Patti Bess: Berries are back |

Patti Bess: Berries are back

Patti Bess
Local Food Connection


For several years this column published stories about the benefits of frequenting our local farms and farmers’ markets, but the reason for buying produce locally is not just to support our growing farm community.

More and more information about the quality of food from industrialized agriculture is available. Buying organic produce and meats invests in the future health of our families and our communities.

These are just two recent examples. A French study published last December in JAMA Internal Medicine, a journal from the American Medical Association, found that among nearly 69,000 participants in the study, those with the highest frequency of organic food consumption had 25 percent fewer cancers than individuals who did not eat organic food. And in 2018, data from the Harvard University Chan School of Public Health, Environment and Reproductive Health; one study found a surprising association among participants between the consumption of foods high in pesticide residues and fertility problems.

The Environmental Protection Agency set up “safe” levels of pesticides years ago. They were primarily a yardstick to help the agency’s personnel determine whether farmers were applying pesticides properly. They are in dire need of updating. Today, most scientists agree that if pesticide tolerance levels were set to protect the health of children, who are the most vulnerable, more fruits and vegetables would fail EPA standards. Since researchers are constantly discovering new insights into how pesticides act on living organisms, it’s not realistic to assume concentrations of them are harmless.

Every year the Environmental Working Group publishes a list of the fruits and vegetables containing higher amounts of pesticide residue. It’s called the Dirty Dozen or the Shoppers’ Guide to Organic Foods. At the top of that list for three years running? Strawberries — another good reason to pick your own or buy organic.

That list is available at

— Patti Bess

At the end of Cement Hill Road, Riverhill Farm opens into rolling hills and well amended valleys bursting with organically grown produce. And more importantly, U-pick berries.

The strawberries just couldn’t get out of their beds this spring — too much rain and cool weather, perfect for sleeping in. But they’re back as are the ripening blackberries (thornless).

Did you know that commercial strawberries are the most likely produce to be contaminated with high pesticide residues, even after they are picked, rinsed in the field and washed before eating? (See sidebar.)

Riverhill Farm has a long history. Years ago Native Americans lived in this valley and harvested the multitude of acorns from the surrounding valley oaks, and there are still remains of the work of Italian settlers who farmed the land in the late 1880s until the early 1900s. Longtime local residents, Alan Haight and Jo McProud, worked tirelessly to bring the land into organic production encouraging the diverse habitat. Then, in 2017, they decided it was time for a change and a rest. Antonio Garza and DayLin Wade stepped in to take the mantle.

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Like many of our young farmers, Antonio and DayLin are well educated and had goals far different from farming, but life had another plan. After college Antonio worked for two years as the farm manager with Alan, and DayLin managed the Wednesday market before they took on the whole operation.

The farm currently has four full time employees, and several part timers. Antonio added a high tunnel which allows them to harvest summer favorites much earlier in the season. Riverhill is currently harvesting cabbages, radishes, berries, herbs, carrots, beets, salad turnips, kale, rhubarb, zucchini, chard and more. U-pick cherry tomatoes and canning tomatoes will ripen soon.

Riverhill Farmstand is open every Wednesday, 2-6 p.m. They also sell wholesale and at the Saturday Market in downtown Nevada City. Occasionally when there is an over abundance of produce, an extra U-pick on Sunday mornings will be announced on their email, Facebook and Instagram. Call 916-832-7463 for more information or

Summer Salad with Strawberries, Feta & Shallot Dressing

Enough soft leaf lettuce or mix of lettuces for two people

Eight to ten strawberries, sliced

About one half cup basil leaves, thinly sliced

Three to four ounces of feta cheese, crumbled


One shallot, peeled and finely diced

One tablespoon balsamic vinegar

One tablespoon red wine vinegar

One quarter cup extra virgin olive oil

One half teaspoon salt

Finely dice the shallot by slicing it first lengthwise, then crosswise. This should make a fine dice without having to mash it through rough chopping. Place in a bowl or jar with the vinegar and salt for 10 minutes. Then whisk in the oil to taste.

Assemble all the ingredients for the salad. Add as much dressing as appeals to you. Toss thoroughly. Makes two servings.

Patti Bess is a freelance writer and cookbook author from Grass Valley. She can be reached at

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