It’s a perfect afternoon in Northern California’s Russian River resort area of Sonoma County, hot but not too, and a smiling and jovial Jorge Saldana is doing what countless numbers of his countrymen back in Mexico are doing on this and every Sunday—happily grilling under deep blue skies, surrounded by hungry people sipping cold Mexican beer waiting to be fed. Saldana, a 3rd-generation farmer and the proprietor of this magnificent 100-acre property he calls Sabor Mexicano Farm, is preparing simple food that is big on sabor, or flavor. Sauteed zucchini with onions and garlic from his organic garden. Beef and chicken for tacos. Beans, Mexican-style rice. A bountiful salad from the garden. His own deliciously fiery salsas and totopos, tortilla chips made from whole corn, not corn flour. A little earlier, Saldana had led us on a tour of his 10-acres of organic gardens, irrigated by a natural spring. The gardens supply farm-fresh produce for his two restaurants, Tlaloc in San Francisco’s Financial District and Cancun in Berkeley (a third is on the way, at The Barlow, the cool new artisan marketplace in Sonoma’s Sebastopol), as well as for the salsa we’ll be enjoying, made in the farm’s own commercial kitchen. Everything he grows is true to his philosophy of good health and a contribution to the greater good of the environment. Some of the produce traces ancestry to heritage seeds handed down from Saldana’s family in Mexico. Nothing goes to waste here; alfalfa is grown to feed goats, horses and chickens (which contribute eggs for the restaurants). He also showed us the handsome 19th-century farmhouse (5 bedrooms with en suite baths) he’s nearly finished renovating as a bed & breakfast/retreat/event center. Plans include platforms for yoga and dance, expansive decks and a pool.
We are here at the invitation of Bay Area Green Tours, a remarkable organization based in the greenest space for non-profits in Berkeley, the David Brower Center (named for the founder of the Friends of the Earth and Earth Island Institute, both headquartered there). Its redoubtable founder, Marissa LaMagna, in a colorfully embroidered Mexican blouse for the occasion, had just asked, “Where else can you find a farm like this that’s surrounded by redwoods?” And, we might add, by towering Douglas firs and madrones along a scenic creek, all nestled in a beautiful valley adjacent to Armstrong Redwoods Park with plenty of hiking trails? No wonder LaMagna and her BAGT have chosen Saldana’s farm as its newest “partner in sustainability.” They’ll arrange custom tours for groups who want to experience something of this special destination and the surrounding area, which can include landmarks on the Sonoma coast (only 25 minutes’ away), Russian River wineries, river canoeing and kayaking and much more. The historic house will also be available for individual B&B stays when groups have not reserved it.
Carrots don’t grow on trees
“Our intention,” explained LaMagna, “is to bring socially responsible groups to visit the farm and after their visit ask them to consider adopting and sponsoring an inner-city classroom or a class at their own local school for ‘A Day at the Farm.’ By donating matching funds ‘their kids’ could plant, harvest or cook while learning about the local food and watershed and the sustainable food movement.” At another of BAGT’s urban farm tours, one boy marveled, “I never knew carrots grew in the ground. I thought they grew on trees.” Others have had their eyes opened to the career possibilities in agriculture or the culinary world.
BAGT’s mission is to lead educational tours and events that “demonstrate the sustainable economy in action, inspire support of local green businesses, and empower people to incorporate environmental responsibility and social justice into their personal and professional lives.” And you don’t always have to be part of a group to get on their bus. A few weeks before this farm visit, for instance, they hosted two public recurring tours. The first, which we’ve been on and loved, was a Moveable Feast: a walking tour that visits three model sustainable restaurants—Gather, Revival Bar + Kitchen, and Five—for a progressive dinner in downtown Berkeley, a city some consider the epicenter of the U.S. food movement. Similar culinary tours to be offered in the future will include San Francisco, Oakland, Marin County and the Silicon Valley area.
The other tour was a unique Fibershed Tour, which gives an up-close-and-personal peek into the world of local fibers and dyes by visiting two ranches to meet the farmers and their heritage sheep, and learn about the variety of wools, wool products and the efforts to create a local wool economy within the Bay Area. (Disclosure: this tour is led by GTG Contributing Writer Constance Washburn.)
Get on Bay Area Green Tour’s website and sign up for the e-newsletter to keep in the know about what’s coming up. Whatever it is, you can be certain you will never have more fun learning something worth knowing.
Thanks to Green Traveler Guides