local farms and magpie cafe 1

Magpie's Chris Woo surveys the scene at Kingbird Farms.

The term "farm to fork" gets a lot of use around these parts, and may fall on weary ears as the term is often used. The good news is that it's more than just a marketing ploy. Many restaurants across the country are sincerely dedicated to bringing the freshest local products to their kitchens and dining rooms. Thanks to our great growing region, the restaurants in our area have some of the greatest opportunities to do so. It's encouraging that so many of our food businesses want to board this bandwagon.

Read more: Team Cuisine: Local Farms and Magpie Cafe Chefs Cook up a Tasty Alliance


a testament to taste 1Named after the ancient tribe of Judah that once roamed here, these semi-arid hills sit atop a limestone plateau about 2,500 feet above sea level. Since biblical times the region has been known for its hearty, herbacious terroir. There is ancient terracing here as old as the Bible.

According to our guide, Shmuel Browns, my traveling companion and I are seeing the hills in their climatological sweet spot. In a month or so the green hillsides will give way to the parchment hues one might expect in this part of the world. For now, the rugged topography of the Judean Hills is soft and lush and full of vegetation, much of which I will learn is edible.

Read more: A Testament to Taste: Now as in Biblical Days, Foraging a Feast in Israel


pitchforks and freeways 1The diverse crowd of several hundred people erupted into cheers on a night in late March as the Sacramento City Council voted 6-1 to pass a law enabling people all across the city to grow and sell food from their urban farms. In doing so, Sacramento joined the ranks of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle in promoting urban agriculture ("ag") within city limits.

The change didn't come easy. For over two years, the Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition—a mostly volunteer coalition of urban farmers, food policy wonks, composting enthusiasts and anti-hunger advocates—huddled around tables at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, drafting the basis for the policy that was eventually passed. When they weren't there, they were out giving community presentations, meeting with city staff or researching policies in other cities.

Something seems to have clicked for community leaders as they seek to meld big-city aspirations with cherishing the fertile soils and rich agricultural heritage of the Sacramento Region. "Sacramento honors its roots and embraces new possibilities," says Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition coordinator Matt Read. And it rings true for a city in the heart of the Central Valley that in 2012 proclaimed itself "America's Farm-to-Fork Capital."

Read more: Pitchforks and Freeways: City Council Passes Urban Agriculture Law


boulevard bistro 1

"If [a cook] comes to me but has no passion for food and wine and flavors, I can't teach them passion. The other way around, I can."

Boulevard Bistro in Elk Grove opened in 2006 on Valentine's Day, one of the busiest nights of any restaurant's year. Looking back, chef and owner Brett Bohlman laughs that it wasn't the best idea, even though the cottage-like restaurant is one of the most romantic in our area. But having always worked in others' kitchens, he was ready to begin living his dream of operating his own place.


Read more: Boulevard Bistro: Built to Please


out of thin air 1

For centuries the work of yeast was considered magical. We crushed grapes, let them sit for a few days, and surely, every time, the mix would produce wine. But no one really knew why. Bread and beer were similar. Those mixes "boiled" without heat, and their makers were viewed as priests as much as down-home cooks.

Read more: Out Of Thin Air: A Quest for the Wild Yeast


starting fresh 1

Tuohy is the Golden 1 Center's executive chef and general manager of food service.

The soil's dug and the ground has been broken for growth. By October 2016, a new entertainment and sports center (ESC) will have sprouted up downtown. Much will happen here, from 44 basketball games each year to concerts and trade shows. Up to 18,000 attendees will visit the complex for each event.

As visitors come to this arena, downtown Sacramento will have new opportunities to show off to those who may not be familiar with what our city has to offer. One person who will be showcasing some of the area's greatest assets is the center's executive chef and general manager of food service: Chef Michael Tuohy. He will be serving up food unlike that at any other arena in the U.S.: food that is local to the area and as farm-to-fork as can be.

Read more: Starting Fresh: Michael Tuohy Shoots to Showcase Local Food at the New ESC


tips for a foundation 1

An estimated 45 million Americans diet annually, spending $33 billion on weight loss products. We're a culture bombarded by processed foods making easy promises of quick fixes and a healthier heart.

Sadly, we can't diet our way to better health. The real solution: Create lasting habits.

A habit is a regular practice that's hard to give up. Like biting your nails or twirling your hair when you're nervous, habits can stick with you for life. Yet habits can be positive, too, like sneezing into your sleeve, or washing your hands before cooking.

Read more: Tips for a Foundation of Healthy Habits


goat cheese with a french 1A rustic farmhouse surrounded by fields of wheat and sunflowers is the first thing guests see when driving up to Pas de Blénac, Jean-Paul Cohen's property in southwestern France. Part of the beauty of buying from the markets of France is knowing that the artisanal headquarters aren't far away. In this case, the farm is 30 kilometers from the beach town Royan, where my family lives.

When visiting Monsieur Cohen's farm you see the care that goes into raising his goats. Spending most of the day out in the fields, the goats come into the barn in only to be fed and milked. The fermented grass that is fed to them is what makes Pas de Blénac what it is. The flavor in the resulting cheeses changes with the seasons and with each variety of grass fed to the goats. The nutrient-dense fermented grasses come from Monsieur Cohen's fields and are cared for by the boss himself.

Read more: Goat Cheese with a French Twist


tastes like teen spirit 1On a Friday evening in early December, inside a cozy home on 45th Street, a motley crew of home chefs are working in harmony to prepare a five-course gourmet dinner. Year after year this particular home-cooked feast is known to leave diners with memories of exquisite food shared with good friends, all in celebration of a local organization that benefits inner-city kids.

This feast is prepared for the winning bidder (and their guests) of one of the most coveted auction lots at Sacramento Young Life's annual fundraiser.

The annual auction, called the Sacramento Vine & Dine, benefits Downtown Sacramento Young Life, an organization whose mission is to help teenagers develop authentic spiritual relationships with themselves, each other and their community. Bringing together some of Sacramento's top food purveyors and winemakers from around our region, the Sacramento Vine & Dine is a wonderful opportunity to bid on creative and unique food events while providing life-changing opportunities to inner-city kids.

Read more: Tastes Like Teen Spirit: Vine & Dine Helps Worthy Efforts of Young Life


the world beneath 1When schoolchildren visit the farm, I make a point of digging up some uncultivated soil and handing chunks of it around. Most have never examined soil before.

It's not dirt. It has a complex architecture to it, and it is permeated with little crooked passageways, some the work of worms and arthropods, and some where roots have died and decayed. Slightly larger tunnels may be bored by burrowing spiders or sand wasps. And on a coarser scale, there are vertebrates that burrow in the soil; voles, gophers and squirrels are the most industrious, and the lazier animals (snakes, toads, lizards, small owls) will occupy those burrows when the rodents have abandoned them.

The native soil is full of life. Every crumb has an abundance of micro-organisms in it: algae, bacteria and fungi. The delicate hyphae of fungi are easily seen without a lens; following a rain, they may push a mushroom up to the surface. Invertebrates are numerous and, with any luck, you might surprise a big carabid beetle snoozing in his den. The roots of plants—trees, weeds, crops—lace it all together into a vibrant, active ecosystem.

Read more: The World Beneath Our Feet: Farmers Reduce Cultivation to Let Nature Work its Wonders