Farm to Table 2014—O•M•G!!!!!

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THE best meal we’ve had in six years in Mazatlán. Really. Good food involves the quality of the raw ingredients, the talent and creativity with which it’s prepared, the setting and ambience in which you eat it, and the magnificence of the people with whom you enjoy the meal. Today was cien por ciento, 100%!

Farm to Table 2014—the very first event of its kind in Mazatlán and, we believe, in Mexico. As with the first time for anything, we didn’t expect much. We hoped, but we didn’t expect. Well intentioned but poorly executed is the norm for first-time events. But no! This team pulled it off incredibly! An absolutely beautiful setting, a gorgeously perfect day, a multicultural, integrated group of very interesting, and fun-loving, intelligent people, amidst healthy, organic and delicious food, were all ours for leisurely enjoyment this afternoon. Every course, every single drink (from tequila to two wines to coffee), and the outdoor setting were beautiful! Kudos, kudos and more kudos to the organizers, chefs and servers!!!

About 100 people, including the mayor and his beautiful first lady, were seated in a field on Chuy Lizárraga’s farm at kilometer 21, just north of town. It was an absolutely perfect day—sunny, clear, yet cool enough to be enjoyable. No bugs, nothing uncomfortable, just pure unadulterated enjoyment!

Chefs from seven restaurants dedicated seven days of menus this past week to the “Farm to Table” event: Diego Becerra from El Presidio; Marianne Biascotti from Rico’s; Sarah Emerson & Gabriel Ocampo from First International Seafood House (F.I.S.H.); Enrique Espinoza of Rosso Nero; Enrique Freyre from Raggio; Hector Peniche of Molika & Krema; and Alastair Porteous of Water’s Edge. The culmination took place today at dinner in a farm field.

We were seated at long tables in the middle of a corn field, Italian style, decked out with fresh sunflowers, white linens, and all the wine and excellently prepared organic food the discriminating palate might desire. To top it all off, it was all in benefit of Avicultores Pérez Vidaña, an award-winning non-profit organization in Sinaloa that assists low-income families with severely handicapped children by teaching them to raise chickens and eggs for food. Proceeds from the event also support the Mercado Orgánico de Mazatlán’s educational programs.

Below is video of Sarah Emerson opening the meal.

Dinner (or lunch, if you prefer) consisted of eight different dishes, all prepared with organic ingredients and served family style: green salad, tabouleh, grilled veggies, chicken, quail, risotto, a dessert selection, and coffee with organic, artesanal ice cream. It was soooo wonderful to have so many vegetables, to eat one’s fill, and still feel healthy rather than weighted down! The sun was shining yet it wasn’t hot, the conversation flowed in several languages fluidly, and an excellent time was had by all.

Janet Blaser, the gorgeous, humble, hardworking, altruistic expat here in Mazatlán, has done sooooo much for our community. First she started M! Magazine, a bilingual publication we all love, which supplements other offerings and fills a much-needed gap here in town. Then she teamed with Verónica Rico, another absolutely beautiful, talented and intelligent woman, to establish the Mercado Orgánico, the MZT Farmers’ Market. None of us can imagine how we survived without the market all those years. And now, the two of them, plus a whole team of talented others, have given us the first Farm to Table Event! Below is video of her talk, just prior to dessert.

Jorge Luis Sanchez attended, a professor at UAS who also owns and operates his own organic farm. I learned soooo much by talking to him! Definitely want to take one of his classes! I suggested to Vero that they invite Jorge Luis to speak at one of the Saturday markets, so maybe that will happen. He knows so much about our environment, ecosystem, the human body, the origins of insecticides and herbicides and their impact on the world around us and our health, as well as having extensive knowledge about GMOs. With people like him in Sinaloa, our future is indeed bright!

May this be the first of many, many such excellent events. CONGRATULATIONS and thank you to all the organizers, chefs, wait staff and attendees!

Meseta de Cacaxtla Tour with Conanp – Los Llanitos

Our third stop on Meseta de Cacaxtla today was Los Llanitos. (Links to blog post 1/Chicayota or blog post 2/Guillermo Prieto) By the time we got there we had already decided we had had a terrific day. And it only got better! What a gorgeous place this was, by far the most economically successful, and the people were so much fun!

What stood out for me right away were the stories of jaguar in the area. I do hope that some day I might get to see one!

Los Llanitos was so fancy, after our previous two stops, that it even had a little kiosk in the plaza in the center of town! Very charming.

Our hosts were all ready to serve us lunch. I fell in love with the setting. It reminded me of picnicking in a vineyard in Italy, with the bright colors and flowers.

Carlos’ wife had taken some of the organic tomatoes, sliced them, and added goat cheese, fresh-picked basil, olive oil and a bit of low-sodium soy sauce. OMG! We were in HEAVEN!!!!! I think I ate about ten tomatoes they were so good!

While we were munching, Maximiliano, the grandfather, started regaling us with stories of the pre-Hispanic artifacts he has found while tending his fields in Los Llanitos. The area, according to him, is home to the game of ulama; this town is where it originated, they say. Max brought out a couple of pottery figurines that he passed around to show us.

The figures had clear faces: eyes, nose and mouth, arms and legs. They seemed to be wearing shirts or tunics. They reminded me of the Chinese burial dolls, which I’ve also seen in Japan, as well as among some of the Pueblo Indians of the US Southwest.

Most fascinating to me, however, were what I first thought to be “angel wings” on the back of the dolls. Upon closer scrutiny, they seem to be the hands of other dolls. It would appear these dolls were part of a set or group of dolls, with one doll hugging the next.

As if after our big breakfast and all the tomatoes we might still be hungry, our hosts in Los Llanitos brought out some of the best tamales I’ve ever had. Organic beef, tomato, chile, and squash, in a thin wrap of corn masa.

Followed by freshly harvested corn on the cob, which our pretty new friend proceeded to drench in fresh cream, cover with grated cheese, and serve up. Oh my!

But, no! That still wasn’t enough. There were homemade jamoncillos.

And my personal favorite, freshly baked empanadas de calabaza, pumpkin turnovers, made by one of the daughters in the family.

My new friend Consuelo lives in Mazatlán with her daughters. They are all three estilistas, beauticians who do manicures, makeup and hair styling. We hope to see them here again soon. She also has a son who was there for the winter holiday, Marcos. He is graduating soon as a biologist, from university in Ensenada, and will return to Los Llanitos to contribute to the local community.

The kids were really cute, but what really stood out for Greg and I were that the boys were sharpening knives for use in cockfighting or palenque. It seems they often hold cockfights in the backyard. I’ve seen men who love this, and I know families attend. I just didn’t realize that kids from such a young age raise chickens for fighting and get so excited about it.

After lunch we walked or drove over to the fields, passing some corrals along the way.

One of Consuelo’s brothers, Gustavo, had a deerskin cell phone holder on his belt.

Gustavo, Greg, and his brother and daughter really hit it off well. They insisted we come back to visit soon, and we have every intention of doing so. This is obviously a very hard-working, wholesome Mazatlán community that we would love to get to know better.

The fields on one side of the road are organic. Gustavo told us the produce is mostly sold to Mexico City or exported abroad. They had many different kinds of vegetables here, scallions and corn. Acres and acres of green.

The fields on the other side of the road are “regular,” non-organic. These fields seemed to go on forever. We were there just as the field workers finished loading 16 TONS of tomatoes into a trailer truck, bound for DF.

We had to leave earlier than the rest of the group, so we missed visiting the dairy and the “biodigestor” (compost system?). As we drove out, however, a group of field workers asked if I’d take their photo. Here it is, folks.

One young man in particular wishes to send a special hello to all the young ladies on Facebook 😉

I’ll close with a beautiful shot that Greg took of some turkeys in the yard. It was a long and very wonderful day. Thank  you, Martha, Gaby, and everyone else who helped make today happen. We are so happy to know you, and look forward to seeing you again soon and helping in any way we can to support you as you work to develop our area in environmentally respectful and sustainable ways.

Link to an article on our day’s trip in the Noroeste.

Meseta de Cacaxtla Tour with Conanp – Comunidad Guillermo Prieto

Second stop on our tour today was at the organic community orchards and gardens of Comunidad Guillermo Prieto, a couple of kilometers north of La Chicayota on the highway. My oh my do they have beautiful produce! (If you missed it, link to blog post on our first stop, La Chicayota)

Lush, delicious, fresh; all they lack is a market. They sadly told us that much of their first-year bumper crop of scrumptious organic tomatoes went unsold! We of course immediately told them about the new Mazatlán Farmers’ Market/Mercado Orgánico de Mazatlán every Saturday morning in Plaza Zaragoza, Mazatlán. The cooperative’s leader, Sra. Sacramento, promised they would be here this Saturday to start the application process, so that their organic produce might also be sold there on Saturdays.

Sra. Sacramento… a beautiful name, don’t you think? That is her in the photo at left. When I told her she had a beautiful name, she said it’s what she’s been “saddled with” because when she was young her father moved north to tend fields in Sacramento, CA.
To Sacramento’s left, in the red shirt in the photo, is Carlos Carballo, an engineer, teacher of organic farming, holistic cattle raising, and ….

Hydroponics. These farms are located in an area of town that is sort of “off the grid.” The only source of water, other than private delivery by truck, is to have it piped in from Dimas, miles away. The water from Dimas is turned on once a day for two hours. To work around this shortage of water and be able to reuse some the precious water they do have, the community has turned to hydroponics.

Another difficulty facing the organic farms of Comunidad Guillermo Prieto is that they don’t have a steady market for their product. Traditional planting aggravates this market problem because crops ripen at the same time and need to be harvested quickly. Hydroponics, as we were told, allow the plants to root indoors in a greenhouse, protected from the sun, and provide the farmer a bit more leeway with when to put the plants in soil. In this way, the cooperative farmers can choose when to transplant a hydroponically rooted strawberry or lettuce plant, and extend the harvest!

Comunidad Guillermo Prieto uses two kinds of hydroponic systems. The first, as you see above and at left, is a tube system. The engineering uses readily available items (see the rebar holding the piping on the wood support).

The second hydroponic system we saw  here were floating gardens — plants rooting into the water through holes in styrofoam! It was really cool. Four times a day for 15 minutes each time, pumps are turned on to circulate and refresh the water.

We saw lots of kinds of lettuce, cilantro, and scallions growing in these floating gardens.

And here in the photo you can see how well the roots respond to the floating garden concept.

Because the community here doesn’t yet have sufficient greenhouse space or netting, they are unable to vine-ripen their organic tomatoes. If they allow the tomatoes to ripen on the vine, the birds eat their crop. Thus, they harvest them while still green, and allow the tomatoes to ripen inside the netted greenhouse, safely out of the way of the hungry birds.

We saw a lot of different crops here, including peppers, camote(sweet potato), cherry tomatoes, and citrus fruits.

A bumblebee inside a camoteflower.

And some camote, peeking up through the soil.

A nice healthy broccoli plant…

Many thanks to our hosts. We weren’t able to spend a lot of time here. I would have loved to have toured the orchards and some of the other fields. As we left I was gifted with a huge bunch of basil and three gorgeously sweet grapefruit. I will be back, to buy some plants and produce, and to visit the terrific people we met. Thank you all!

(Link to third and final blog post from today’s journey, Los Llanitos)

UPDATE:
I am really happy to report that yesterday, Jan. 28, Sacramento and her crew were at the Mercado Orgánico Mazatlán. Conanp had submitted all their paperwork, and will be buying them a tent to aid their display. Hooray! So very happy that this trip and this post had a positive outcome in that way. Sacramento was psyched because they quickly sold out of greens and were well on their way to selling out of other vegetables as well. So glad also that MOM/Mazatlán Farmers Market and Conanp are also now in touch.