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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Farmstastic Working Farm at California State Fair Cal Expo Grounds

I was lucky to spend my vacation with my best friend, Jess, who happens to be on the The California Exposition and State Fair Board. We grew up in 4-H and FFA, then went on to teach Vocational Agriculture, so going to fairs is a nerdy pleasure. For me it was especially nice to get out of the heat and humidity of Austin and enjoy dry days and cool nights in Sacramento, California.

The fair, as always, was a hoot and I am happy to announce I did real damage to the food booths. I also got to chat up the livestock exhibitors and discover all the people we have in common. Several hogs, goats, sheep, cattle, and even a sturgeon were petted and cooed over.

But the real highlight for me was The Farm.

CalExpo has a working demonstration farm right on the grounds. And while I've seen other similar treatments, most notably the Children's Garden at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, this is a real working plot of land to showcase California agriculture.

Eggplant on other side of corn

Japanese Eggplant
There are 3 1/2 acres where about 70 different crops are grown. It also features an outdoor kitchen, greenhouse, insect pavilion, blacksmith, and Farmer's market. Master Gardener volunteers are on hand to answer questions or you can stroll on your own to learn about drip irrigation, the crops featured, and other interpretive information on pollinators, water conservation, and soils.


Kaiser Permanente is the main sponsor but others, like Save Mart Supermarkets, also contribute and participate. The Farm regularly hosts tours and has special programs for K-6 graders.

What's cool about this is that it's all in raised beds using concrete landscaping blocks. This lifts the garden so it's easier to see but more importantly, allows them to install the farm right on the expo grounds. It also brings the flexibility to move things around as needed.
 I was captivated by the Barn Owl box they have installed. Since the neighbors cut down their tree that hawks nested in, I've been overrun with squirrels and rabbits in my fruit and vegetable garden. I'm thinking a nice Barn or Great Horned owl family is the just the ticket.

Armenian Cucumber
While I was there the garden was well visited and I went to a couple of cooking demonstrations at "the grill" by Keith Breedlove and learned some great new tips. Always a good day when I can combine cooking, gardening, farming, and eating! And it was all done safely due to the many, many, hand-washing stations. Jess and I had to wonder how we've escaped death given that we were raised around livestock, and while exhibiting at fairs shared meals and napped with our hogs (and steers and sheep and cows.) All that exposure must have given us ironclad immune systems.

Tomatoes on Trellis
Both Jess and I are gardeners so it's always fun to see what's growing. However, for many urban dwellers the idea of picking something from a tree or seeing a live squash is a thing of wonder.

Okay, maybe not the squash but those flowers are beautiful and made me hungry for my favorite Squash Blossoms Stuffed With Ricotta recipe (I skip the tomatoes and add in feta.)

Was also fun to see the wine grapes growing (and even more fun drinking the wine slushies that were featured in the SaveMart Wine Garden.) 

Oranges (not quite ripe!)
My kiwis that I grew in Oregon didn't look half as good as the vines they had.
Kiwi Vine and Fruit
The other tree fruit were all properly espaliered to show off the ripening produce. Very hard not to just pick it all - but the fruits of this labor go to the local food bank.


Spaghetti squash
And just in case you are worrying, I did spend time elsewhere. There was live music sprinkled throughout and time looking at quilts, photography, painting, and other fine arts. I took two classes: one in wine tasting and the other in extra virgin olive oil. Watched jam and chocolate dessert judging and sampled some incredible local cheese. Also very moved by their new exhibit celebrating professional farm workers. The Chavez family was there and it reminded me of my own family's history as California migrant farm workers in the Great Depression. It is America's story - people who work the fields (or factories, or mines, or woods) in order to provide their families with a better life, then proudly send their children to college. I am very grateful that I got to be there for the ribbon cutting.  Poetry - celebrating the growers, harvest, and the harvesters all at once. As it should be.

A special thanks to the amazing staff and board members at CalExpo who made me feel welcome and allowed me to tag along with Jess. It was very cool to see the behind the scenes work of pulling off an event like this (which runs three weeks: July 14 to July 30.) Let's just say it was easy to sleep on the plane when I returned home.

Now, how DID they make that bacon wrapped ear of corn and how much wine to add into the ice cream machine to produce a slushie? 

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