I grew up on a farm in a small town in Northern Italy so farming, olive trees and farmland are nothing new to me. My mother grew vegetables and I, from my earliest years was near as she tended her garden. My risi e bisi is a tribute to those times spent in her garden. To this day, farming matters to me very much. I do my best as a chef to support the local growers, shop farmer’s markets for the restaurant table as well as my personal home use. Fresh is best and nothing is fresher than product sourced from our local farms. Because of my love and deep respect for farmers, I was most excited to be invited on a tour of California farms by the California Farm Water Coalition. My friend Gina had been invited and she, knowing my love of fresh produce, asked if I could come along. CFWC was most gracious in inviting me and it was most enlightening.
I’ve lived in California almost the whole time I have been in the United States, 17 years thereabouts and I am always amazed at how big it is. Nothing had prepared me for the vastness of its farmland! From the airport to Chico where we were meeting up with the other bloggers and Farm Tour people, I saw field after field; orchard after orchard. Some fields were being plowed, others lie fallow, still others were green and lush, but more often than not, I saw dry fields. The drought is making a deep impact here. I saw rice paddies, almond orchards, grape vines, tomatoes, olives, oranges…the list went on and on. Too often, I would exclaim to Gina, “how big this farmland is!” and she would smile and say to me that there was yet more.
I was getting more and more excited to get out of the car and walk these fields. I thought to myself that people in Italy have no idea what is the real California. They think Hollywood and the beach and L.A. traffic. That’s it. Sometimes they wonder what I am doing here. They think I am pazzo (crazy) and have no understanding of what it is that I love about California. To me,it is a self-sufficient world unto itself. We have everything here: beaches,mountains, farms, lakes, rivers, ocean, and yes traffic. The traffic didn’t exist here though. We drove for miles and miles, free and unhindered with nary a car in sight.
Finally arriving at our destination, we entered yet another world; one of beer and food – the Sierra Nevada Brewery. We met the other bloggers, all very knowledgeable and passionate about food and this State that I love. We met Brandon and Clare from CFWC and I had the pleasure of sitting near Brandon to talk about the drought and what it means to farmers. Luckily for me, he was used to Italian accents and I learned a great deal from him.
The food was plentiful and delicious. I ate meat, which I rarely do, but who could resist those baby back ribs? Not me, certainly. Gina was in love with the beer cheese and the beer battered fish and chips. It was such an experience too, dining with food bloggers. There were almost as many cameras at the table as there were plates! I’m used to Gina and the occasional person in the restaurant where I work, but to see six people all aiming for the same shot, waiting politely to let others shoot their plate before eating was something to see. I love seeing the passion for food these bloggers have.
We tried several very delicious beers and by the time I got to our hotel room at the Holiday Inn, Chico, I was more than ready for sleep and after a comfortable night, raring to go early in the morning to visit a dam, an olive oil processing plant and a walnut farm. I’ll write more about the places I visited later, rather than make this post so long. I’m back in L.A. on my last day of vacation and I wish I had had just one more day to walk those fields. I’ll hope to be back one day soon to learn more about this State I’ve adopted as my own and hopefully, I will see my new friends.