One of my favorite things about living in the Marina is the Fort Mason Farmers’ Market every Sunday, where I try to buy all the vegetables and fruit that I’ll need for the week. I don’t host Thanksgiving dinner, but part of me wishes I did, because I’d make it a goal this year to serve only food that came from these farmers.
I’m always sure to visit this stand because they usually have everything I need. And after hearing their story, I’m even more enamored with them.
Javier Ledesma and Dolores Contreras moved to California from Mexico in the late 1980s. They worked as day laborers at various farms across the Salinas Valley, but they desired more — the American Dream. They wanted their own farm, one that was focused on growing food responsibly and connecting directly with the consumer — they wanted the farm to be an extension of who they were.
“They didn’t see farming as a job; they saw it as their life,” said their oldest son, Noel. “I believe this to be the heart of our operation.”
So with little education, but a lot of grit and determination, Javier and Dolores started farming. First, they just produced zucchini squash on 10 acres of land, but over time they built up their farm to 150 acres (though they’ve recently cut back to 50, due to lack of water). Both work all operations of the farm, and Dolores wears a dress every day, even if she’s driving a tractor.
“You’ll always find her in a dress rather than jeans and a shirt, as she believes in keeping her femininity regardless of where she is,” said Noel.
The couple has raised four sons on the farm, and they’ve all taken on specific roles in the operation. Even their youngest, the 5-year old, has a job: He’s the official Ledesma taste tester.
As you’ll notice when you stop by their stand, Ledesma is committed to providing consumers with the well-known organic crop they expect, at the best quality, while also offering unique variants (such as broccolini to broccoli, Early Girl tomatoes to the standard red). The crop is as wide of a selection as the season permits. Right now you’ll find kale, carrots, beets, cauliflower, broccoli, pomegranates, winter squash, sweet potatoes, and much more.
Over at the Serendipity stand, you’ll find many veggies for your Thanks-giving table — winter squash, spinach, potatoes, and root vegetables. But a specialty item this year is sun-dried tomatoes.
Because of record-high temperatures this summer, Serendipity’s tomatoes all ripened at once. It was impossible to harvest and sell them fast enough, so they dried 7,000 pounds of their Early Girl tomatoes.
“We usually produce tomatoes through Sep-tember, but it was so hot this year that they were all ready at the same time — it was crazy!” said owner Jamie Collins.
Jamie started out as a small operation as well. But now, 15 years later, she produces more than 50 varieties of organic vegetables, herbs, and flowers. She prefers to avoid the middleman and sell directly to customers. This year, with her abundant tomato harvest, she connected even more with her customers.
“So many people were into preserving the harvest and canning tomatoes themselves,” said Jamie. “I gave killer deals, so they were buying hundreds of pounds of tomatoes. It was fun having people meet me at the farm and hand them off.”
RANCHO LLANO SECO
You won’t find a turkey at the farmers’ market, so instead, stop at the Llano Seco stand and consider serving pork.
“Every year for Thanksgiving, I take home a half bone-in ham,” said Jamie Salyer, account director at Llano Seco. “My mom gets the turkey, so we serve both turkey and ham every year.”
The Llano Seco ranch in Chico has been around since 1861. It’s a family-run business, now being led by the sixth generation of the Thieriot family.
There are more than 2,000 pigs on the ranch at any given time, and Jamie said the ranch prides itself in creating the most humane lifestyle possible for the pigs. They’re housed in deep-bedded hoop barns (a style copied from Midwestern farms), but they’re free to roam a large outside area whenever they want.
“The pigs are allowed to be themselves — use their noses to dig around, get muddy, run around,” said Jamie. “Our customers know the end result is bacon and pork chops, but they want — and we want — the pig to live the best life possible, so we do as much as we can to provide a stress-free life.”
All breeding is done at the ranch. Once born, the piglets are kept with their mother until they’re weaned at two months. It then takes another four months for them to reach market weight. The slaughtering is outsourced, but it’s done at a small, family-owned operation 20 minutes away. Everything is then brought back to the ranch for processing.
Llano Seco’s most popular product is bacon (“because it’s bacon!” said Jamie), with bone-in pork chops coming in second. They also have loin and shoulder roasts as well as specialty cuts suitable for a holiday meal.
“When you’re dealing with fresh pork, the breed of the pig really matters,” said Jamie. “Our pork chops are extremely moist and tender — they have a good amount of back fat on them.”
Whatever menu you’re planning for Thanksgiving, consider picking up as many ingredients as possible from the local farmers at Fort Mason.