More community gardens, a year-round farmers market, and more fresh fruits for local school children are on the wish list of participants at the first-ever Napa Local Food Forum.
The event at the Napa Expo was a call to action to promote healthy eating and local gardens.
“This is not a finale but a launching,” said Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Dave Whitmer, whose agency organized Wednesday’s event.
“This is the time and the place to do it,” he told an audience of about 300 people, including restaurant chefs, farmers and community organizers.
Topics ranged from enhancing agricultural opportunities in Napa County to distributing food locally as well as sourcing local and environmentally sustainable food.
Forum organizers plan to launch a website — www.napalocalfood .com — which will post comments from the forum and allow residents to keep in touch with growers.
At a session on small-scale food production, several entrepreneurs shared their experiences of becoming food providers.
Heirloom bean seller Steve Sando, owner of Rancho Gordo, said he started out thinking his destiny was growing tomatoes and selling them at farmers markets. He said he started growing food because he was “sick and tired” of buying tasteless fruit in local grocery stores.
But, said Sando, “Everybody grows tomatoes. And the product is perishable. By the end of the day I’m bringing home salsa.”
Then a light went on in his head. Sando decided to try dry beans — something few vendors were offering.
He began by packaging his heirloom beans out of his garage and selling them at the Yountville farmers market. He then moved his operation to the industrial park at the edge of town. That led to the recent launch of his store in Napa on Yajome Street and a deal for him to write a book about dry beans.
“It has been really exciting. I market the beans not as just a health food, but as a good, incredible food,” he said. “I think we are redefining what American food is. Napans are open-minded.”
Sando added that the Napa Valley is great place to get exposure for someone in the specialty food business. He believes the reputation for locally grown foods can only be enhanced by the world-class wines produced here.
Sando works with four farmers who grow the indigenous beans of Mexico on 170 acres in the Central Valley.
The UC Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardeners have worked to help establish community gardens in Napa. Today, there are 40 garden plots available in Napa. The goal is for that number to increase over time.
“This is all about getting back to your roots,” said Yvonne Rasmussen of the UC Master Gardeners.
David Alosi, head gardener at Trefethen Winery, said there is nothing like picking a ripe, juicy peach right off the tree. “We are so spoiled with our local weather. It’s not like living in the Mojave Desert where everything would have to be trucked in. The Napa Valley is a gardening paradise.”
Trefethen offers a half-acre piece of land for employees to use as a garden. “It’s a nice employee benefit,” Alosi said.
Diane Flyr, a partner in Your Edible Garden, which designs and plants gardens, said people get so excited they take over the chores. “We end up putting ourselves out of a job.”