Growing season, eats and startups

Butte County’s walnut yields shrink; Taste of Chico yummy, but lacking; and get your biz started with growTECH Fest

As we head into fall (RIP summer), it’s hard not think about harvest season. I happen to live nearly across the street from acres of orchards, so I’m anticipating the sound of the shakers (shaking the “L” out the almonds) starting up soon.

What’s surprising is, with the release of the latest crop report this week, nuts are no longer Butte County’s biggest cash cow. That honor for 2018 goes to rice ($161 million), followed by almonds ($155.5 million) and, finally, walnuts ($154.5 million). Put into context, in 2017, walnuts raked in $254 million. Among the reasons for the steep drop: Chinese tariffs in response to President Trump’s trade war. But he’s still “making America great again,” right?

When the trickle-down effects are taken into account, this news is a pretty big deal, as agriculture is Butte County’s biggest industry. In fact, 1 in 5 jobs is ag-related, according to Louie Mendoza, the county ag commissioner. The drop in walnut earnings is being attributed to a drop in cost. And while the majority of sales are exports, it’s a good reminder to shop at farmers’ markets—let’s keep our money local and support our neighbors.

Speaking of foodstuff I had the occasion to check out the annual Taste of Chico street festival this past Sunday (Sept. 22) and, as always, it was a blast. Perhaps my favorite discovery was Momona’s pork belly onigiri, a menu item I’ve somehow never tried but will definitely add to my repertoire, as it was crunchy, soft, savory and came with a delicious aioli.

Second fave: The Lab Bar & Grill’s falafel wrap. I’m a little picky, ever since staying above arguably the best falafel shop in Cairo while traveling some 13 years ago. Lab owner Kevin Jaradah tells me the ingredients came straight from his family’s home country of Syria; well, they’re doing something right. Pro tip: They’ll be part of a rotating menu on the restaurant’s new Arabian Nights authentic Middle Eastern events every other Wednesday. Check Facebook for details.

All in all, Taste of Chico was super fun. I was a bit disappointed, however, to find at least half a dozen vendors had sold out more than an hour before the event was scheduled to end. Either the event planners need to communicate about ticket sales better or the vendors aren’t adequately preparing—but for $35 a ticket, a significant number of food stalls shouldn’t be shutting down so early.

Get your learn on Local nonprofit Chicostart and the Northern Rural Training and Employment Consortium (NorTEC) are sponsoring growTECH Fest Oct. 8-10, billed as “the biggest event for startups, investors, entrepreneurs, techies, students, educators, business owners and community leaders.”

Speakers will include many of the area’s usual suspects: Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.), Dan Gonzales (Fifth Sun and Meriam Park), Jeff Cresswell (Klean Kanteen) and Colleen Winter (Lulus). Plus, the keynote speaker is Paul Singh, “chief hustler” for Results Junkies, a traveling investment firm for startups.

Go to to sign up. (Students can attend for free!)