Gems of the Hi-Desert

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Dried Jujubes

Jujubes are often called ‘Chinese apples’ but don’t be deceived by this name. These relatives to apricots are eaten throughout East and Southeast Asia. The arid, frigid cold climes of the California Hi-Desert make for extra sweet, extra plump versions of their Asian stock.

They can be eaten fresh, dried, dehydrated, or made into juice. These fruits become sweeter and more flavorful the drier they become. The dry versions have the consistency of marshmallow and taste like apples, hence the common name. My favorite are the dehydrated forms. They’re crunchy like a malt or French macaron and taste like toasted marshmallow and a hint of plum. I could eat them all day — sweet, but not saccharine. The juice is like a thin, apple-y molasses. Mmm!


My introduction to jujubes came through one of my favorite Vietnamese deserts: chè sâm bổ lượng. Imagine a tall glass filled with what looks to be an aquarium of fruits. Job’s tears (a kind of barley), lotus seeds, jujubes, thin strands of seaweed, gingko nuts, and goji berries are suspended in a sweet, clear syrup. These deserts are packed with shaved ice and are a mix of healthy and decadent ingredients that cool one’s body.

During my last visit to the Korean jujube co-op, I visited one of the farmers to help him with his organic certification. The farm is nestled up against the tan and creosote speckled granite rocks of the Hi-Desert. Jujube tree rows break up the flat sandy valley and provide a shade of green rare in the stretch of California’s belly. The flowers were late to bloom this year, so the farmers in the jujube co-op are unsure when or if they’ll have a harvest this year. In the meantime, I took advantage of last year’s remains and bought some of the dried jujubes. They’ll be great for chè sâm bổ lượng during our inland hot days.

Sunshine in a Jar

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There’s nothing like a rainy day to remind me to capture sunshine! This is the first weekend in three months that I’m not working, and I spent my morning looking at all the colors and flavors of spring that are already beginning to fade. I could see the bright red rose blooms from the window, the sunshine yellow meyer lemons beaming from the kitchen table, and the kumquats bunched in a bowl. If only I could keep them with me through the seasons.

Though I can’t hold on to what’s fading, I can make them something different, something new. So, I layered the rose petals with sugar and meyer lemon slices and kumquats with salt.

Rose Sugar
Kumquat salt


Meyer lemon salt

What does one do with these sugars and salts? The rose petal sugar balances tart fruits, like green apples, blackberries, and early Albion strawberries. The salts can be used to season anything, but my favorite use is to take the citrus and mash it with sugar in a glass. Then, add water and ice in the summer for a delightfully bright and hydrating drink. This Vietnamese method of staying hydrated — with its electrolytes and vitamins! — kept me conscious while farming in 110 degrees, lifting large water barrels in Southeast Asian refugee camps, and excavating hurricane-damaged homes in New Orleans.

The impending heat and need for hydration reminded me that I need to keep my skin hydrated! We farmers don’t take very good care of ourselves, inside and out. We’re harvesting and hauling without stopping to take a sip or a bite. You can imagine that if we don’t have time for that, we won’t make time to wash up.

But it’s actually very important to farming! Our skin is part of this body, this tool that makes farming possible. Yet we subject our skin to daily abrasions and desiccation. The first time interns usually engage in a perma-dirt competition, showing off who has the deepest cracks in their skin that’s full of dirt — so deep you can’t wash it out. The dirt soaks up moisture, taking it away from your skin. After a few seasons, or hopefully sooner, they realize that it’s not a badge of courage. It actually means you’re hindering your work because it’s tough to harvest when your hands are cracked and bleeding. And it doesn’t help that the summers become desert dry around here.

What can you do? As we learned in 6th grade, always have protection! I always cover myself head to toe and top off with a hat. Unfortunately, last year I discovered some skin pre-cancerous growths on my face that jolted me into being more vigilant about protecting and caring for my skin. I developed a regimen of exfoliating my skin with baking soda through gentle rubs, then washing with an all organic, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil soap, and moisturizing with nourishing oils. I created a blend that is moisturizing and absorbant so I don’t go to bed with an oily face. The jojoba, rosehip, and avocado oils create a vitamin e-rich base. Lemongrass, roman chamomile, grapefruit and rose bring hydrating qualities while lavender’s touch dispells bacteria. I’m full of citrusy concoctions! I made extra moisturizer this year so let me know if you’d like some. You don’t have to be a farmer to need skin food.


Ed Sill’s Grain Mill

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We of the North Coast Seed Co-op and other grain growers toured Ed Sill’s grain mill in Pleasant Valley, California. We learned a lot from this neat, clean, efficient system. While we recognize that this is the third iteration, I couldn’t help but feel challenged. This is what it takes to process 6000 lbs/ hr. Whoa.

But it’s possible, and it’s possible cooperatively. Get ready for heirloom grains, California!

Gravity Tables Galore
Seth taking notes on grain storage
The Gold

Mr. Kang’s Magic

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After a long day of giving presentations on organic certification and regulations in late March, I had the pleasure of visiting Mr. Kang in his Hesperia home. Korean Jinbo dogs greet you as you approach the gate, their white fluffy faces yearning for a good scratch. Mr. Kang stood under his patio greeting us and anchoring the dogs so they knew to not bother us guests too much. Beyond the patio is a view of 5 acres of ume and the Hi-Desert.

Ume and Hi-Desert

Mr. Kang is president of the ume farmers cooperative, and it makes sense. He’s an inspiring speaker and filled with warmth and contagious enthusiasm. He welcomed us into his home and entertained all my questions about the many ferments and bottles. He showed his onion and garlic syrups that he gives to people to reduce inflammation and aches. These preserves reminded him of his recent discovery of Vietnamese ume products. While I admired his creations, he inquired about Vietnamese ones. I promised to send my grandmother’s recipes for making ume candies under the condition that I can buy some of this year’s harvest. I’m excited to make ume syrups and sauces!!!

Mr. Kang, President of the Ume Cooperative

Going deeper into the house, photos cover the walls. The border between North Korea and China spanned the northern wall, dramatic reflections on stormy waters brimmed above the couches, and images of daily life in the mountains of Vietnam hung in frames.

Mr. Kang worked as a nurse medic for UNHCR in Vietnam from 1967-1977. He said that he loved Vietnam, despite the conditions that brought him there. His sons were born there, one died there, and he hopes to visit again someday.


Upon leaving that home of history and concoctions, the outside temperatures plummeted twenty degrees to 48 degrees F. Rain turned to ice and I found myself driving through a dense white haze of snow. You don’t know what you’ll find in the Hi-Desert.

March Madness

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I’ve never paid paid much attention to college basketball, but the name of their tournament season makes a good descriptor for my month. This is the first time I’m able to type with both hands after a month of debilitating nerve pain, grappling with workers compensation and health insurance, and waking throughout the night from pain.

Now, back to our (slightly) regular programming.