From Farm to Fork: San Luis Obispo Feeds the Appetite and Soul
The Epoch Times








butter lettuce

ORGANIC PRODUCE: Baby lettuce at Windrose Farm. Photo by Beverly Mann.

A green oasis, the County of San Luis Obispo (SLO) lies sandwiched between the two megalopolises of San Francisco and Los Angeles but appears a world away. This fertile, friendly community is rich in natural resources, rolling hills, and some 200 thriving vineyards—with reverence and respect for its environment and inhabitants. The area offers a refreshing retreat from today’s fast-paced, high-tech society.

 

 

Traveling a Sustainable Trail

SLO has long been privy to and prideful in supporting the rich acres of farmland and scenic coastline sprouting a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and fresh seafood, which visitors can either sample firsthand on farms, at the weekly farmer’s market, or at a myriad of local restaurants. For years, organic and sustainable have been part of the community’s normal nomenclature. Some 35 vineyards in the county have received Sustainable in Practice (S.I.P.) certification. The requirements are extremely rigid, encompassing a wide range of environment and energy conservation issues as well as the welfare of employees. According to Kris O’Connor, executive director of Central Coast Vineyard Team, “In 2008, only 3,700 acres were certified, and in 2009 there had been an increase to 11,000 acres.”

From Paso Robles, Templeton, and Morro Bay to the city of San Luis Obispo, I had the privilege of experiencing the heart of the SLO-paced lifestyle, opening my eyes to a more healthful way of living and eating. Being a city gal from New York City and San Francisco, I was in for quite an education in nature’s way.
 

melanie blankenship

COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY: Melanie Blankenship of Nature's Touch in Templeton is dedicated to providing locally produced organic goods. Photo by Beverly Mann.

Fourth-generation local Melanie Blankenship is owner of Templeton’s Nature’s Touch, a nursery and gourmet grocery specializing in locally-grown and certified-organic produce, plants, meat, and herbs. She is passionate about her community of farmers, who lean toward sustainable farming practices.

The frequently used word “sustainable” is a broad term that can be confusing to many of us. According to Blankenship, “Sustainable is a self-contained farming system where the farmer uses methods beneficial to the environment, concerned not just about the farm but the community-at-large. Sustainability is the entire system of taking care of today without taking away from the future.”

 

She emphasizes, “I’m not just a grocery store but more a venue where locals work together in providing their own food source. I try and bring the farmer and the consumer into one location”

Blankenship along with Bill Spencer, owner of the 70-acre Windrose Farm in Paso Robles, host the Saturday Earth Talk Radio Show, interviewing local chefs, authors, and farming experts.

Goats and Hands-On Goodies

Close by sits the year-old Happy Acres, a goat and dairy farm run by one of the friendliness families in town. Daughter Stephanie Simonin, with her animal science background, oversees the farm of 56 certified-organic acres with lots of tender loving care. Her goats listen to salsa and Christian rock music for relaxation while being milked, and they even have their own nutritionist.
 

Olive Oil

AN "OLIVE OIL EXPERIENCE": We Olive works to be the best place to experience the finest California Olive oils and provides customers with education about how California's extra virgin olive oil is produced. Photo by Beverly Mann.

Adults and children can experience milking one of the farm’s 200 goats and afterward follow the hormone-free milk flowing down pipes into a sterilized room with vats, where the scrumptious goat cheese is made. According to Simonin, “Goat cheese is highly digestible because it has the same pH balance as humans.”

Visitors get a quick culinary lesson in mixing their own herbs, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes into the fresh cheese and sample their yummy fares. You can also buy goat milk ice cream, soap, and lotion.

I forgot my city slicker attitude as soon as I participated in the entertaining milking and cheese-making lessons and got down and dirty like any farm girl. Before I left, I proudly received a ribbon scripted with “I milked my first goat at Happy Acres Family Farm.”
 

Paso Robles Delivers More Delights

Later that day I headed to Paso Robles, a boutique town similar to Sonoma or Healdsburg, with quality restaurants and shops. My experience there at Thomas Hill Organics Restaurant was memorable. It has established a name for itself with the creative, young French chef, Julie Simon, who changes the menu daily. Owners Debbie and Joe Thomas also run Thomas Hill Farms where many of their organic vegetables and fruits are served from-farm-to-table at their restaurant.

  The Thin Crust Pizza with Spring Onions, Housemade Ricotta, and Grill Meyer Lemons lingered on my palate. I experienced other unusual herb blends in a Tamarind-glazed California Halibut with Coconut Baby Bok Choy, Smoked Shiitake Mushrooms, and Garlic Chips.

Perhaps one of the best, reasonable breakfasts I have experienced was at the nearby Odyssey World Café. My Athena Scramble was chock-full of roasted eggplant, zucchini, and squash, with feta and Greek olives, surrounded by crunchy roasted potatoes.

I also visited Bill Spencer and his wife Barbara at their Paso Robles acreage which features 100 percent organic, sustainable heirloom fruits and vegetables. Celebrating its 20th year, Windrose Farm produces a wide variety of greens plus 14 varieties of garlic, 10 kinds of potatoes, and 45 varieties of apples.

Barbara, a professional cellist who also works the land, sees farming as an art form. “The earth is the canvas with the colors of Mother Nature or vegetation creating the palette.”

As I strolled through rows of vibrant greenhouses, I tasted the sweetest baby broccoli, crunchiest chard and kale, and a delightfully fragrant lemon verbena herb straight from the earth. Note that the average consumer is able to buy the produce here several times a year or more frequently at the local farmer’s market.

San Luis Obispo’s 'Green' Charm and Hospitality

My next few days were in the lively, college town of San Luis Obispo, which has become more than a stopover from San Francisco or LA, but a worthwhile destination in itself. My stay at the rustic, European Petit Soleil Bed & Breakfast took me back to Provence, France as I stepped into a cobblestone courtyard lined with bicycles. The splash of red color from the flower boxes framing the windows also added to the ambiance. French antiques adorning the interior are locally bought to further support the community. In the morning, I awoke to the sounds of La Vie en Rose and a gourmet breakfast, prepared with farm-fresh fruit and vegetables.

julie simon

FRENCH CHEF: Julie Simon of Thomas Hill Organics Restaurant. Photo by Beverly Mann.

GREAT GREEN EATS: The Thomas Hill Organic Restaurant in Paso Robles serves up marvelous dishes like organic greens with goat cheese. Photo by Beverly Mann.

bill spencer

DEDICATED LOCAL FARMER: Bill Spencer, owner of Windrose Farm in Paso Robles, produces 100 percent organic, sustainable heirloom fruits and vegetables.
Photo by Beverly Mann.

 

My next few days were in the lively, college town of San Luis Obispo, which has become more than a stopover from San Francisco or LA, but a worthwhile destination in itself. My stay at the rustic, European Petit Soleil Bed & Breakfast took me back to Provence, France as I stepped into a cobblestone courtyard lined with bicycles. The splash of red color from the flower boxes framing the windows also added to the ambiance. French antiques adorning the interior are locally bought to further support the community. In the morning, I awoke to the sounds of La Vie en Rose and a gourmet breakfast, prepared with farm-fresh fruit and vegetables.

Many of the town’s restaurants staunchly support their local farmers. Novo Restaurant is one such example. Encased in a picture-perfect creekside setting, draped in vines and umbrellas, Novo has healthful and tasteful down to an art. Owner Robin Covey buys 50 percent of his produce locally at the weekly Farmer’s Market, a feast and celebration of nature which happens every Thursday evening all along the main thoroughfare of Higuera Street. There are more than 120 vendors situated just a few blocks from one of the country’s first solar-powered movie theaters.

Restaurateur Charles Meyer of the popular Big Sky Café is also an avid supporter of fresh-farm ingredients in the establishment’s savory scrambles and hearty fruit bowls.

Patty and Bill Carpenter, owners of Corner View Restaurant & Bar, take pride in buying lots of local wines, fish, bread, some meats, and produce. Patty admits, “We try to buy organic when we can, but it can get costly for restaurants and farmers to go totally organic.”

A perfect example of SLO’s community of restaurateurs and farmers working in partnership can be demonstrated at Pallet to Palate (P2P), a culinary event slated for Sept. 19 and 20. In its fourth year, P2P’s main purpose is to broaden awareness of the impact that the area’s local food has on the community’s well-being. Novo and Corner View Restaurants will be participating, as well as Happy Acres Farm.

Upon my return home to San Francisco, I visited my local Farmer’s Market which was highly touted by the farmers of San Luis Obispo. I excitedly stuffed my bag with fresh mushrooms, chard, and baby broccoli. Somehow the color green had a whole new meaning to me.

 

IF YOU GO

Contact: San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau, www.SanLuisObispoCounty.com

Getting There: Take 101 South or North from San Francisco or Los Angeles

Where to Eat:
Thomas Hill Organics, 1305 Park Street, Paso Robles, www.thomashillorganics.com

Odyssey World Café, 1214 Pine Street, Paso Robles, www.odysseyworldcafe.com

McPhee’s Grill, 416 South Main Street, Templeton, www.mcphees.com

Big Sky Café, 1121 Broad Street, San Luis Obispo, www.bigskycafe.com

Corner View Restaurant, 1141 Chorro Street, San Luis Obispo, www.cornerviewrestaurant.com

Novo Restaurant, 726 Higuera, San Luis Obispo, www.novoRestaurant.com

Where to Stay:

Hotel Cheval, 1021 Pine Street, Paso Robles, www.hotelcheval.com

Petit Soleil, 1473 Montgomery Street, San Luis Obispo, www.petitsoleilslo.com

What to Do: A yearly calendar of food and wine events to sample the local produce includes San Luis Obispo Restaurant Month (January), Pinot & Paella (June in Templeton), Earth Day Food & Wine Festival (April), Olive Festival (August, Paso Robles), Pallet to Palate (September), and Savor the Central Coast (September-October).

Happy Acres Family Farm, 1955 Templeton Road, Templeton. Tasting Room hours: Sat and Sun from 11am-6 pm. Fun for the whole family for a complete farm experience of cheese making and goat milking.

Fresh Produce:
Nature’s Touch, 222 South Main Street, Templeton, www.ntnah.com

Windrose Farm, 5750 El Pharo Drive, Paso Robles, www.windrosefarm.org

We Olive, 958 Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo, www.weolive.com
A wide assortment of California and local extra virgin olive oils, vinegars and tapenades, and more.

Farmer’s Market, every Thursday night in downtown San Luis Obispo, 6–9 pm.

 

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