Red Cafe in a Blue State

IMG_0336In my lifetime California has turned from a conservative leaning state to a solidly liberal state. We have two presidential libraries–one for Richard M. Nixon and one for Ronald Reagan and there are still many Republicans, Libertarians, and other conservatives living in California. They are out-numbered by Democrats 2 to 1, and also outnumbered by people declining to state a party (independents). The Republicans might have remained more competitive if Governor Pete Wilson had not decided to villify Latinos and lost their votes (most are not immigrants either) for the forseeable future. One of the remaining conservative enclaves is Simi Valley in Ventura, CA. It is just down the road from Apricot Lane Farm. Traffic being tricky, I opted to arrive super early and stop somewhere close to the farm for breakfast. All reviews pointed to the Egg House.

As I drove down Los Angeles Boulevard I noticed storefronts for evangelical churches, but otherwise this part of Simi Valley looks like a suburb almost anywhere in California. The Egg House is not impressive from the outside. It is in a building where you might find an Ace hardware store, but it does have parking. The inside was a lovely surprise! It is super clean and reminds me of the hip diners around Nashville. Maybe this is where country music artists live when they are in Los Angeles?

The waiter brought me my diet coke (I’d already had coffee) and a complimentary piece of coffee cake. The frosting was super sweet, but the base cake was yummy. My scrambled eggs were perfectly cooked, the bacon was crisp and the pancakes were very tasty. They might have a little cornmeal in the batter. My service was super and if you are visiting the Presidential Library then I highly recommend the Egg House for breakfast or lunch.

 

 

Burbank Airport Upgrade

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The new Rental Car Center at Bob Hope Airport (BUR).

Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. The easiest way to visit Los Angeles (domestically) is flying into the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. And now it is easier to rent a car from BUR at the car rental facility. It has been awhile since I’ve needed to attend to business in Los Angeles. Southwest Airlines flies almost every hour directly to Burbank from Sacramento. It is a small airport and easy to access by train or automobile.

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For pedestrian safety, they created this second story walkway that leads to the train station or the car rental agencies. It is covered mostly for sun, occasionally for rain.

The car rental agencies used to be located at the end of the United terminal with a small lot for cars. Some of the rental agencies required you take a bus to their lots. Now everything is located together in a new multi-story facility. It is a bit of a hike to the facility, but much easier once you are there.

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I once took a human-centered design workshop and they challenged our groups to redesign a process that didn’t work well. We chose the car rental experience. We redesigned it into something that is like the experience today of taking Lyft from the airport (except with ride-sharing you don’t get to keep the car). My experience with Alamo was almost stress free. They no longer print the contract out on an old printer with carbon forms. They sent me off with my contract and I was met by a greeter who directed me to my economy car. It took longer to walk to the office than it did to rent my car and be on my way. One more reason Burbank is the best airport if you are visiting Los Angeles.

Apricot Lane Farms Looks Just Like the Movies

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Emma the Pig with her granddaughter enjoying a non-industrial pig’s life.

Have you been to Universal Studios or one of the other movie studio tours? I came awayf from my first studio tour marveling at how so many facades and stage props are so fake looking and yet look so real on film. I am happy to report that after seeing The Biggest Little Farm and then touring the real Apricot Lane Farms (the focus of the documentary), it is a match!

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Dorper sheep graze in this lemon grove to mow the cover crop and to fertilize the orchard. They also trim up the tree canopy providing some protection to the trees from fungus and snails. 

Located close to Simi Valley and the suburban development of Moorpark, you drive only a few minutes through orchards and hoop houses to reach Apricot Lane Farms. The contrast with the neighboring farms is most stark when you stand at Alan York Point (named for their mentor). On the next farm over there is nothing but bare ground as they clean up after an organic raspberry operation. The erosion on the hillside, the bare soil exposed to the Santa Ana winds, compared to a regenerative farm that is bursting with life.

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The view from Alan York Point. It is early October at the end of a long, dry summer and probably two months from any winter rain. 

Apricot Lane Farms is both California Certified Organic and biodynamic certified. They grow and sell seasonal stone fruit, citrus, avocados, pasture-raised eggs, vegetables, herbs, marmalade, lamb, pork and beef through four farmers markets a week, a couple of individual grocery stores, and a couple of chefs. They do not currently have a selling problem; they have a supply problem. And they uniquely have a Los Angeles based market that can pay for the increased quality ($16 typically for a dozen eggs). They want to expand to three more farmers markets.

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This garden was a horse arena before they regenerated the soil with compost and no-till. This produce is sold through farmer’s markets in the Los Angeles area including the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. 

Co-owner Molly Chester experienced some health issues that led her to become a traditional food chef in Hollywood. She is still the most active partner in farm operations (John Chester is a film maker foremost). Her interests led them to Apricot Lane Farms and together, with their mentor Alan York, adopt these five pillars.

Apricot Lane Farm’s 5 Pillars:

  1. Soil health is the foundation for everything else…
  2. Growing the healthiest food
  3. Treating animals ethically and evolutionarily appropriate
  4. Regenerating the land
  5. Building community

They quickly discovered that uncovered soil is dying soil, so the cover crops are key and tilling has been almost entirely eliminated. In the garden, they sometimes cover the ground with plastic. Today, the only bare soil is the roadways, and the soil fertility in the pastures and orchards has recovered. At the beginning the soil was testing 1-3% organic matter and after 8 years the soils are testing between 3-6%, and the vegetable beds at 11%. For each percent increase in organic matter they are sequestering 21 tons of carbon per acre per year.

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Key to the operation is the 40 foot worm bed to collect castings to brew a “tea.” This is then used to fertigate the orchards, providing an innoculant of micro-organisms for the soil and plants. Head of farm operations, Trevor, shows us the high concentration of worms.

Trevor is the manager of the farming operation, and John Chester described his job as integrating the six farming enterprises. There is essentially the pasture, cow, chicken rotation; the orchard, duck, sheep rotation; the pigs stand alone, and the truck crops. The composting operation undergirds it all. And 15 bee hives spread around the farm are among the pollinators. Ten percent of the farm is set aside for habitat (mainly in and around the pond) but they are expanding this to 15% and already count over 100 bird species and 215 native plant species.

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If you’ve seen the film, you would not believe the transformation in the pond. Now restored to a glorious habitat, it is no longer connected to the irrigation system.

It is a unique operation because it does have revenue from entertainment (movies, shorts, children’s books, etc.). This is why the buildings are built to be aesthetically pleasing as well as functional. And they have a 12 person people mover for tours.

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The packing shed for the farmers markets is very pleasing to look at, as is the design of the gardens and orchard.

Apricot Lane Farms uses less water than the conventional counterparts. When they purchased the farm, Ventura County was in severe drought and everyone in the basin had their water use curtailed by 25%, but then they’ve been able to use 15-20% less. In addition, the are able to infiltrate rain water back in to the aquifer. This past winter when they received an above normal 24 inches of rain, they had no run-off except on the roads.

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Maggie the Jersey Cow is looking very healthy and, dare I say, happy.

I easily geek out over agricultural stuff. You may be interested to know that the food grown on a regenerative farm is also more nutritional and tastier. It is also good to know that farming can be part of the climate solution.

 

Visit the Biggest Little Farm

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Apricot Lane Farm is located in Moorpark, CA in Ventura County just minutes from Simi Valley.

You may have watched The Biggest Little Farm documentary in theaters, on a plane or now streaming from Amazon, or Google Play. You can actually visit Apricot Lane Farm in Moorpark, California. They have a couple of public tours each month and typically sell out quickly, so for your best shot, sign up for the newsletter to receive ample notice of the next set of tours.

I had the opportunity to participate in a private tour organized by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for their employees. The goal was educational because Apricot Lane Farm is an example of a regenerative farm. Conventional farming uses chemicals to achieve yields, and tills with tractors, and leaves ground bare. These practices mine the soil and lead to release of carbon into the atmosphere. Sustainable farming is a step in the right direction. Like organic farming, it stops some activities and maintains others. It does not do as much environmental harm as conventional farming but it doesn’t revitalize life in the same magnitude as regenerative farming.

Regenerative farming is about returning life to the soil and in so doing, growing food that is bursting with health and nutritious minerals, and doing so in a way that sequesters carbon and uses less water.

This Kiss the Ground video explains it better than I can:

This is the first in a two-parter about regenerative farming and Apricot Lane Farms.

 

 

I #BrakeForPie in Los Angeles

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The Apple Pan’s Banana Cream Pie

It all started with my friend Cameon mailing me the People Magazine article on the 50 best pies in the United States with one pie place listed for each state. She knows I #brakeforpie. I was already going to Los Angeles for work, and for a visit with friends, so I was intrigued that the best pie in California was at The Apple Pan, according to this author.

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It turned out that my schedule determined that I’d need to arrive at Burbank airport, pick up my rental car and make a bee line to the Apple Pan for a late lunch. I arrived about 2 p.m., and even after the lunch rush, the counter was almost full. I did score a parking spot in the lot behind (with about 6 spaces).

They only take cash so they invited me to place my order and then go to the ATM 42 steps away. My friend Jen said the steak burger is good, so I ordered one with a side of fries with a diet coke. The sodas come in cans with a paper cone with ice in an old fashioned holder–very odd and I prefer fountain soda. Next time I’ll drink water and order coffee with the pie. The food is very good quality and even though it is a Los Angeles institution, the prices were in line with other diners.

IMG-0318The woman sitting next to me ordered an amazing looking egg salad sandwich. I asked if I could take a picture of it. This led to a lovely conversation. She drops in for lunch whenever she is in this part of West Los Angeles.

IMG_0317 I had dug through my travel files to find my issue of the now defunct Lucky Peach magazine Winter 2016 issue that focuses on Los Angeles. As I read it more carefully on the Southwest flight to Burbank, I kept running across mentions of The Apple Pan. Sammy Harkham calls the Apple Pan his personal favorite. He focuses on the burger: “The burger is, hands down, the best fucking burger in the world.”

Kim Gordon also calls out the pie: “Besides the amazing burgers and hefty tuna sandwiches, the pies at the Apple Pan parade through my mind like old friends: cherry, boysenberry, especially strawberry cream, with that barely sweet whipped-cream top.” The strawberry cream pie is available May-September, the banana cream pie is always on the menu. You’ll have to try it for yourself.

The Apple Pan, 10801 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA

 

 

Going to the Birds in Bodega Bay

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It started with an early morning email from Penzey’s Spice Company. I was highly motivated to get the poster commemorating the moonwalk and pie. They have a shop in Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa, CA and I have family in Sonoma County to drop a few things off. Then the dogs piled on the bed and I looked at the weather forecast. It was an easy decision to pile into the car with the dogs and head to the coast. I stopped at my cousin Kim’s, then Penzey’s, then headed toward Bodega Bay.

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Alfred Hitchcock filmed the classic horror film, The Birds, in Bodega Bay. I found my way to Highway 1 and Bodega Bay via Sebastopol. It was tempting to stop along the way and would have if Gravenstein apples were ripe. (Festival is August 17) By the time I got to the town of Bodega Bay I was feeling peckish and the dogs needed some water.

The Birds Cafe is named for the film and offers great local options–chowder, fish and chips. The staff remarked that I was one of many customers with a Sacramento Republic jersey. People from the Great Valley are looking to escape the heat! I enjoyed my fish and chips and especially the view from the deck. The sky was overcast and that was a plus. In the summertime hot temperatures inland usually sucks the fog over the coast and lowers temps by 20 degrees.

The staff at Birds Cafe gave me a suggestion for a place for the dogs to play in the surf. I was disappointed because there wasn’t much beach for them to run on but the dogs went right in!

We drove on to Petaluma to see more family and for the dogs to romp some more. Again, I wish traffic wasn’t so miserable (coming and going) because it is so enjoyable to visit the coast.

San Francisco Book Destination

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261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway, San Francisco

It all started with a postcard from my World’s Greatest Bookstores postcards. I also had a vague memory of going to City Lights Books when I was in high school. Once I arrived at City Lights, I realized that I may not have shopped here, and confused it with Clean, Well Lighted Place for Books. Alas the latter has closed.

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The view of the Ferry Building from Sens restaurant, a mediocre mediterranean restaurant.

I drove to San Francisco to meet friends for lunch. I chose a place at Embarcadero Center 1 and planned to leave my car and walk to City Lights with a quick stop at the Allbirds store.

The neighborhood of Columbus at Broadway is still full of character, including the shady nightclubs I remember walking past in my youth on the way to see the play, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. The alley next to the bookstore is named after writer Jack Kerouac (one of the many streets named for authors in a map Bikes to Books: A literary cycling tour of San Francisco”)

IMG_8049The store was busy! And jammed with books and staff picks everywhere. I could have spent so much more time there. Sadly I couldn’t stop thinking about the traffic congesting on I-80 while I browsed. So I made a bee-line to the cash register and asked the bookseller if they had Don’t Speak. He was so good he read my mind and said, “You might mean Say Nothing.” Yep, not the No Doubt song. He had several copies behind the counter.

IMG_8050I enjoyed the walk back to the parking lot where it only cost $35 to get my car out of the parking lot after 3 hours. Ouch. Then I began the crawl out of the City. On my way in, it took 1.75 hours to drive from Sacramento to San Francisco. On a Friday afternoon it took 3.5 hours. That’s when I remember why I don’t go to San Francisco more often.

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Traffic!