Second Generation Seed – Kitazawa

Posted on

Among the farmers I look to for inspiration is Kristyn Leach of Namu Farm. I appreciate her expansive and clear thinking about farming, environmental stewardship, social justice, and just about everything. She speaks in a way that is poignant and resonant, that is succinct yet also enriched by apropos metaphors. She’s a considerate farmer, powerful organizer, and creative artist.

I felt honored when Kristyn invited me to the release party for the Lady Choi and Lady Hermit seeds. She grew out these seeds that she inherited from a friend’s grandmother and from a hermit in the mountains of South Korea. These peppers are now available through Kitazawa Seed in the Second Generation line. Kristyn started this line with consideration for the importance of heritage seed and that the second generation, often discarded or even curtailed from forming in conventional farming, offers necessary genetic diversity. If you like making kimchi and other banchan dishes, consider growing out these seeds to bring these rare flavors to your ferments! I’m glad that these seeds are made available through Kristyn’s skilled dedication to farming and Kitazawa Seed Company.

Kitazawa is an Oakland-based seed company that is the central source for Asian seeds in the US. I know my feelings of gratitude towards them are shared by many — farmers, gardeners, and many different communities. Kitazawa maintains our connection to our culture and history through the seeds they hold. Going through their seed catalog is always a delight. As Kristyn put it, it’s like reading a widely and well loved book, turning to a dog-eared page and finding a personal connection with something many have appreciated.

Thanks, Kristyn, for adding another page to that book.

So flavorful!
The spicier of the two


A talk with JE Paino of Ruhstaller

Posted on

JE Paino, owner of Ruhstaller Beer, sat down with me at the brewery’s farm to talk about the future of small grains and craft beer. Ruhstaller is known for sourcing as locally as possible by growing their own hops and getting malted barley from a Klamath-based farm. So why not use more local grains? It’s because they’re not malted.

California has no large-scale maltsters, so the farm he works with sends their grains to Vancouver, Washington for malting. The malt comes out to 55 cents a pound, which is 10 times more expensive than what your typical brewery is paying! The small maltsters cropping up charge $2.50-3/lb, which makes sense for them but hasn’t to customers.

Customers want, as JE explained, consistency. Unlike wine, people want their beer to taste the same. So bringing in a specialty grain malt isn’t appealing to the point of willingness to pay for the difference. This goes back to the craft’s lineage. Beer comes from England and Germany where consistency, predictability, and homogeneity are preferred, even valued. Brewers are judged by their ability to replicate the same outcome over  and over again. Wine, however, comes from France where variety, terroir, and difference are esteemed. That’s JE’s hypothesis, and I can see that.

He also pointed out that grocers categorize food ingredients by where they’re from. Cheese from Switzerland, wine from Chile, apples from California. But beer’s location is associated with the factory’s location. Therefore, touting grain origins in beer hasn’t been very compelling.

At the end of the meeting, I understood why we small farms won’t be providing all the beer grain for California any time soon. It was, however, beneficial to know the reality of the situation, to see the beautiful and ecologically-managed hop farm, and to gain Ruhstaller’s presence at the California Cooperatives Conference social. That’s right! They’ll be serving up their brews for the conference I’m helping host on April 29th. Meet some grain farmers and drink some grains!

A Sample

Happy Year of the Monkey!

Posted on
Visited the Family Temple

The Vietnamese Lunar New Year, known as Tết or Tết Nguyên Đán, is likely the most important holiday of the year. Everyone thoroughly cleans their homes, banishing the dust and bad luck of last year to make room for good luck. Also, no matter where you live, people come home to be with family. I did both those things — I definitely needed to get rid of last year’s bad luck!

This is also a time to give well-wishes to everyone you see. I wish you all a year of prosperity, luck, good health, joy, and delicious eats.

Happy Year of the Monkey!


New Years Celebration Supplies

Seed Bakery @ So. Pasadena Farmers Market

Posted on

You know what’s great about the South Pasadena farmers market? There’s Seed Bakery’s fresh, sourdough-risen bread AND loads of Asian produce! Joseph of Seed Bakery makes some delectable walnut loaves and his 100% California wheat bread is worth seeking out.

Across the way is a stall with pre-cut sugar cane for you to chomp on as you pick up pea shoots, gai choi, and any number of Asian greens. The rest of the market is family-friendly and has a sizable number of farmers and quality food vendors.

To my delight, South Central Farmers had a stall. If you don’t know about the South Central LA farm, check out the award-winning documentary about their struggle to save America’s largest urban farm. Here’s a LINK to the trailer.

Stop by the South Pasadena Farmers Market if you’re in town!


Joseph of Seed Bakery in the middle of his team and Peter the rye-tastic homebaker on the left
South Central Farm still going strong

Hi Desert Fruits

Posted on

Did you know that in the California high desert, 1,400 ft up in elevation, grows an abundance of Asian fruits?

I visited with Jujube and Ume cooperatives this week. These fruits figure centrally in East Asian foods, especially in traditional cultural practices. The Korean farmers who grow these fruits already have a market, but these products are so uniquely delicious and culturally significant that there’s room for growth. The farmers are organizing with each other to share best practices, improve operations, and gain organic certification.

Yes yes, I hear you asking, “What’s a Jujube? What’s an Ume?” Jujubes are related to apricots, but their texture is more like a marshmallow. It tastes light and perfumed when eaten fresh, and like a sweet plum when dried. Dried jujubes feel like meringues as you crunch into this naturally sweet fruit that dissolves on your tongue.

Ume plums have a mealy texture and don’the have much flavor when ripe, so theyre picked when young, green, and tart. The crunchy, tart fruits are they’re typically packed in salt or sugar to extract the flavor. You’ll find umeboshi as a Japanese flavor-enhancement, or ume syrup in deserts, or salted ume snacks. Also as plum wine! (though technically also related to the apricot.)

I’m working with these farmers to guide them through food safety regulations, organic certification, and cooperative development. Few resources exist in Korean, or any non-English language, and yet these strict regulations hinder these small farms from serving their communities.

I’ll let you know when you can get some for yourself!

Jujube Cooperative Meeting
Lunch time!

Bonus: I got to eat homemade Korean food. It was a smorgasborg!

Ume plum blossoms