FAMILY. But that word is much more than a slogan. It's a way of life for three Bogle siblings who will oversee the farm-to-table production of an estimated 2.5 million cases of wine this year.

Read more: Bogle Winery: The Label’s Roots Run Six Generations Deep—So Far

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOAN CUSICK

sbf wide.bmp

Early morning harvest at Soil Born Farms' American River Ranch.


Shawn Harrison is a man on a food mission. If you ask the co-founder of Soil Born Farms about the nonprofit's purpose, you'll get a history lesson and personal vision all rolled into one.

Read more: Envisioning an Edible City: Soil Born Farms Connects Community to Food

BY JOAN CUSICK / PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOAN CUSICK

lemonade

The new recipe for success at the all-American lemonade stand is sustainable, charitable and all organic.

For 9-year-old twins Connor and Ryan Gerome, "sustainable" started with the stand itself. With the help of their mother, Michelle, they gathered recycled wood from a construction project and turned it into a bright yellow attention-getter.

Read more: Squeeze Play: A New Generation Makes its (lemonade) Stand

BY AMBER K. STOTT

drougt 0

Illustration: Hayley Doshay


Mention the word "water" in California right now, and you're asking for heated opinions. Nearly every aspect of our thirsty lives depends on the ever-limited liquid, from the trees we grow to shade our homes to the dishwasher that runs at our favorite restaurant. The biggest use of water comes from our everyday diets.

When it comes to saving water through our food choices, there are a number of factors to consider. On a scale of human priorities, water itself demands attention along with factors such as nutrition and jobs. If we consider the absolute best use of our precious water resources, these issues should be measured together—and they often point to a diet that includes more veggies.

Read more: The Drought-Tolerant Diet: How Eating Your Veggies Positively Impacts Health, Environment & Economy

BY MIKE MADISON

mice

Illustration by Annie Tsou

It happens every year. I go out to the greenhouse to check on my seedlings, and in the seedling flats I find rows of tiny excavations where the seeds had been. A mouse has been in the greenhouse, digging up the seeds.

The mouse doesn't bother with the tiny seeds, like tomatoes or onions or snapdragons; she goes for the bigger seeds—squash, cucumbers and melons. Some of the hybrid melon seeds that I grow are outrageously expensive, and the mouse's humble meal costs me more than dinner for two at Chez Panisse. And so the situation demands action, and in the past that action has been to set mousetraps.

Read more: Mice in the Greenhouse

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