County Road 43, Guinda, California. Website: http://www.fullbellyfarm.com/index.html
Sitting in the shade at a lovely, unpretentiously decorated picnic table, I looked out to a field in the distance to rows of blue, purple, red, and orange flowers. In the sunlight, the colors blurred together like an impressionist’s canvas. I sipped a lemon verbena tisane. People chatted on either side of me as we waited for our hosts to bring us our lunch. This scene, this lunch, this farm, aroused in me a nostalgia for something I’ve been missing. Now, here on this farm, I surrendered to the seduction of food, not Food.
Capay Valley’s Full Belly Farm, one of California’s oldest certified organic farms, reminded me that I do need to think about what I eat, where it comes from, and how it’s grown no matter how sick and tired I am of the subject of food. For the past year, I’ve been in search of simplicity: eating less, cooking less, cooking more simply. I eat more vegetables, simply cooked and have eliminated processed foods almost completely. More recently, I’ve given up my beloved refined grains. Sugar was never an issue: gone long ago. I am heartily fed up with the esoterica of gastronomy.
When the food writer Elaine Corn invited me to tag along to a lunch organized by the food group, Les Dames d’Escoffier, at Full Belly Farm, I had to work up the enthusiasm. Within an hour of arriving there, I was very happy I went. We were a group of about twenty that day.
One of the farm’s founders, Dru Rivers, met us in the parking area. The blue of her eyes pops out from her sun-beaten face. Her hands are working hands. She has a sense of joy about her that convinces you she loves this back-breaking life. She took us on a tour of the farm — 350 acres in total, of which ten to twenty are under cultivation at one time. The rest of the land is covered by fruit and nut orchards. One quarter of their farm goes to individual subscribers, one quarter goes to farmer’s markets and the other half supplies co-ops and organic grocery stores. They grow and mill wheat. They raise sheep for wool and meat. (Knitters, Dru makes beautiful, un-dyed wool available on the website.) There are over sixty people on the payroll. One of the people who helped devise the certification standards for organic farms in California, Dru says she now is looking for a way to describe another level of “organic,” a term that has become debased over the years. Her ideal new certification would comprehend labor relations, quality of workplace, as well as make clear where the boundary between mechanization and organic hand farming lies.
Back at the lunch tables, we sat down to wait for our food. Dru’s son, Amon, and his wife said a few words about our meal before they brought out platters. He trained as a chef in restaurants in San Francisco, where he met his wife. A year ago, they moved back to the Capay Valley. His mother was a tyrant, he said with a big smile on his face. Dru and her husband, Paul Muller, made all four of her kids work on the farm, and they hated it. Now that three of the four have finished college, they’ve embraced the life. The fourth child wants to return when she graduates. I think this testimony impressed me even more than the food. And the food was good! Little Gem lettuce salad dressed with balsamic, pomegranate syrup, and their own olive oil; egg tagliatelle with fresh cream and freshly-picked peas; herbed lamb roasted with baby Russian fingerling potatoes; honey lavender ice cream. Simple, simply prepared, and utterly delicious.
When I left, I felt reaffirmed in the approach to food that I have been evolving over the past year but I found again the joy in food. I want not to be mindful of how I eat without treating food and cooking like an expensive hobby. Food is life, food is friends, food is nourishing. But it’s not all there is to life.
Full Belly Farm welcomes people to reserve lunches for groups, weddings, parties.