Christopher Ranch

  (Gilroy, California)
Gilroy's finest. Family owned since 1956
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America Is Hungry: This Holiday Season, Donate Food & Time

The holidays have a way of motivating people to help feed America’s hungry.

The feeling of giving – and knowing you’re truly enhancing someone’s life – is the greatest high you can experience.

And the need for help has never been so great, as the recession and tumultuous economic events of 2009 have greatly exacerbated the number of America’s hungry. Many experienced unfortunate financial events beyond their control, leading to the present situation.

According to the “Household Food Security in the U.S., 2008? study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 17-million households were considered “food insecure” in 2008 – an alarming number that witnessed an 11-percent jump from 2007. Read more in The Washington Post article, “America’s Economic Pain Brings Hunger Pangs”.

Food stamp use also is at an unprecedented level, with one in eight Americans, including one in four children, utilizing the stamps. Not to mention, food stamp aid is not restricted to big cities with high poverty rates – it’s affecting everyday Americans. Take Peoria, Ill., for instance, where nearly 40 percent of children are receiving assistance, according to the “Food Stamp Use Soars, And Stigma Fades” article in The New York Times.

While I’m well aware of the dire situation, its severity recently touched a more local, personal chord.

Last week, I attended a holiday luncheon for the Fresh Produce & Floral Council, which represents Southern California’s produce industry members. It’s an annual event whose purpose is to raise money and food donations for the Orange County Food Bank and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. During the luncheon, a food bank representative stated the number of people seeking food assistance has spiked at least 90 percent above the same time last year, while donations have remained the same.

I was shocked – 90 percent is a very disturbing number.

While California does boast the highest population in the country, I would imagine the majority of food banks are in a similar situation.

Now, the federal government has pledged to assuage the widespread problem and has taken steps to do so, such as contributing $150 million to the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009.

While there are accounts of money from the act working, it’s not enough to accommodate the overwhelming hungry population in the U.S.

Therefore, it’s time for us to intervene.

You can make a significant difference by donating extra food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, to a bank in your area. Produce items that aren’t highly perishable – such as onions, potatoes, oranges, grapefruit, fresh garlic, squash and others – work great.

Or, donate your time. That is just as valuable, considering, one hour of volunteer time at a Seattle food bank is equivalent to $17, according to a recent post by food blogger Blue Kitchen.

Listed below are a few links to help you find a food bank in your area.

Feeding America

Food Pantries – A Directory of Food Banks & Soup Kitchens Across America

Hunger Task Force

Get out there, and make a difference. It’s the greatest gift you can give someone – and yourself – this holiday season.

Southern California’s produce industry donated a collective $29,355 to the Orange County Food Bank and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. The feeling was unmatchable.


Ingredients Matter


It’s somewhat ironic how quickly the Slow Food concept – and everything it embodies – is gaining momentum.

The Slow Food movement has caught peoples’ attention worldwide, by upholding the appreciation and awareness of quality, clean, ethical food and its origins; using fresh, sustainable, seasonal ingredients; and cooking in a manner that emphasizes flavor, health, patience and enjoyment. In other words, it is the antithesis to fast-food eating.

There are long-time pioneers who have been leading this crusade, such as Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” – a book questioning the sustainability, flavor, nutrition and structure of the current food system and praising the good old days, when people cooked from scratch and only had access to items in season, like apples in the fall, oranges in the winter, asparagus in the spring and tomatoes in the summer.

There’s also Alice Waters (chef, author and owner of Chez Panisse), who has revolutionized the food world in her mission to educate about the environmental, societal and health benefits in sourcing and eating good, clean, fair food that is grown sustainably and seasonally at local farms.

Most widespread, perhaps, is the Slow Food organization, which has chapters in more than 30 countries and represents 100,000 members – all of whom are united by their desire to practice, restore and promote the Slow Food concept through relationships, education and events, including farm tours, dining at sustainable restaurants, movie screenings and more.

One such screening, as offered by my local Slow Food Los Angeles Chapter, is the showing of Ingredients – the latest documentary highlighting the health, economic and environmental importance of growing and consuming local food, establishing relationships among local farmers, chefs and consumers and the dangers of continuing down an export-oriented, processed, genetically modified, mass-produced, tasteless food path.

Ingredients features input from all facets of Oregon’s supply chain, including several farms, such as 47th Avenue Farm and Ayers Creek Farm, chefs, like Alice Waters and Greg Higgins, agricultural organizations, such as Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust, grass-roots movements, like Slow Food Portland, and community representatives, such as Lake Oswego mayor, Judie Hammerstad.

One of the major concerns in the documentary is that because food is “shipped from ever-greater distances, we have literally lost sight of where our food comes from and in the process we’ve lost a vital connection to our local community and to our health.”

The domestic garlic industry understands this, as the majority of fresh garlic in the U.S. is shipped from China, which can take between 30 and 60 days to reach U.S. markets, traveling 7,300 miles to get to California. There is little to no sight of where the garlic originates, there is a huge disconnection to the local community and farmer, and the garlic’s time travel eradicates health, flavor, safety and the environment.

As a family run farm that puts the land first in operations, grows our garlic as sustainably as possible and selected our heirloom seed (which originated in Italy) for its flavor – as opposed to volume capabilities – we support the Slow Food movement.

Unfortunately, I can’t claim that I’ve seen this film, but I’ve heard and read enough about it to know that I fully agree with its premise and am waiting in eager anticipation to see it. However, it’s only shown in select locations, or you can purchase the DVD on the Web site. (For local listings, click here.) So, in this case, do as I say, not as I do. I encourage everyone to check out Ingredients – it might transform the way you look at your food, for the better.


Education and Good Times at the PMA Foodservice Conference

Chef Jeff Henderson and Ted Allen wow the audience with their masterpieces at PMA's Foodservice ExpoChef Jeff Henderson prepares his dish during the cooking demo(From Left) Chef Jeff Henderson, Ted Allen and Chef Robert Danhi at PMA's Foodservice Expo

Monterey, Calif., typically known for its array of delicious, fresh fish, recently evolved into a produce town for a weekend, attracting some of the most insightful, influential produce industry members.

The Produce Marketing Association, a leading global trade association known for its industry advocacy, consumer and industry research and networking opportunities, played host to one of its biggest events of the year – the PMA Foodservice Conference.

Several hot industry topics were highlighted throughout the weekend, such as strengthening fresh produce in restaurants, sustainability and food safety, with plenty of time devoted to culinary events and – three of my favorite pastimes: eating, drinking and socializing.

Reflecting on the successful show, I thought I would share my experiences and perceptions of the weekend. As they say, my 2 cents is free!

Saturday morning began with an “Executive Think Tank” roundtable – featuring leaders from the National Restaurant Association, the International Foodservice Distributors Association, Bon Appétit Management Company, Subway and more. There, PMA president Bryan Silbermann and fellow industry leaders discussed produce and foodservice trends, as well as strategies for incorporating more produce in restaurants. Silbermann projected an ambitious goal of doubling use of fresh produce in restaurants by 2020 and outlined effective ways to do so, like moving produce toward the center of the plate… I don’t think anyone in the room complained about that!

The PMA also provided great industry research with promising numbers:
• 92% of fine dining operators said they would pay more for fresh produce, if safety is guaranteed.
• 72% of operators agree that fresh produce attracts customers.
• 2 out of 3 restaurants want a relationship with produce growers.

Then, it was on to the following session, which focused on rethinking business strategies to appeal to the emerging generation – Generation Y.
Our industry is hopeful that Gen Y will boost restaurant sales, with the idea that Generation Yers’ love of food and little kitchen interest will encourage restaurant business. However, the speaker also referred to Gen Y as spoiled and high maintenance. Speaking on behalf of Gen Y, we think that is completely false!

Sunday morning began with a Q & A session, including some culinary figures you may know… Ted Allen, Chef Jeff Henderson, and Chef Robert Danhi. Chef Danhi, who was a James Beard Foundation Book Nominee for his Southeast Asian Flavors, emceed the session. He spoke with Allen and Chef Henderson about the importance of food, namely produce, and how it’s influenced eating choices throughout their lives.

Chef Jeff Henderson delivered an inspiring success story, as he grew up in poverty and consumed most produce out of a can. Still, his family ate and cooked together, forming a strong bond through food.
His life initially followed a tumultuous path, however, ending up in prison to serve 10 years. While working in the prison kitchen, he realized his passion for the culinary world. He read many books and learned techniques that would help him when he emerged, and, upon release, he started at the bottom of the kitchen totem pole and worked his way up to Executive Chef at the Bellagio in Vegas. He now has his own show on the Food Network called “The Chef Jeff Project,” which teaches at-risk young adults how to use the power of food to handle problems and better their lives.

Ted Allen often consumed produce growing up – lots of fresh and lots in can – but believes fresh is best. He cooks with fresh produce frequently, and says fresh produce enriches his life. He’s been very successful, starring in the former “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” judging on “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef America” and now hosting Food Network’s “Chopped” and “Food Detectives.“

After the Q &A session came the best part… the cooking demo!

Chef Danhi, Chef Henderson and Allen each prepared a savory and sweet dish. The savory dish had to include two ingredients: broccoli and grapes. The sweet dish had to include avocado and blueberries. While they weren’t the best-sounding combos, these guys are inventive and came up with amazing recipes – which we were fortunate enough to sample at the end!

My favorites? For the savory dish, I loved Chef Henderson’s scallops with broccoli puree, topped with grapes. For the sweet dish, I loved Chef Danhi’s avocado and blueberry parfait, topped with slivered almonds.

The expo began shortly after and went very well. One perk of this year’s event was the happy hour on the show floor – nice touch, PMA! Overall, it was a great event for the produce industry. Looking forward to it next year…


Gilroy Garlic Festival, Round 2-May The Stink Be With You

Classic Garlic Festival Attire. Move Over Star Wars.Bravo TV's Top Chef Star Fabio Viviani, Emcee of the Garlic Showdown (right), Congratulates Winner Ryan Scott, Also a Former Top Chef veteranCrowd Converging on Garlic Bulbs Following Bulb Topping Competition
As promised, a few more garlic highlights and miscellaneous thoughts from the 31st annual Gilroy Garlic Festival this past weekend…

A scrumptious pasta, beef tenderloin, tomato succotash and watermelon tomato salad was the winning combination of the 3rd-annual Garlic Showdown cooking competition. Ryan Scott (shown above), former “Top Chef” star and popular Bay area chef, was the winner in the “Iron Chef-”esque battle, which took place July 26. Scott was awarded the prestigious title “Garlic Showdown” champion, as well as $5,000. Fabio Viviani, also a “Top Chef” veteran, played host to the showdown.

Scott’s complete four-course meal featured:
-Homemade Hand-Torn Pasta with Baby Tomatoes, Tomato Broth & Mozzarella
-Sun-Dried Tomato, Black Garlic-Encrusted Beef Tenderloin
-Sungold Tomato Succotash
-Watermelon Tomato Salad with Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette

Garlic truly is an ingredient for all courses, as the Spicy Garlic Butter Cookie with Garlic Goat Cheese and Honey was the winner of this year’s Great Gilroy Garlic Cook-Off. Andrew Barth, of Winnetka, Calif., was the 2009 winner and recipient of the notorious garlic crown and $1,000 prize.

On A Parting Note – The annual Gilroy Garlic Festival is not only about celebrating California-grown garlic – it’s also purposed to raise money to help support local charities and non-profit organizations. Celebrating is more fun when it’s contributing to a good cause.

A big thank you to everyone who organized, participated in and attended the 31st-annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. We at Christopher Ranch truly appreciate your enthusiasm and support for California heirloom garlic. Remember – All Garlic Is Not Created Equal!

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