A growing market
Vendors at the Grower’s Market at the Nevada County Fairgrounds remember the ragtag group of people with pickup trucks selling harvest from their backyard gardens when the market started more than 25 years ago.
Since those humble beginnings, the Saturday morning market has spawned several markets at different locations in Nevada County, giving residents the opportunity to buy local produce five days a week during the peak of the growing season in July.
Commercial growers selling everything from handcrafted soaps to fresh berries have supplanted the backyard gardeners who brought their overgrowth of zucchini and tomatoes to the fairgrounds decades ago. And today, it’s a regional event drawing producers from around Northern California.
Yet locals still agree that nothing beats a farmer’s market for a sense of community.
Tractor and lavender
Doug Forster’s interest in buying a tractor combined with BJ Forster’s passion for lavender, inspiring the couple to plant their hilltop farm south of Grass Valley after moving there full-time in the 1990s.
“I’ve been a cook all my life,” said BJ Forster when asked about her love of herbs. They started planting, she said, and the garden “just kind of got out of hand.” The couple has been a fixture at the market since 1999.
On a recent Saturday morning, visitors were drawn to the Forsters’ stand by the intoxicating smell of fresh and dried lavender cuttings.
While Doug Forster waited on customers, BJ Forster hand-weaved culinary wreaths made of fresh bay leaf, sage, lavender, eucalyptus, fennel and other herbs, which cost $25. Nice to look at and equally tasty, cooks can decorate their kitchen with the wreath and pick herbs off as they’re needed.
The Forsters also offer make-your-own dried lavender sachets for $3 and their own pressed lavender oil.
The Egyptians used lavender for burials; the Romans used it for bathing and cooking. Lavender fans who want to tap the source of the ancient herb known for its relaxing effect might want to show up for one of the Forster’s U-Pick Lavender days.
Today and next Sunday, June 10, show up at the Forster Herb Garden between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. For $5, the Forsters provide the garden shears and the tie-wrap, and you can pick as much lavender as you can bundle.
With Calolea’s award-winning olive oil grown practically next door in Loma Rica, why bother with Mediterranean imports, especially when American labeling laws are so lax that the bottle of “extra virgin” you find on the grocery store shelf might be diluted with canola oil?
Monica and Michael Keller pick early and press within 24 hours, which they say is the secret to their olive oil’s winning “best of class” medals three years in a row at the “Olive Oils of the World” competition at the Los Angeles County Fair.
The Kellers farm more than 30 acres of 100 year-old mission and manzanillo olive trees and have been producing their high-quality oil, which is certified by the California Olive Oil Council, since 1999.
After being bottled during the harvest season, olive oil reaches its highest acidity in November or December; acidity diminish as the oil ages, Michael Keller said. The oil is best when it’s consumed within a year. After two years, it loses its taste and antioxidant properties.
Olive oil’s relatively short shelf life makes buying olive oil from local producers a sensible idea for health-conscious consumers.
“We can get it to the shelves faster,” Keller said. “It can be bottled, dated and eaten within a year.”
Mary Dedrick knows her fromage. While working as a sales rep for a French cookware company based in the Bay Area, she took numerous trips to France and sampled a variety of regional cheeses.
After a career in food that included working as a private chef and caterer, Dedrick moved to Placerville from the Bay Area. She quickly concluded the foothills were, as she put it, “lacking in gourmet foods.”
To fill the vacuum in her life, Dedrick opened her own cheese shop, Dedrick’s Main Street Cheese, at 312 Main Street in Placerville. There, she offers a variety of artisan, farmstead and premium cheeses from around the world and artisan breads and crackers.
“Five years ago, my shop wouldn’t have made it,” said Dedrick, adding that the recent trend toward buying local, organic food has made specialty cheeses more palatable to Nevada County residents.
Dedrick considers any cheese made in California local. One of her biggest sellers is Humboldt Fog goat cheese from McKinleyville. The shop soon will carry goat cheese from a producer in Somerset.
Visitors to Dedrick’s booth also can travel across the Atlantic, tasting Normandy with a brie or camembert and nibbling through various regions of Europe, finishing in the Pyrenees with a petit Basque sheep’s milk cheese.
To learn more about Dedrick’s Cheese, go to http://www.dedrickscheese.com.
Every Friday, the extended Chao family awakes at 5 a.m. and heads out to their farm near the intersection of Highway 20 and Woodruff Lane near Marysville to pick berries for the Grower’s Market.
“The whole family is out there,” said Moung Chao, taking a break from waiting on customers on a recent Saturday. She counted seven family members, including cousins, who take part in the weekly tradition.
Although the plump berries are not organic, Chao says they are minimally sprayed.
The family has been selling their blackberries and strawberries at the market for 13 years. Although strawberry season ends in July, the Chao’s blackberries will be available through August.
To contact Staff Writer Jill Bauerle, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4219.
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