Patti Bess: Five generations and still farming | TheUnion.com

Patti Bess: Five generations and still farming

Patti Bess
Columnist

Janice Thompson comes from a long line of Placer County farmers — five generations to be exact.

Her great, great grandfather bought his first 40 acre ranch in 1888 when he was only 19. He planted strawberries because they produce in the first year and mined several of the local creeks to make enough money until his fruit trees matured. The land and peach trees he planted now lie under Folsom Lake.

Family ties

One hundred and fifty years later Janice and her husband, Francis, farm at Twin Brooks Farm in Loomis, land her grandparents' farmed. The Thompson's and their family moved there in 1988 after her grandfather passed away. They were one of the first farms to sell at the Foothill Farmers' Market when it opened in 1988.

"Our family is still passionate about farming and producing fruits and vegetables with that old-fashioned flavor and sweetness that my ancestors knew. We are committed to sustainable farming practices that keep our soils and crops healthy and to supporting other small farmers whose goals are similar to ours," Janice said.

In 1999 Janice took her love of farming another step further. She wanted to open a Farmers' Market that would sell the organically grown produce from their family farm as well as from others in the area. The owner of the packing sheds in downtown Newcastle was in the process of expanding and designed a building especially for Janice. Newcastle Produce opened in 1999.

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If you're heading to Sacramento on Highway 80, it is up on the hill at the Newcastle exit. Drive through downtown Newcastle slowly or you'll miss the whole town. The old fruit sheds still hold several restaurants and an antique store.

Newcastle Produce is alive with neighborly energy. Every vegetable and fruit in the store is labeled with its origin — from Sonoma County cheeses to Nevada County wines, from Placer County mandarins and produce to Sacramento olive oils.

It's quite amazing to see the many small farm producers thriving in Northern California. The store also provides a regular, consistent outlet to sell the Thompson farm's produce. They specialize in tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, lettuces and more.

What started out as a small mom and pop vegetable market grew over the years and now has 25 employees.

Chelsea Bruce, a Loomis local, who worked there in her teens, returned a few years ago to run the deli after graduating from Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena.

The full service deli serves soups, salads and sandwiches as well as hot foods to take home. There is a bagel menu, and you can even order online and pick up your lunch when you arrive. Chelsea's cookies, turnovers, and scones get constant rave reviews.

"My family came from Portugal and had been fruit farmers in Newcastle for 65 years," said Chelsea. "At a young age, the importance of freshly grown produce was instilled in me. It is/was a way of life. I appreciate that Jan and Francis strive to make a difference in farming, and they utilize the fresh produce in the store's deli."

Two or three cooking classes are offered most months. In March you can polish your scone making techniques with several varieties of dried fruits. In February kick start your fermentation and preservation habit with a hands on class making sauerkraut, Kombucha and vinegars.

All classes take place at the store at 6:30 p.m. The list of classes and reservations can be made on their website at http://www.newcastleproduce.com.

If you're on your way to or from Sacramento, Newcastle Produce makes a honey latte with coconut milk and other delicious morning drinks. For lunch you can't go wrong with their Avocado Bacon Lettuce Tomato or a grilled vegetarian sandwich.

While there, check out the incredibly diverse offerings of products throughout the market. They are open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. They can be reached at 916 663-2016.

Valentine Beet Salad

This beet salad might be perfect for the upcoming holiday.

4 medium red beets, trimmed and peeled

Olive oil to drizzle

3 Blood Oranges, segmented

1 Fennel bulb, trimmed, thinly sliced

3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

3-4 tablespoons Sutter Buttes Blood Orange Extra

Virgin Olive Oil or any available olive oil

1/8 cup Balsamic Vinegar

Sea Salt to taste

Trim and peel beets. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap each one individually with aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes to one hour.

Check with skewer for softness. Cool and unwrap. Slice beets into 1/2-inch slices. Using a small size cookie cutter, cut into heart shapes or cut out by hand.

Roast walnuts in a small frying pan on a low flame for three to four minutes (optional).

Combine beets, fennel, blood oranges and walnuts. Drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Enjoy!

Patti Bess is a freelance writer and cookbook author from Grass Valley. She can be reached at bess.pattia@gmail.com for questions or comments.