Going to the Source
Meet the farmers and ranchers behind those Liberty ducks, Jones rabbits, Riverdog vegetables, and other foods gracing menus from A-16 Rockridge to Standard Fare.
Peppers from Say Hay Farms.
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When Gather opened in Berkeley nearly seven years ago, the restaurant made a big deal—no, a huge deal—of acknowledging it sources. Blackboards flanking the open kitchen listed the farms that provided meats, produce, and other foodstuffs. A Source Book detailed the origins of ingredients used by the chefs. Of course, cooking with seasonal and local ingredients has been on Bay Area restaurants’ agendas for 45 years, since Alice Waters made it a religion at Chez Panisse.
These days, fewer restaurants trumpet their sources so blatantly, largely because—at higher-end and specialty eateries, and even some chains—diners take for granted that the food is fresh, seasonal, market-driven, and more or less local. Scores, if not hundreds, of small growers, farmers, and ranchers supply the better restaurants of the East Bay. Many make deliveries. Chefs make weekly treks to local farmers markets or take advantage of distributors and exchanges such as Cooks Company Produce and FEED Sonoma.
Purveyors run the full gamut of size. There are big operations that raise everything from green garlic to hogs; cattle and sheep ranchers who provide whole animals that chefs cut up themselves; and small family businesses whose goal is to perfect a single product. Here’s a sampling of six artisan purveyors who keep the food you eat real.
Photo by Lori Eanes
Priscilla Jones of Jones Rabbit Farm.
Jones Rabbit Farm
All in the Family
When Willie Jones retired from the Army in the early ’70s, he pursued a passion kindled in memories of teen years in Florida helping his grandfather raise rabbits for consumption. Initially, Jones supplied rabbits from his fledgling San Mateo farm to Army commissaries in the Bay Area. After moving his operation to Santa Rosa and securing licensing for his own processing plant in 1981, Jones expanded his family business, raising 200 or so rabbits at a time and processing the meat for restaurants and the fur for clothing makers. Since Willie’s death in 2011 at the age of 78, his widow, Priscilla, took over the business. The rabbits are antibiotic- and hormone-free and raised on alfalfa pellets, organic hay, and organic garden vegetables, and processed as whole fryers, roasters, and stewing rabbits. Paul Canales, who started using Jones rabbits in the late 1990s at Oliveto, finds many ways to use the meat at Duende—as mar y montaña butifarra sausage with rabbit and shrimp for paella de carne, as fried shoulder rillettes, as liver and kidney patè, and as loins and legs raciones, because, he said, he relishes the “beautifully raised, plump, fine textured meat. I loved Willie and love Priscilla. What better reason to use their product is there, when all the above is so amazing?”
Where to find them: Café Rouge, Duende, Flora, Palmento a Dopo. Meat for home use is available by advance order.
140 Milbrae Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-585-2177 or 707-486-9622, Contact@JonesRabbitFarm.com, www.JonesRabbitFarm.com
Photo by Ramona d'Viola
Scott Kirby of Say Hay Farms.
Say Hay Farms
As a chef specializing in breakfast at his Sequoia Diner, Andrew Vennari knows something about eggs, which is why he gets a lot of his from Chris Hay’s certified organic Say Hay Farms. Hay was born in Walnut Creek and spent his adolescence around Berkeley and Oakland. After graduating with a degree in philosophy from UC Berkeley, making him “equally unqualified to do anything,” he said, he went into organic farming on 2½ acres of his mother’s property at the mouth of the Capay Valley in Yolo County. He and his mom, Sarah, started with 100 hens; now they and a staff of 10—“a goofy bunch of smart, hard-working people who are determined to find a way to make a difference in the world”—cultivate 50 acres of an integrated agricultural system of pastured hens, rotated vegetable crops, cover crops, and orchards of oranges and old almond trees. They rotate the laying hens, too, through the fields and pastures, and use their manure as fertilizer.
Where to find them: Adesso, Clove & Hoof, Chez Panisse, Palmento a Dopo, Sequoia Diner, Three Stone Hearth, Grand Lake Farmers Market, CSA boxes, and an annual Community Farm Dinner.
19182 County Road, 87B, Esparto, 510-847-0815, SayHayFarms@gmail.com, www.SayHayFarms.com
Photo by Lori Eanes
Jim Reichardt of Sonoma County Poultry.
Liberty Ducks/ Sonoma County Poultry
Feeds People Duck
If you’ve eaten duck almost anywhere in California, as well as certain restaurants in Reno, Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Vail, New York, and other cities, chances are you’ve tasted Liberty. Not only does Sonoma County Poultry have a wide reach, it has deep roots, founded in 1992 by fourth-generation duck farmer Jim Reichardt. Liberty is a strain of Pekin duck that was developed in Denmark. Reichardt rears his birds year-round on straw litter in “an open environment,” antibiotic- and hormone-free, and in “a slower, less stressful style” than the way many other commercially grown fowl are raised. In 2014, he introduced the slightly pricier “O’Liberty” duck, fed exclusively organic grains. At Oliveto in Oakland that same year, chef Jonah Rhodehamel came up with a whole-animal preparation: Duck Two Ways, with pan-roasted breast and Bing cherry-sausage, using the neck of the duck as the casing. Appropriately, one of Sonoma County Poultry’s website names is FeedPeopleDuck.com.
Where to find them: Camino, Chez Panisse, Local Butcher, Oliveto, Ramen Shop, Standard Fare.
Sonoma County Poultry, P.O. Box 140, Penngrove, 707-795-3797, 800-953-8257, SCPDucks@aol.com, www.LibertyDucks.com, www.FeedPeopleDuck.com