I first discovered Full Belly Farm when I went searching for information about the Capay Valley during Almond season. I found my way to a blossoming almond trail, and then to the newsletter for Full Belly Farm.
The family-operated farm has been supplying certified organic produce to local markets and Bay Area kitchens (like Chez Panisse) since 1985, and since spying their name I’ve recognized it on melons in my local co-op and on bouquets at Nugget Market.
Last month, our friends suggested we all head out for dinner there, one of the nights in the farm’s monthly dinner series.
Our evening fell in the midst of a week-long heat wave, and we watched the car’s thermometer rise to 111-degrees as we pulled into the town of Guinda at 5pm. We made a bee-line for a table set with cool water, and jugs of housemade lemon-verbena tea and melon juice. Beside them were plates of what looked like honeydew, and I practically gasped when I took my first bite. Almost tropically fragrant and sweeter than any melon I’d ever tasted, this couldn’t be honeydew—that whiteish-green hard stuff generally used for fruit salad filler. Well, turns out they grow very good honeydew here, but this in fact was something else called an Haogen melon, a mid-Eastern fruit developed in Israel. (It’s precisely the kind of thing that should prompt you to visit a local farmer’s market: fruit this ripe and this soft doesn’t travel well and you’re really only likely to find it at a farm stand.)
Next we all boarded a tractor pulled wagon for a tour of Full Belly’s 350 acres. It was a fascinating, and completely endearing, albeit unbearably steamy, look inside the workings of a farm that champions sustainable labor practices and environmental stewardship. They work about 80 different crops that can provide year-round employment to 60 full-time laborers and provide consistent food for beneficial insects.
And it was an impressive family operation: One of the owners, Paul, gave us the tour and explained that his wife Dru is most interested in the dairy animals; his son Amon, who would be cooking us dinner, has moved back with his wife Jenna to head up a new production facility for cooking lessons, jam production, and dinners year-round; and that one of his daughters heads an outreach program for local schools (they get visits from Waldorfers as far south as Santa Barbara). One of the other owners is particularly interested in flowers and their fields for bouquets glowed as the sun went lower on the horizon.
Dinner was set up near the main house, in long rows, and was a casual affair. We were invited to bring our own alcohol, and our friend made a strawberry basil lemonade to mix with gin, and brought tall bottles of beer. As for our part, we forgot our wine, but the farmers were so generous as to share some of theirs with us.
My favorite dish was perhaps this fritter, made with Zucchini and Goat Cheese, and served alongside mildly spicy, slightly sweet Jimmy Nardello peppers. Amon mentioned that his wife, Jenna, is a fan of Smitten Kitchen and based the recipe off hers.
The concept reminded me of Outstanding in the Field (only far more affordable!)
If you’re in the Sacramento or Bay Area, the Capay Valley is just to the north of both. Full Belly Farm delivers CSA boxes to both regions and visit a few weekly farmer’s markets in the Bay. I’m looking forward to their annual Hoes Down Festival this fall.