Summer California Farms Epicuring Guide

By Jessica Rubenstein, Contributing Epicurator

By the time July rolls around, it’s hard to think of any other place I’d rather be than the Bay Area. The beach is a short drive away, festivals are happening almost every weekend, and the farmers’ markets are exploding with the bounty of summer. But if you are looking for a true summer foodie experience, look no further than the bay’s wealth of local farms. Whether you want to get your hands dirty at a non-profit community farm, share a beautiful gourmet meal made with ingredients picked that day, or just visit a working farm— the Bay Area has great opportunities for you to have a blast and strengthen your connection to the source of your food.

FARM WORK DAYS

The Bay Area has a long history of urban farms and that legacy is thriving today in non-profit community farms that aim to educate and provide healthy local food to the community, as well as give the next generation of farmers skills and inspiration to continue the work of creating a local and sustainable food system. These farms are all about participation and welcome anyone willing to put in a little elbow grease. Meet fellow community members and take home some oh-so-fresh fruits and veggies.

Down in San Jose, located near the intersection of two major freeways, sits Veggielution—a beautiful 2-acre non-profit farm devoted to cultivating education, community and social justice through sustainable agriculture. Join in on their Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday community work days. Sunnyvale is home to Full Circle Farm, a young farm on school district property that seeks to provide affordable access to locally produced food. Roll up your sleeves and help them out on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Oakland’s food system is one of the most dynamic in the country, and a thriving system of urban gardens is central to its progess towards healthy food for all. If you want to see for yourself, check out the People’s Grocery work days at the California Hotel on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Phat Beets also hosts community workdays on Wednesdays and Sundays at Dover Street Park. In San Francisco, Hayes Valley Farm is a community and agriculture hub in the middle of the city. Among all the fruits and veggies, you can find a cob oven, a children’s photography club, a worm composting system, and bee hives. Come help them out and meet your neighbors on Wednesdays and Sundays and check out their free farm yoga sessions every Tuesday. Come support the Alemany Farm’s mission to make San Francisco more food secure by pitching in on their workdays on Mondays, and certain Saturdays and Sundays.

FARM DINNERS

With local legends like Chez Panisse and Greens, it’s not hard to find an amazing farm-to-table restaurant experience in the Bay Area. But now locavores are going one step further by taking the meal out of the restaurant and onto the farm where it was grown. These meals are a true celebration of the bounty of this area and of the farmers who grow it. Pull up a chair and join the delicious party!

Love Apple Farms, famous for its close relationship with renowned Los Gatos restaurant Manresa, is hosting farm dinners (and more casual farm lunches) through fall on their lovely farm in the Santa Cruz mountains. Up in gorgeous Pt. Reyes The Fork is hosting farm dinners sourced from Marin County and affordably priced at $40 per person. In Petaluma, check out Della Fattoria‘s dinners at Weber Family Ranch. Chef William Heubel has launched the Beyond the Kitchen Table farm dinner series, taking place at a different farm in Napa Valley every Saturday through the rest of the summer. To eat well for a great cause, check out Veggielution’s Bounty of Heart’s Delight Dinner on August 25 featuring chef Joe Cirone of Willow Glen’s up-and-coming Hay Market.  And if you want the lovely setting without the gourmet price tag, check out Pie Ranch‘s once-monthly potlucks (if you want to make a day of it, come early for the work day and stay late for the barn dance).

FARM TOURS

You’ve enjoyed the food; now get a behind-the-scenes look at where and how it was produced at these special farm tours throughout the Bay Area. Each weekend Harley Farms, a 200-head goat dairy in coastal Pescadero, offers a two-hour, hands-on tour that follows the milk from goat to dairy, from curd to cheese.  Hidden Villa in Los Altos hosts kid-friendly tours (and lots of other great programs) a few times a month highlighting their sustainable agriculture and humane animal husbandry practices. Rogers Ranch in Point Reyes takes you behind the scenes of a sustainable beef farm where you can tour the pastures, meet the animals, and learn all about rotational grazing with cows and chickens. To learn about the inner workings of a dairy farm, complete with photo-opp-ready adorable baby cows, check out McClelland’s Dairy in Sonoma or Strauss Family Farms in Marin. Tara Firma Farms in Petaluma hosts tours every weekend where you can learn about how pigs, chickens, and cows are raised and learn the answer to the age-old question of why pigs lay in the mud. Capay Organic offers monthly tours of their 700-acre family farm where they grow over 150 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Go check out what’s in season.

OTHER  EXPERIENCES

And here are a few more that don’t quite fit into a category but that are worth checking out.

Every third Saturday of the month, after a work day and pot luck, Pie Ranch opens its doors for a good old-fashioned barn dance, complete with live band and square dance caller. The barn is packed with people, young and old, having a blast trying to keep up with the steps. I can’t recommend this enough, it is so much fun!

Just down the coast in Davenport, Swanton Berry Farm has, arguably, the most charming farm stand in the world. Take a self-guided tour of their farm overlooking the ocean, then go inside to find not only their organic produce, jams, and pies for sale, but a collection of vintage board games, books, history and nature displays, and good music. In other words, pull up a chair and stay a while!  They also have a U-Pick here.

Also check out our Epicuring Guide to U-Pick Farms. Did we miss anything? Please add to this collection of Bay Area farm experiences by posting a comment.