Posts Tagged: Sonoma
Spring is here, and oftentimes the busiest season of the year for gardeners to plant edibles with dreams of ripe tomatoes and rows of juicy strawberries. But what about the “non” gardeners, you know the people who struggle to keep a cactus alive? Is there hope for a plentiful harvest for those self-identified terrible gardeners? Absolutely.
Food gardening takes some work, but if you have the determination and are willing to get your hands dirty, UC Master Gardener Program volunteers are eager to help you find success. Across almost every county in California there are passionate UC Master Gardener volunteers eager to turn your dreams of a bountiful summer harvest into a reality.
Sonoma County finds success with “Food Gardening Specialists”
The UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County has spent almost a decade perfecting the art of teaching best practices for food gardening. They have found a winning formula for food gardening workshops that focus on hands-on learning and interactive demonstrations in the garden. A group of UC Master Gardener volunteers with a passion for growing edible plants joined forces and started a project aptly named “Food Gardening Specialist.”
Food Gardening Specialists receive initial training in food gardening with curriculum developed by UC Agriculture & Natural Resources experts. After initial training, volunteers continue to grow their food gardening skills with monthly speakers, discussions groups and field trips. These highly skilled and trained volunteers teach food gardening at community or demonstrations gardens across Sonoma County, where anyone is welcome to attend.
Understanding the need to expand reach in Sonoma County, the project identified four key gardens to engage more diverse communities. Garden “captains” build relationships within these gardens, advising home gardeners and developing gardening workshops that are relevant to their community's needs. One of the core gardens provides year-round fresh produce to a number local food banks and programs that feed the hungry.
Stephanie Wrightson: Sonoma County Volunteer of the Year
A shining example of a dedicated Food Gardening Specialist is Stephanie Wrightson, who recently was awarded Sonoma County's Board of Supervisors “Volunteer of the Year” award. Wrightson has been a UC Master Gardener volunteer since 2010 and a member of the Food Gardening Specialist project since 2011.
Wrightson has donated more than 3,200 hours to the UC Master Gardener Program, most revolve around food gardening outreach.
“We put on public food gardening workshops, with Spanish translators, and demonstrate sustainable best practices in the garden ... invaluable. We interact, consult, advise. We learn from each other,” Wrightson said. “Food Gardening Specialists share science-based and sustainable food gardening information with garden visitors and workshop attendees. The gardens have quickly become a social hub in the neighborhood, bringing the community closer together.”
It is clear that Wrightson's role doesn't stop at the garden's gate. Wrightson was essential in shaping the vision of the Food Gardening Specialist project while serving on its steering committee and as a project leader. She manages efforts to keep all of the food gardening content updated, posted online or shared on its social media channels. Wrightson also works closely with the translation team to identify the most popular food gardening topics to make them available in Spanish.
“Stephanie brings such an attention to detail and focus on everything she engages in; we are so grateful to have such a talented UC Master Gardener as part of our organization,” said Mimi Enright, program manager for the UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County.
Where is food grown in your community?
Do you grow your own food or get homegrown food from a neighbor who gardens? Is there a community garden nearby, or a farmers market with locally grown fruits and vegetables?
“It's becoming more important to understand where our food comes from and to make sure everyone knows how to enjoy its benefits,” said Missy Gable, statewide director for the UC Master Gardener Program.
The UC Master Gardener Program provides the public with research-based information about food gardening, home horticulture, sustainable landscapes, and pest management practices. It is administered locally by UC Cooperative Extension offices that are the principal outreach and public service arms of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. If you are interested in learning more about food gardening or would like to connect with your local UC Master Gardener Program visit, mg.ucanr.edu.
Trusted UC Food Gardening Resources:
- Vegetable Gardening Basics (UC ANR Publications 8059)
- Food Safety in your Home Vegetable Garden (UC ANR Publication 8366)
- Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden ( UC ANR Publications 8159)
- California Garden Web (UC Master Gardener Program)
- The California Backyard Orchard (UC Master Gardener Program)
- Food Gardening (UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County)
- Food Gardening with Less Water Resources (UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County)
It causes a stampede to the dining room table, that's what it does. Expect to see chairs overturning, plates flying and forks spinning.
That's because Gravensteins make the best pies. As any apple pie aficionado will tell you: the best pies are the "G" pies: Gravenstein (first) and Granny Smith (second).
The Gravenstein apple reigned as the preferred apple on our family farm in western Washington. We found the sweet-tart apple "perfect" for eating right off the tree, or made into pies, applesauce and apple cider. The cows liked them, too. A gentle nudge on the tree, and - eureka! - apples would magically fall to the ground. Talk about happy cows!
This heirloom apple also reigns supreme in Sonoma County. Just ask the Gravenstein apple farmers, area residents, restaurants and the tourists who line up to buy a bag or two.
That's because of its flavor, its propensity for being in the right place (pie) at the right time, and its short season make it even more treasured. Plus, this is an apple with an aroma. The delightful fragrance will permeate your kitchen.
It's a short, squatty looking apple, streaked with red. Sometimes Nature's paintbrush turns the thin streaks into thick bands. And the stems are short - so short and so susceptible to falling from the tree that, "growers estimate they lose 40 percent of their apples even before they are ripe," wrote Carolyn Jung of The Day newspaper, New London, Conn., in her interview with Paul Vossen, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Sonoma and Marin counties, for a Sept. 8, 1999, article.
First described in 1797, the Gravenstein originates from Denmark, where it's known as "Gråsten." It took a couple of centuries to do it, but in 2005, Denmark declared it the "national apple."
How did it get to Sonoma County? Russian trappers first planted it there in 1811. The good citizens of Sonoma so liked the apple that they named a major artery the "Gravenstein Highway." Over the last six decades, however, "Sonoma County's Gravenstein orchards have declined by almost 7,000 acres and are currently down to 960 acres," according to an article on the Slow Food USA website.
Why? Farmers find it more profitable to grow grapes.
Also, it's not an easy apple to market. It's an early variety with a very short season, usually during a few weeks in August. Blink and it's gone.
And, it's an apple you won't find in your local produce section, tucked among the Red Delicious, Galas, Fujis, Pink Ladies and Granny Smiths.
"They don't travel well, and they don't last long (short season)," says Daniel Sumner, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis and director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center. "To consumers, this is the kiss of death."
Enter the Slow Food movement. To help preserve the heirloom apple, the Russian River Slow Food group contacted area restaurants and asked that it be featured in their desserts. Getting into the preserve-the-Gravenstein act, the FruitGuys, a company that ships organic fruit to customers, donated 17 percent of this year's proceeds back to the Gravenstien apple farmers.
Every little bit helps.
In the meantime, Sebastopol continues to celebrate its annual Gravenstein Fair; this year the event took place Aug. 11-12.
In search of Gravensteins, we drove to Sebastopol on Sunday, Aug. 19, just as the season was about to end. "Ours will be gone in a couple of days," a farmer told us.
"Which apple makes the best pie?" we asked. "Granny Smiths or Gravensteins?
"Gravensteins," the farmer said. "Hands down."
Here's our family recipe for Gravenstein apple pie. We favor using brown sugar instead of granulated white sugar. And we mix the brown sugar with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Crust for 9.5-inch pie
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 cup butter-flavored Crisco, chilled
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons water, cold
Sift flour, baking powder and salt. Mix in Crisco until the dough pieces are pea-sized. Add cold water as needed, 6 tablespoons or more, and form into a ball. Roll out dough into a circular shape and invert on pie pan.
Filling for 9.5-inch pie
8 cups of apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons of butter
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Gently mix together (with fork) brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and then mix lightly through the apples. Before pouring the mixture into the pie pan, sprinkle a little cinnamon (less than 1/4 teaspoon) on the lower crust. Dot the heaping apple mixture with thin slices of butter. Place top crust on pie. Slit with sharp knife in several places and poke with prongs of fork. Sprinkle a dash of nutmeg on the crust. Line the edge with 1/2-inch strip of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning. Bake at 425 degrees about 50 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned and the apples are cooked through. Test with fork.
Warning: the aroma of this pie will attract all the neighbors, their families, their friends and their friends' friends.
No wonder Luther Burbank said that “if the Gravenstein could be had throughout the year, no other apple need be grown.”
Gravenstein apples hang from a tree in Sonoma County. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gravensteins are usually streaked with red, but Nature's paintbrush created this effect. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)