County’s bounty: Nevada County Grown event showcases farm to fork movement
Special to The Union
Chef Zach Sterner of Twelve 28 Kitchen won the People’s Choice “Best Local Chef” competition at a farm-to-fork event Wednesday.
And his restaurant isn’t even open yet.
Accepting an engraved cutting board, Sterner told the crowd, “Thanks for the votes. Come see us when we open in a few months!”
Nearly 300 guests attended Bounty of the County, where they enjoyed delicious samples offered by nine area restaurants. Local farms and ranches donated the meat, produce, and fruit used to create the delectable delights.
Sterner, his mother, and father moved to Nevada County from Sonoma County and will open their restaurant at Penn Valley’s Gateway Center. On Wednesday, they served Asian-style meatballs with pickled apples and a tomato-ginger-soy glaze, all made from ingredients donated by Bitney Springs Farm.
“Even before we open, we wanted to get our name out there,” Sterner said, explaining his decision to enter the competition. “It was fun meeting the other restaurant chefs and local farmers.”
There was no shortage of gourmet cuisine, local wine, and craft beer at the fourth annual Bounty of the County at the Gold Miners Inn-Holiday Inn Express.
“The food was fantastic,” reported Calvin Kulas, visiting from Meadow Vista. “We met several growers, and we learned a lot about local farming. This farm-to-fork thing is a great idea.”
Three Forks Bakery and Brewing Company chef Craig Day created buttermilk and white cheddar grits. Chef Christopher King from Summer Thyme’s Bakery and Deli wowed the crowd with his buckwheat soba noodle salad. Chef Will Orovitz from Matteo’s Public elegantly served crostini with fig-onion chutney topped with herbed goat cheese. Emily’s Catering and Cakes’ dessert of bourbon- and honey-roasted peaches with oat-almond crumble was mouth-watering.
Organizer Ellen Cole said the event raised about $5,000 for Nevada County Grown, comprised of 60 local farmers and ranchers who support and promote Nevada County’s $22-million agriculture industry. Nevada County Grown launched Bounty of the County to showcase local farming and ranching, and educate consumers about the benefits of buying and eating locally grown produce, livestock, and poultry.
Over the past few weeks, Cole has been working with a videographer to create a mini-documentary about Nevada County Grown, including aerial footage shot with a drone.
“This documentary will be a beautiful piece that will showcase Nevada County Grown, the creation of the Food Hub, and how our local farmers and restaurants work together to make an amazing network of farm-to-table delights, which will in turn educate and create more awareness within our community and beyond,” explained Cole, co-owner of Cosmic Roots Ranch.
While restaurants were dishing out their samples Wednesday, the Nevada County Grown booth was serving up information about its Food Hub. That project connects farmers with end-users such as restaurants, schools, and stores. The Food Hub started limited operations last month.
“We’re starting slowly with an online market of six farms. We display all the things they have available and invite buyers to purchase those products online. After they make their selections, the farms deliver to them,” explained Debbie Gibbs, Nevada County Grown treasurer and Food Hub program manager.
A dozen prospective buyers have registered with the Food Hub and are exploring the market, added Gibbs. Four buyers are already making purchases: two restaurants, a caterer, and one grocery store.
Food Hub organizers envision a day when dozens of farmers and buyers conduct business in a virtual marketplace. Farmers will go online to enter what they have ready to pick, and how much they have. Buyers will go online to place an order for the items and quantities they need. The system will then generate a “pick list” so farmers know what to harvest and how much. The buyers’ orders will be delivered in a refrigerated truck.
The local vegetable industry is thriving, according to the Nevada County Crop and Livestock report issued annually by the county’s Agricultural Commissioner. The value of vegetables jumped from $843,100 in 2014 to $1,581,000 in 2015. Egg production increased from $89,800 in 2014 to $125,200 last year.
“The market for locally grown products is improving dramatically,” said Gibbs. “More and more are organic, which also bring a better price. And farmers are becoming more productive with the acres they have. I’ve been astonished at the weekend farmers’ markets. They are really booming and vibrant.”
Funding for the Food Hub’s planning phase came from a US Department of Agriculture $25,000 grant. Nevada County Grown will submit a second grant application next month and be notified in May whether it will receive $300,000 to ramp up operations for the 2017 growing season.
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.
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