Food from Farmers Guild kitchens
Of all the new cookbooks available this holiday season, one has roots in Sonoma County. There aren’t any celebrity chefs or vintners featured in this down home offering, just the hardworking young farmers and ranchers who bring food to the dinner table.
“The Farmers Guild Cookbook” introduces 19 food producers from 14 California farms, the new generation of men and women running family farms or renting acreage for grass-fed cows, free-range chickens and rows of sustainably grown produce.
This week the cookbook becomes available during a Wednesday release party in Berkeley, a city known for promoting sustainable agriculture and locally and organically produced food. A local release party follows Saturday in Sebastopol, a community that has long known a thing or two about agriculture.
The cookbook, retailing for $25, is both a fundraising effort and a promotional campaign for the Sebastopol-based Farmers Guild, an open-door alliance that shares resources and information about farming practices, sustainability and marketing.
Since its inception around a kitchen table in Valley Ford in 2011, the group has grown to include a network of nine guilds from Fort Bragg to San Luis Obispo. More than 300 farmers, ranchers, chefs, food advocates and agrarians come together through social media, special events and activities that celebrate the united quest of building a healthier food system.
The cookbook brings that vision to kitchens everywhere. Fourteen featured recipes highlight farm-fresh produce and humanely raised animal products, not a genetically modified morsel on any plate. They range from potato salad to ratatouille, spaghetti squash alfredo and braised lamb breast.
With 70 color photographs of barns, farms, ranches and fields, the cookbook “is a beautiful piece of art,” said Evan Wiig, executive director of the umbrella guild in Sebastopol. “We hope people see this as a great opportunity for holiday gifts.”
Wiig, 28, wanted a way to celebrate today’s young farmers and ranchers while sharing their crops, recipes and biographies. That effort is the self-published, calendar-style cookbook that shows consumers the landscapes where their food is sourced.
The 30-page, 8-inch by 11-inch cookbook “looks exactly like a calendar except with no dates,” Wiig said. “We didn’t want something to shove in a shelf but to hang on the kitchen wall.”
Some of the recipes include detailed instructions while others are a bit more open-ended.
“It’s their own recipe and each one has their own style,” Wiig said. “Some are very exacting, and some are more fluid.
“I asked them to pick the recipe that best showcases what they grow, to teach people to prepare what they grow.”
The recipes are more folksy than gourmet.
“We don’t like fancy dinners, nah, no way. (These dishes) are delicious but anyone can do it,” Wiig said.
Farmers and ranchers from six California counties - many from Sonoma and Mendocino counties - are shown at harvest and in their kitchens. Each completed dish is featured in a photo, from lamb chops and pesto to a vegetarian soup and watermelon salad.
“What we’re trying to do is empower farmers,” Wiig said. “They need our respect, they need to be empowered.”
Wiig thought up the idea for a cookbook after a successful pizza party and toppings contest in August that highlighted the summer bounty. Some two dozen farmers and ranchers showed up at The Barlow in Sebastopol to showcase their food atop pizzas baked in mobile cob ovens.
The party attracted a crowd that applauded each and every participant. Wiig wanted to keep that momentum going.
He shared his idea for the all-volunteer cookbook project, asking friends and acquaintances to participate and spreading the word to guilds within the growing network.
“We kind of crowd-sourced it,” Wiig said. Because it was produced during the peak growing season, not every interested person had time to participate.
Four photographers who believed in the project stepped up to donate their talents. The works of Olivia Maki, Janae Lloyd, Florencia Aicnerolf and Koby Guye (himself a farmer) are featured throughout the cookbook. Lloyd, the primary photographer, also helped with the cookbook design.
Wiig said the effort is unique since most cookbooks simply list ingredients and instructions. With “The Farmers Guild Cookbook,” the men and women who sourced those ingredients share what they know best - how to maximize their food into tasty dishes.
“It adds a crucial first step in any recipe that most people leave out. It’s where do you buy your ingredients, how do you buy them, where are they coming from?” he said.
In some ways, the cookbook is a cousin to those old-fashioned, spiral-bound cookbooks filled with mimeographed recipes put together by school, grange and church groups. They were the ancestors of the guild’s own, if not more hip, version of a community cookbook.
“If there’s any way to preserve culture, it’s through recipes,” Wiig said.
He hopes the cookbook will bring the farm-to-table concept to the average diner. Fresh, healthy food is within reach, he said, by eating at home, cooking meals and getting to know those who source food locally and sell through farmers markets and community-supported agriculture programs.
“Eating sustainably shouldn’t be an occasion,” Wiig said. “It should be an everyday practice.”
A release party for “The Farmers Guild Cookbook” will be held from 6:30-10 p.m. Wednesday (Dec. 10) at The Farmhouse, 1545 Dwight Way, Berkeley. The Sebastopol Farmers Guild Holiday Party hosts the Sonoma County release party from 6-10 p.m. Saturday at the Sebastopol Grange, 6000 Highway 12. Both events are free. Donations suggested for food and beverages. Live music at both venues. For details, or to obtain a cookbook, visit farmersguild.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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