If you've driven the stretch of Point Reyes–Petaluma Road between Novato and Petaluma lately, you've probably seen the signs for the farm stand in the barn near the entrance to Red Hill Ranch, just north of Novato Boulevard. We decided to check it out the other day and are glad we did!
Pull into the driveway and follow the signs directing you to the farm stand. Owner Kitty Dolcini offers a wide selection of fresh seasonal produce, free-range farm eggs, and grass fed beef at her small stand in on of the ranch's old barns. Much of her produce is grown on the ranch, which leases some of its land to County Line Harvest, a leading local organic producer. Other produce—like summer fruit—comes from quality growers elsewhere in Northern California.
Chili is one of those meals that can be on the hearty, heavy side and not something you necessarily want to eat for a summer dinner—except for this fresh and healthy version. For this summer chili, I lighten things up considerably and take advantage of fresh summer produce like the zucchini growing in our backyard garden and sweet corn.
Serve this chili with a variety of toppings and add-ons so each diner can customize it to his or her taste. You can make it vegetarian (or vegan, really) by omitting the ground turkey and doubling the amount of beans and squash. Either way, it's delicious! And our kids even eat it, too. There's probably no reason you couldn't make this year-round, either, although you'd have to subsitute frozen corn for the fresh.
Like many families, we like to know exactly where our food is coming from. So when we learned about the new "u-pick" Sundays at Bloomfield Farms in western Sonoma County, we knew we had to give it a try. My kids love the opportunity to pick their own food, whether it's in our own backyard garden or at a local farm. While there are plenty of local farms that offer farmstands and sell at various farmers markets around the Bay Area, this is the first we'd heard of a farm offering pick-it-yourself veggies.
Bloomfield Farms is a certfied organic family farm located just west of Petaluma in Sonoma County. It's easy to get to, and makes for a fun Sunday outing for the family. They sell produce at farmers markets, supply local markets, and provide CSA boxes to subscribers, but decided to offer a u-pick event so consumers could come experience how their food is grown and harvested.
Pull into to the farm and register with Nick Papadopoulos, one of the owners of Bloomfield Farms. He's welcoming and enthusiastic, and he'll explain how the farm's u-pick Sunday works: head out into the fields, pick and cut vegetables, and fill your crate. It costs $25 for everything that you can fit into the box. Wagons are available, too, which makes carrying your crate of veggies a lot easier (there's a limited number of wagons, so bring your own if you can). While we were there we also got a chance to chat with Mike Collins, founder and farmer at Bloomfield Farms. He's extremely knowledgable and passionate about what he grows.
When we last wrote about our adventures in vegetable gardening this season, we were just seeing some tomato and pepper seedlings emerge. Now that we're firmly in the midst of summer, the garden is taking off. It seems that it was just yesterday when all the plants were little seedlings, but now they're well on their way to producing some veggies. We transplanted the tomatoes and peppers, all of which are doing pretty well, and direct-sowed two varieties of heirloom summer squash, Ronde de Nice and Zucchino Rampicante, and purple podded pole beans.
In order to save some space, this year, we're going vertical! At first I contemplated creating a sturdy trellis structure to support everything, but after examing the garden, I realized things didn't have to be so complicated. I ended up lining the back of the fence with some nylon trellis netting and the beans and vining Zucchino Rampicante squash started doing their thing and climbed away. This way, we were able to plant a lot more in the garden space that we have, and we definitely have a lot more growing in our garden than we did last year.
The beans, which are supposed to get to around six feet tall, have actually grown past that over the top of the fence. The kids are totally fascinated with the growth of the beans, and I am, too. Shades of Jack and the Beanstalk, I guess. Some of the bean plants have wrapped themselves around our neighbors' tree; I've assured them they can have any beans that hang down on their side of the fence.
This Saturday we finally got a chance to stop by the new Farm Girl Nursery in Novato's Indian Valley neighborhood. This charming little nursery and farm is the perfect place to visit with the kids. You can meet some animals, including pigs, chickens, rabbits, horses, and a baby goat; shop for heirloom seeds and seedlings, produce, and gardening tools; and see exactly where your food comes from.
A trip to Farm Girl Nursery is a fun outing. The kids had a great time meeing the animals, seeing all the different types of vegetables, fruits, and flowers growing, and even got to snack on carrots pulled right out of the ground.
Owner Lisa Marvier is delightful and takes pleasure in showing visitors around the small farm. She introduced us her heritage chickens and pot-bellied pigs, and even dug some carrots out of the ground that she gave to our kids to eat. She also has numerous educational activities for kids planned at the nursery, including upcoming classes and a summer day camp that sounds like it's going to be a blast (for updates, sign up for their email list at the nursery or follow Farm Girl Nursery on Facebook).
A few weeks ago, we visited the Petaluma Seed Bank to pick out our seeds for this year's vegetable garden. After last year's experience with really slow-growing seedlings, we decided to be a little smarter about how we did things this season.
Last year's garden was hit-and-miss, mainly due to the cooler-than-usual weather we experienced here in Northern California. The hits were our tomatoes—we had tons of them, and the vines kept producing well into December! Sadly, our squash plants never really got going, and only produced a few fruits. What we had was good, but there wasn't very much. The peppers that didn't get destroyed by cutworms early on didn't produce that well, either. Hopefully this season will be a little warmer and we'll have better results.
Our first task was to start the tomato and pepper seeds indoors. Last year we used egg cartons. They worked OK, but our seedlings took a long time to grow, and apparently the egg carton cups aren't deep enough to allow for proper root development. This time we picked up a reusable and recyclable plastic seed-starting container from the Seed Bank. It has 72 cups, so we have room for plenty of seedlings, and the whole thing fits into a neat drip tray to keep things neat.
If you still need to shop for those Christmas dinner groceries, you can pay a visit to two Marin County farmer's markets today. The Marinwood Community Farmers Market and the Marin Country Mart Farmers Market are both open on Christmas Eve from 9 am to 2 pm.
Find fresh produce, bread, meats, eggs, seafood, flowers, and more. While you're there, pick up a cup of freshly brewed coffee or even lunch. The Marin Country Mart Farmers Market has kids' entertainment from musician Christopher Smith and Scott the Storyteller, and if you shop at the Marinwood Community Farmers Market today you'll get a free gift (supplies limited).
Marin Mommies is happy to present another guest recipe from Nicole Cibellis, Marin mom and author of the blog A Family that Eats Together, where she shares meal plans and recipes that will please foodies and children alike. Nicole is also the creator of the new Little Froglet line of children's activewear.
This week's meal plan includes braised chicken with dates and Moroccan spices, stir-fried cumin-scented beef, quick and easy baked chicken parmesan, the yummiest peanut tofu stir fry ever, and this pasta dish, made from fresh garden ingredients like tomatoes, eggplant, and herbs.
One lesson we've all learned is that growing a vegetable garden requires patience—and lots of it. While you can wish and hope and plead for plants to grow and fruit to ripen, it's all going to happen on its own time. Case in point: tomatoes. We spend pretty most of July and August staring at the same hard green tomatoes, waiting for some sign that they would ripen. "Any day now" we told ourselves.
Patience, however, is rewarded. First the cherry tomatoes started to turn red, or in the case of the Black Cherry variety, purple. About a week later some color started appearing on the big boys—the Royal Hillbilly and Paul Robeson heirlooms. Now, it's a full-on tomatomania. The plants are churning out more tomatoes than we can eat, so we're giving quite a few away (which are never refused, of course), and finding creative ways to use our late-summer bounty.
Everyone's favorite variety of tomato seems to be the Black Cherry. They're sweet, but with an acidic edge. They're really really good and definitely on the list to grow next year. The Riesentraube cherry tomatoes are very tasty, too, which is a good thing since there are tons of them.