October 25, 2013

Farm Beat: Slow Food chapter will gather

The Slow Food movement’s Great Valley chapter will hold its annual Harvest Dinner in Denair. The movement favors local foods consumed at a leisurely pace.

Slow Food, the wonderfully named movement that urges people to stop and savor the bounty around them, will hold a gathering Nov. 7 in Denair.

The Great Valley chapter will lay out its fourth annual Harvest Dinner, featuring local foods prepared by notable chefs, for $50 per person.

The theme is “Sweet Potatoes and More,” so expect this very local vegetable in every course. The feast starts with chowder and other appetizers and moves on through salad, roasted chicken from the Diestel ranch near Sonora, and bread pudding for dessert.

Slow Food, founded in Italy in 1986 in response to the spread of fast-food restaurants, has grown to about 100,000 members around the world. They believe in eating food grown close to home, both to protect the environment and support local growers, and in taking their time at the table.

This year, the chapter is partnering with Ag Link, an online service based near Ballico that connects farmers with school districts seeking local products for their cafeterias.

The chefs for the Denair dinner include Constance Bearden of Chartwells, the food service provider at California State University, Stanislaus; Bryan Ehrenholm from the Manteca Unified School District’s culinary academy; Jesse Layman of Sparrow Lane Vinegar and Oil Co.; Julie Moreno of Rancho Piccolo Organics; and Robert West of Sysco Co., a supplier to restaurants and other customers.

The dinner will be 6 to 9p.m. at Larsa Banquet Hall, 2107 E. Monte Vista Ave., Denair. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Call (209)634-8448 or email

Slow Food wouldn’t work in a school cafeteria – the students have to get back to class after lunch – but something in the same spirit is going on in some of them.

An increasing number of school districts are trying to get fruits, vegetables and other food from local farms into their meals, part of a larger effort at healthy eating.

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its first Farm to School Census, which shows what campuses were doing in the 2011-12 school year. The survey found that 43percent of districts across the country had such a program in place, and an additional 13percent planned to launch one soon.

The income to farmers who supplied this food was about $350million. This was tiny compared with the nation’s total farm income – $455billion in 2012 – but it was worthwhile for the growers who found a market and for kids who enjoyed the food.

The findings are at They include several districts in our area that submitted data; others have until Nov. 30 to do so.

You need to take the survey with a grain of salt (locally produced, if possible). The districts vary widely in their definition of “local,” some drawing a 50-mile radius, others accepting anything grown in California.

And the USDA’s efforts do not involve just fresh produce. It considers canned, frozen and dried products to be part of a healthy diet, though low-sugar and low-salt versions are preferred.

Some of these products come from canneries and other processors in our area. And we produce a lot of ketchup, the ultimate slow food.

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