Ojai’s charming downtown draws crowds of the bohemian chic. Part of the charm? This Ventura County town is surrounded by orchards. The valley’s climate has been ideal for citrus, but it’s changing—getting windier, drier, and hotter. Some farmers are questioning whether agriculture even has a future in the Ojai Valley.
On the edge of the town of Marysville in Yuba County, there’s market with an inventory that would rival Asian grocery stories in big cities. In the back corner, you’ll find a small, bustling kitchen in the back corner. That’s where I became a fan of the dishes made here, and the woman behind them.
In February 2020, I went to Sonora to join the Mother Lode Jewish Community in their Tu BiShvat celebration, honoring trees and the harvest. Just weeks later, the Covid pandemic would stop in-person gatherings like these, and create tensions so many communities are still navigating.
Dennis Tamura never set out to be a bird-watcher. He’s been an organic farmer for over 35 years outside Watsonville. But, with more than 30 bird boxes around the perimeter, birds have become a part of the farm’s ecosystem. New research shows just how much those birds help agriculture.
I’ve met some amazing people reporting for California Foodways. At the end of 2020, I learned that three of those people passed away: Amigo Bob Cantisano, Marshall McKay, and Mohinder Singh Ghag. KQED’s California Report Magazine invited me to talk with host Sasha Khokha about three food pioneers, and remind us of their legacies.
Trinity County is mountainous, and remote, and when I visited in 2017 I learned that it’s also one of the state’s most food insecure places. Many people don’t know where their next meal is coming from, even in the best of times. But the spring of 2020, with the state under shelter-at-home orders because of the coronavirus, is clearly not the best of times. I check in with Jeffry England at the county’s food bank.
The coronavirus reminds us of another public health crisis when the federal government was slow to respond and communities had to take care of each other: the AIDS epidemic. One woman who became an unexpected caregiver is Meridy Volz. Starting in the 1970s, she ran a bakery called Sticky Fingers Brownies. Her daughter Alia — whose memoir Home Baked came out in April, 2020 — narrates.
When cannabis was 100% illegal, the price per pound was high. Since 2016, when Californians passed Prop 64 legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, the economy in the northern part of the state has been in limbo, impacting far more than the cannabis industry. Restaurant owners and farmers are seeing changes, too.
Downtown Jackson is pretty quiet, except when you walk into Rosebud’s Cafe which shouts its values from its walls: bright green paint, huge family portraits, tons of flyers for arts events, local homeless initiatives and LGBTQ rights. Rosebud’s has become a refuge for people who don’t always feel accepted, including the family that runs it.
In Redding, there’s a hamburger joint that’s been making its signature item the same way since the 1930s — a burger so thin it gets crispy on the edges, and never, ever comes with a tomato. Damburger helped fuel one of California’s most impactful engineering feats — the Shasta Dam — by nourishing the workers who built it.
Jim and Mary Rickert came together because of cows. They fell in love at Cal Poly. Within a decade, they were managing a ranch just below the Oregon border in Siskiyou County. It was a struggle. But their lives, and the business, changed when they got a really weird offer, and they said yes.
Merced County is California’s sweet potato capital. In this story, Angela Johnston and I meet a sweet potato farming family that’s facing a crisis that could wreak havoc on the entire agricultural industry. It’s the non-native nutria, a 20-pound rodent with orange bucked teeth that can eat a quarter of its body weight a day.
When you camp in Yosemite and other parks with bears, you can’t just leave your food out on the picnic table or in your car overnight. Anything with a scent has to be stored in bear-proof containers. Reporter Marissa Ortega-Welch joins me to report on this problem of bears wanting to eat human food, a problem we humans created.
Former farmworker Rosa Hernandez co-owns Colectivo Sabor a Mi Tierra in the back of a market in the town of Madera. She cooks food from her native Oaxaca, and says, the key to cooking mole is patience and love. “You can’t make mole in a rush.”
Over 90%. That’s how much native wetland California has lost due to agriculture and other development. That dramatic change in the landscape may sound grim, but in the Sacramento Valley, California’s rice country, some strange bedfellows are working together to address the historic loss of wildlife habitat, and to insure rice farming is part of the solution.
Recently, I visited a kind of factory I’d never seen before. I got suited up in safety gear — smock, rubber gloves, a hair net — not to protect me, but to protect the product made here. It’s in almost every convenience store, college dorm, school cafeteria, and in thousands of family freezers around the country: the frozen burrito.
This fall, the number of chinook salmon making their way from the ocean up the Klamath River in California’s far north is the lowest on record. That’s devastating news for the Yurok tribe, which has lived along and fished the Klamath for centuries. Salmon’s essential to Yurok ceremonies, for food, and for income.
Trinity County doesn’t get in the news much, unless it’s wildfire season. It’s a beautiful, remote, and rural. It’s also one of the state’s most food insecure places, where many people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. The county’s food bank director delivers food to the most isolated — and hungry — residents in Trinity.
Between Sacramento and Redding, Highway 5 cuts through the middle of rice country. Right next to rice fields outside the town of Willows, there’s a restaurant popular with travelers, farmers, truckers, and pilots: Nancy’s Airport Cafe. It’s just across a chain-link fence from the local tarmac. Most people leave with pie to go.
You might expect the winners of a California high school culinary competition to come from one of the state’s restaurant destinations like Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Sonoma County. In late March, though, top prize went to tiny Greenville High School in Plumas County. There are only 11 students in 2017’s graduating class.