Buying the Farm

By Brook Larios
Photos by Brevin Blach and Sergio Fernandez

News Flash: Hot Pockets don’t grow on trees. (Even if they did, by the time they were packaged, shipped and shelved, they still wouldn’t taste fresh-picked.) The candy bar in your desk? No such thing as Candyland. And that big-brand meat we’re all guilty of snagging from the supermarket or warehouse store? *shudder*

Beyond the confines of high-volume industrialized meat- packing facilities lie the local farmers, ranchers and artisans that produce good, clean food-sans partially hydrogenated, high-fructose frickidy-frack. As we give thanks to San Diego’s soldiers of sustainability, we’re tracing your food from farm to table, ranch to fork and baker to bread-basket.

Meating of the Minds

Chicken or beef? Choose bothPurchasing a package of supermarket chicken-whether plain, organic or otherwise-seems innocuous enough, but what of the bird’s origins? How was it treated and what was it fed? Morbidity aside, what if you could meet the animals you’re about to eat?

Brandt Beef

A cattle ranching operation outside of Brawley (about two hours from San Diego) is supplying chefs and commoners the world over with deliciousness. Brandt is the beef you want to masticate, the kind that could convert a vegetarian.

You’ve heard of the coveted James Beard House, yes? No? Doesn’t matter. It’s where the best chefs in the world go to show off their mad skills. It’s like being a stripper and getting invited to the Playboy Mansion. Eric Brandt, managing partner of Brandt Beef, recently joined a top chef in creating a carnivore’s dream nose-to-tail dinner for James Beard House, featuring skillful preparations of every part of the cattle-some that only a mother, err, gourmand, could love. That’s sustainability, folks.

“This is a very, very tough business,” says Brandt. “We’re fighting against the fact that, what we process in a week, most big companies do that in about half an hour.”

Buy It: Harvest Ranch Markets in Del Mar, Encinitas and El Cajon; Jonathon’s in La Jolla; Pacific Beach Farmers Market and Hillcrest Farmers Market.

Try It: Brandt Beef is available at R Gang Eatery in Hillcrest, Starlite Lounge in Little Italy, Stingaree in downtown, Cucina Urbana and Mr. A’s in Banker’s Hill, Jake’s and Zel’s in Del Mar, the Marine Room in La Jolla Shores, Urban Solace in North Park, The Lodge at Torrey Pines, the Smoking Goat in North Park, Twenty/20 Grill & Bar in Carlsbad and many more.

Order It: Urban Solace in North Park serves braised Brandt Farms beef cheeks with smoked tomato jam, grain mustard- garlic jus and a side of sweet potato mash. At downtown’s Stingaree, satisfy your burger fix with the Brandt Beef Burger, served on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato, house-made pickles, white cheddar, thick strips of Nueske bacon, Sting’s signature secret sauce and a side of shoestring fries. Also popular are Sting’s Brandt Beef sliders on French bread rolls.

Womach Ranch

Curtis Womach is the mastermind behind Womach Ranch Farms, purveyor of poultry goodness.

“I used to be, like, ‘What am I doing being a chicken rancher?’” Womach says.

Taking a course in holistic management propelled Womach (previously a professional brewer) towards the American Dream: 14- to 16-hour workdays with few vacations, so that we can eat well.

On a ranch in Julian, Womach watches over 1,400 pasture-raised, antibiotic- and hormone-free chickens at a time. Each Sunday, he takes 60 of them to the Hillcrest Farmers Market, where they fly off the shelves-or out of his stall, anyway. Show up three hours after the market opens and you’re liable to leave with nothing more than the memory of Womach’s grin. The guy typically sells out in a matter of minutes. The moral: the early bird gets, well, the bird.

Buy It: Get your hands on a whole Womach chicken, Sundays at the Hillcrest Farmers Market.

Try It: Cruise through North Park and let someone else do the work. The Linkery serves fried chicken most nights, and El Take it Easy does hot wings and chicken nuggets with mole sauce.

Order It: “Get the Chicken Nuggets and Mole at El Take It Easy in North Park. It’s white meat, dark meat and a touch of the precious bits from Curtis’ chicken, lovingly nuggetized by our culinary team and presented to you in a rich dark mole. Available every day at the Z, except when we run short on chickens.” (Menu description excerpted from “The Farm and the City” blog at

Veggin’ Out

Snap, crackle, crop-San Diego’s freshest produce

San Diego is home to more small farms than any other county in the nation. Fortunately, we can get to know these producers at our local farmers markets, from Hillcrest, Mission Hills and Little Italy to La Jolla, Solana Beach and Leucadia . In most cases, you can even visit them on their farms. Shake hands with growers who help fuel the local economy-their green thumbs may wear off on you.

Suzie’s Organic Farm

Produce from the Tijuana River Valley’s Suzie’s Organic Farm, owned and operated by Lucila de Alejandro and her husband, Robin Taylor, is the antithesis of the typical mass-produced, pesticide-laden variety. The farm is just south of Imperial Beach and west of I-5. (Yep, west.) De Alejandro says eating local is important for reasons beyond consuming good, healthy food.

“I think the thing that people forget is that they belong to a community,” she says, citing our tendency to spend more time in front of a computer or TV than breaking bread with friends.

These Suzie’s peeps, like other local growers, have your best interests in mind.

“You’re eating healthy food that’s grown with love by someone who cares enough to grow food for friends that we haven’t met yet,” she says, indicating that “strangers” isn’t the appropriate word for people whose paths she hasn’t crossed. “I’m growing this food so you can eat well, so you won’t drink Red Bull and you won’t eat taquitos.”

Because it’s healthy for body, soul and planet, De Alejandro urges people to begin eating with the season-on a local level.

“People don’t want to personally fly on a plane to Chile in March to buy grapes,” she says. “They would never personally do that, would they?”

Buy It: Visit Suzie’s Organic Farm (call ahead for directions), or check out one of these farmers markets: Adams Avenue, North Park, Mission Hills, Little Italy, Hillcrest, Leucadia, La Jolla or Poway. Also, check out their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for weekly or bi-weekly shipments of fresh produce.

Try It: Restaurants serving produce from Suzie’s include Terra in Hillcrest; Alchemy in South Park; Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill; Starlite Lounge and Red Velvet in Little Italy; Farmhouse Cafe in University Heights; The Linkery, El Take it Easy and Ritual Tavern in North Park; The Cask Room in the East Village; The Lodge at Torrey Pines; and Tender Greens in Point Loma.

Order It: Suzie’s Organic is on the menu at Bankers Hill’s Cucina Urbana in the form of stuffed fried squash blossoms, served with herb ricotta and purple basil pesto inside and a cured-lemon dressing drizzled on top.

Chino Farm

This place is serious business-so serious, in fact, that the famed Alice Waters, regarded as the mother of the sustainable food movement, catalyst of the White House victory garden and owner of Berkeley’s renowned restaurant Chez Panisse, makes an exception to her “buy local” mantra, sourcing produce for her Northern California restaurant from Chino.

Many of San Diego’s top chefs begin their day with a visit to Chino. As I’m talking to Nina Chino, whose husband Tom farms the property with a science only he can understand, a chef walks by for his daily dose.

“I’m spoiled,” Nina says, as she eyes a display of yellow wax beans, picked at their peak. Behind her, I spy the corn the farm is so noted for.

Shopping at Chino is a visceral experience. Forget the whole, “It should look like it just came out of the ground” hubbub. The produce flaunts both aesthetic and taste perfection.

“That’s what food’s about: Taste, smell, visual,” Nina says. “People want beautiful.”

Buy It: Visit the Chino Farm farm stand, Tuesdays through Sundays, at 6123 Calzada del Bosque, in Rancho Santa Fe.

Try It: Among other popular restaurants, produce from Chino is on the menu at MARKET Del Mar, Blanca in Solana Beach, Mr. A’s in Banker’s Hill, Mille Fleur in Rancho Santa Fe, Dolce in La Jolla and The Fish Market downtown.

Order It: At Rancho Santa Fe’s posh Mille Fleur restaurant, nearly every dish on the menu includes some produce from Chino, including the seared day-boat sea scallops, served on a bed of Chino corn with fried Chino eggplant, Chino basil and tomato sauce made with still more Chino veggies.

Tierra Miguel Farm

Unless you’re cruising the casino circuit, you might miss the treasure that is Valley Center and, more specifically, Pauma Valley and, even more specifically, the 85-acre Tierra Miguel Farm. Local Whole Foods stores sell some of their crops, which are also available at several area farmers markets.

Tierra Miguel isn’t just organic, it’s also biodynamic, which means it’s operated using an integrated approach to agriculture that treats soil, plants and their surroundings as parts of one holistic system. The farm’s president and co-founder, Beth Ann Levendoski, was anointed with Self Magazine’s Women Doing Good Award in 2009, and her crew is now managing a grant with San Diego’s Growers Group to boost consumption and affordability of fresh, locally grown foods.

Order It: Tierra Miguel strawberries find their way into the strawberry shortcake at Mr. A’s in Bankers Hill, which also serves the farm’s produce in its heirloom tomato salad with Japanese eggplant and lemon basil.

Try It: Restaurants serving produce from Suzie’s include Terra in Hillcrest; Alchemy in South Park; Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill; Starlite Lounge and Red Velvet in Little Italy; Farmhouse Cafe in University Heights; The Linkery, El Take it Easy and Ritual Tavern in North Park; The Cask Room in the East Village; The Lodge at Torrey Pines; and Tender Greens in Point Loma.

Order It: Suzie’s Organic is on the menu at Bankers Hill’s Cucina Urbana in the form of stuffed fried squash blossoms, served with herb ricotta and purple basil pesto inside and a cured-lemon dressing drizzled on top.

Now We’re Cooking

A local chef turns the pageExecutive Chef Jeff Rossman of Hillcrest’s veteran restaurant, Terra, became so gung-ho about supporting local farmers that he features them in his new cookbook, From Terra’s Table, out this month. Each recipe uses locally-sourced ingredients, paired with wine and beer and highlighted with a mouthwatering photo. Even the cocktail recipes feature locally-grown goodies, like citrons, fun little alternatives to the lemon. The magnum opus culminates with resources for food justice and activism.

Side Jobs

Artisanal food-makers round out the feast

Veggies, fruits and meats comprise a large part of the locavore movement, but eating local (not to be confused with


, which would entail eating only pork rinds) is also about supporting San Diego’s food artisans. From cheese and bread to honey and jam, the best of the best are right here in our fair county.

Bread & Cie

Charles Kaufman shakes his head. “It’s the American Way,” he says. “I should be expanding until our quality begins to deteriorate.”

The man’s wit is sharp. Once a filmmaker whose claim to fame was a series of B horror and action flicks, Kaufman spent some time in Cannes, France, home of the famed film festival and seemingly endless patisseries. It was there that he got the gluten itch, which he scratched by opening Bread & Cie bakery.

Most of Kauffman’s breads, produced at a baking facility on Pacific Highway, are European, hard-crusted varieties that some mistake for stale loaves-until they sink their teeth in.

“I grew up on hard-crusted bread,” he says. “Grandma said, unless the side of your mouth bled, it wasn’t bread.”

Joking aside, Bread & Cie’s gluttonous goodness is so popular, you can find it in 48 San Diego restaurants, most local specialty markets, select Ralphs and Vons supermarkets and at Bread & Cie Café in Hillcrest, where bread goes through a two-and-a-half-day process to be made.

Buy It: Purchase Bread & Cie loaves from their café in Hillcrest; the Cardiff Seaside Market; farmers markets in Hillcrest, Little Italy, and Solana Beach; or from Whole Foods, Henry’s Marketplace, Vons and Ralphs stores.

Try It: Bread & Cie baked goods are served at Zanzibar Café in downtown and Pacific Beach, Whisknladle in La Jolla, the Lodge at Torrey Pines, Humphreys by the Bay, Kensington Grill in Kensington and Piatti’s in La Jolla Shores.

Order It: A house favorite at Piatti’s Italian restaurant in La Jolla Shores is the bruschetta, served on grilled Bread & Cie ciabatta bread with gorgonzola dolce, oyster mushrooms and mission figs.

Jackie’s Jams

Meet Jackie Anderson, a social worker-turned-high- priestess of all that is spreadable and fruity. In creating Jackie’s Jams, Anderson sources the majority of fruit from local farmers, who often dictate what flavors she runs with.

“If they grow Meyer lemons, I make Meyer lemon marmalade,” she says.

Anderson’s company is an integral part of the local food system. For example, once, when a farmer was about to toss hundreds of boxes of overripe peaches, Jackie Jam’s came to the rescue. They jarred the fruit and labeled it, giving the farmer another income source.

“I do nothing special,” she says. “God gave us good fruit.”

Her most exotic concoctions? Strawberry chocolate jam and tomato jelly.

Buy It: Pick up Jackie’s Jams at Whole Foods; Specialty Produce in Middletown; Charlie’s Best Bread in Pacific Beach; Shades Oceanfront Bistro in Ocean Beach; or the Hillcrest, Santee, Little Italy and Ocean Beach farmers markets.

Winchester Cheese Co.

At Winchester Cheese Company, the process of making gouda (pronounced “howda” in Holland) begins with raw cow’s milk from Boersma Dairy near San Jacinto (northeast of Temecula) and culminates with wall-to-wall cheese wheels, the smell of which greet you upon entry to Winchester’s Temecula-based cheese factory. These puppies are aged for a minimum of one month, with the three-month-aged medium gouda taking the cake for most eaters.

Buy It: Grab a wheel of Winchester gouda at select farmers markets, including Solana Beach and Hillcrest.

Try It: Winchester Cheese is incorporated into menus at The Linkery and Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park, OB People’s Co- Op in Ocean Beach and the Taste Artisan Cheese & Gourmet Shop in Hillcrest.

Order It: A popular menu item at North Park’s Sea Rocket Bistro is the gouda garlic- baked oysters: four summer oysters from Carlsbad Aqua Farm, baked with garlic butter, breadcrumbs and shaved Winchester Gouda that’s cooked until “melty and browned.”

Malaki Obado’s Raw Asali Honey

Beekeeper Malaki Obado’s raw Asali Honey (“asali” means “honey” in Swahili) comes from bees that are allowed to be bees. In other words, they aren’t fed additives or supplements. Instead, they feed on what’s around them, subsiding on more than just one crop.

“The consumer’s been made to believe that when it’s blemish free, it’s a good one, but many have chemicals,” Obado says.

Obado began beekeeping at age 10, when he was growing up in Kenya. Today, he lives in San Diego and maintains about 35 hives. Have a bee infestation? Obado is your man-he’ll take them away and put them to work.

Buy It: To try his honey, contact Malaki Obado directly by emailing