The 2015 Valley Fire that hit Lake County was one of the most destructive in state history. The hills here, once thick with trees, now look like a moonscape. But this environment draws mushroom hunters who ‘chase the burns’,” in search of the black morel mushrooms that grow in the springtime after a forest fire.
In Nevada County, an unusual explorer with an unusual name — Amigo Bob Cantisano — hunts for remnants of the Gold Rush, just not the kind you might expect. The treasures Cantisano seeks are trees, the fruits and nuts and ornamentals planted at homesteads and stagecoach stops and small orchards in the late 1800s.
There are plenty of people who can pursue their passions because they have steady jobs on the side to pay the bills. Think: a novelist who does PR, an actor who waits tables. But a rancher? Meet mother and daughter cattlewomen in Sierra County whose supplemental work has helped keep their family in the beef business.
If you want to recreate the Gold Rush experience — without all the terrible conditions — you can pan for gold, even descend into mines. In a few places, you can even eat the most prized meal of the Gold Rush, with a kind of bizarre combination of ingredients. I went to El Dorado County in search of the Hangtown Fry.
United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez are household names, but before he became the embodiment of the 1965 strike and eventual international boycott, a small group of Filipino farmworkers walked off the fields. Now, people in the small town of Delano and across California are determined to share this rarely-told history.
Some experts say one key to being environmentally friendly is just stop wasting food. From the farm to the fridge, it’s estimated that 40 percent of what could be eaten just isn’t, and that can impact climate change. But there’s a new partnership addressing food waste by selling “imperfect” produce at the grocery store.
What do Jimmy Buffett, Jay-Z and Kenny Rogers have in common? They’ve all parlayed their fame to sell food, in restaurants and chains. In Orange County, there’s a banh mi sandwich shop run by Lynda Trang Dai, a Vietnamese pop star who’s as comfortable behind the stove as she is behind the microphone.
Members of the military are often deployed or stationed far away from their extended families. When military families make friends, they often move. But there’s a place in San Diego where active duty service members, their spouses, and kids can always share a meal with their extended military family: the USO Downtown.
You think your water cut-backs are tough? Try farming…without irrigation. Lots of crops like wheat and grapes are dry farmed across the state. There are tomatoes on the Central Coast, squash in Humboldt, and walnuts in San Luis Obispo County, which is where we go for this story about dry farming advocate Jutta Thoerner.
There’s just something about cherries: small, sweet and crunchy, with an early harvest that tells us summer’s coming. This beloved fruit is also a canary in a coal mine, warning about climate change and its impact on future tree crops. To find out more, I went to Fairhaven Orchards to meet the Rajkovich family.
With “Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions, and more!” the California Conservation Corps puts young adults to work outdoors. In Marin, the “Cs” have the tough job of building and maintaining world-class trails. These young people burn thousands of calories a day…and their menu has barely changed since the 30s.
Cistercian monks have made wine in Europe since the 12th century. In California, they’re turning to those traditions to try to survive in the 21st. The monks of New Clairvaux have a website, a Facebook page, a PR guy. They host wine release parties. They engage with the outside world all so they can pray in peace.
The most notable regional cuisine in the city of Mexicali, Mexico isn’t street tacos or mole. It’s Chinese food. Just north of the border in Imperial County, the population’s mostly Latino, but Chinese restaurants are super popular, too, serving some dishes you won’t find anywhere else. Why? How? The Chinese Exclusion Act.
The Capay Valley is pretty serene, except for the cacophony inside its most lucrative business: the Cache Creek Casino. Up to 2,000 visitors a night swell the valley’s population and traffic, causing tension between local farmers and the tiny tribe that runs it. In this story we ask: do farming and gambling mix?
Coffee’s been grown and loved around the world since at least the 13th century. As a serious fungus threatens the crop worldwide, scientists are mapping the coffee genome to learn more about this plant. Though it’s not coffee’s natural growing environment, California’s playing a role in the future of this beloved and lucrative crop.
Making license plates is the stereotypical job for a prisoner, but there’s a group of inmates in the Central Valley have very different work. They supply milk to almost all the prisons in the state system. The low hourly wages may shock some people on the outside, but for this story I talked to inmates who say the job gives them something else.
The thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail start in Mexico, traversing 2650 miles into Canada. The lazy among us might have just read Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s PCT memoir. But the hikers, their toenails fall off, and their feet can swell whole sizes. They say the only thing they talk about more than their feet is food.
What do baseball, a little-known religious group and a land-use fight have in common? Nuts. Almonds are Stanislaus County’s top crop, bringing in a record-breaking $1.125 billion in gross income in 2013. Walnuts came in third (after dairy). Nuts aren’t just an economic driver, though. They’re also key to the story of this region’s past, and future.
San Bernardino’s Mitla Cafe is proof that sometimes a restaurant is more than just a restaurant. Since the 30s, it’s borne witness to — and played a role in — political change, from desegregation to “urban renewal” to fast food. It also happens to be an unlikely inspiration for how mainstream America sees — and eats — Mexican food.
It’s said that date palm trees want their feet in water, and their heads in fire. It makes sense, then that more than 90% of U.S. dates grow in the irrigated Eastern Coachella Valley, with 120+ degree temperatures. This is a story about agricultural explorers, racist agri-tourism, and the palmeros, palm workers, who tend the trees.