Feast not famine

Local farmers celebrate the season by donating fresh produce to food banks

How do you like them tomatoes? Jim Durst of Durst Organic Growers shows off prized heirlooms.

How do you like them tomatoes? Jim Durst of Durst Organic Growers shows off prized heirlooms.

Photo By Durst Organic Growers

Julie Cross directs the sampling, cooking and wine-tasting classes at the Davis Food Co-op.
The Food Bank of Yolo County can be reached at (530) 668-0690. For the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, phone (916) 456-1980.

One thing agribusiness is good at is producing lots of cheap food. Without giant farming operations, we wouldn’t have 12-for-a-buck ramen or “value” meals. You know and I know (and even the people who eat them know) that these foods aren’t actually cheap: You pay for good nutrition upfront, or you pay for it in medical costs in the future. If you’re hungry enough, though—and a lot of people are these days—you let the future take care of itself in order to eat today.

While the corporate farm response to hunger is to produce cheap food now, the local farm response is more measured. Local farms not only contribute to a sustainable local economy, they kick in actual food where it will help the most: by donating to the food banks that feed the hungry.

Take Durst Organic Growers, a fourth-generation family farm in the Capay Valley. According to Jose Martinez, director of the Food Bank of Yolo County, Durst has donated close to 250,000 pounds of produce—melons, squash and tomatoes, not to mention a couple of tons of rice every year. These donations make a vast difference in the nutrition available to people who depend on the food bank to help out.

Why would Durst (or any of the other farms that support the food bank) bother to donate? Owner Jim Durst believes that “food belongs to everybody.”

“It’s good stewardship to give a portion to those who can’t afford it. The food bank is a good mechanism for distributing food to those who may be down on their luck. We need to take care of those less fortunate than ourselves,” he said.

We’ll hear more about Durst Farms in the spring, when I wax rhapsodically about their glorious, beautiful, delicious asparagus. In the meantime, as we all sit down this week to our free-range turkey, nut loaf or other delightful feast, let’s make a resolution to follow Jim’s lead, and take care of all the people at our local table. That may mean writing a check, dropping off canned goods or volunteering your time. And it certainly means supporting locals farms when you can.

I yam a sweet potato

No matter what your main course is this Thursday, sweet potatoes are a required side dish. While most Americans use “yam” and “sweet potato” interchangeably, what we get is almost always a sweet potato, whether it’s bright orange or creamy white. True yams are native to Africa, and a considerably different item, weighing up to 150 lbs.

There are a number of sweet potato varieties available, and several of varieties are being harvested locally right now—we like the Diane currently coming from Terra Firma Farms. Choose sweet potatoes that are firm and unwrinkled. If you’ve only ever had the traditional canned sweet potatoes with marshmallows, you’re in for a real treat.

Photo By

Sweet Potato Puff
serves 2

1 sweet potato, about 12 ounces
2 tablespoons ground walnuts or pecans
1 egg
1 tablespoon cream
1 teaspoon salt

Bake the sweet potato until tender, about 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool. (Can be done up to 3 days in advance.) Peel sweet potato and place in food processor with remaining ingredients. Whiz until creamy and fluffy. Pour mixture into a greased casserole dish and cover. Place casserole in a larger dish. Add enough water to the outside dish to come halfway up the sides of the sweet potato dish. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.