Fresh Is Best

“People appreciate the quality of our products, so business overall is good.” You don’t hear those words often these days. Yet that’s what Helge Hellberg says is happening at Marin Organic, the agricultural association representing 40 certified organic ranchers and farmers working more than 20,000 acres of fertile West Marin soil.

“Almost all of the vegetables coming out of West Marin are certified organic,” says Hellberg, executive director of the organization. “They’re sold at Woodlands Market in Kentfield, Good Earth in Fairfax, and outdoor farmers’ markets throughout Marin and served at restaurants like Frantoio in Mill Valley and Murray Circle at Cavallo Point.”

To discover which farmers are producing what fresh foods and where you can buy them locally, Google “Marin organic” and it’s all there before your eyes in a user-friendly format. You might also find an invitation to visit the West Marin farm where the food is grown or the cattle and chicken are tended.

Organic produce and dairy products must meet demanding standards. Hellberg says U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines allow processed foods to contain some 3,000 additives such as colorings and preservatives, most involving chemicals. “But less than 100 additives, and all of them natural, are allowed in organic foods,” he says. In addition, no non-organic synthetic pesticides and only a few non-organic fertilizers are allowed in the raising of organic produce (livestock must be raised without growth hormones and fed a natural diet). The result is that organically grown vegetables, organically raised meats and chickens and organic dairy products (such as Straus Family Creamery in Marshall) are recognized by nutritionists, chefs and physicians as being healthier and more flavorful.

Historically, organic growers have been relatively small family-run farms, and West Marin reflects this tradition. Big Oak Farms, in business for 64 years—now run by a fourth generation of ranchers—features organic goat meat as a specialty. Point Reyes Station’s Robert Giacomini Dairy—established 100 years ago and now run by Giacomini ’s daughters—sells organic milk to Clover Stornetta Farms and cheeses through its website, Peter Martinelli’s Fresh Run Farm grows organic artichokes, arugula, broccoli and 50 other row crops on 23 acres off Horseshoe Hill Road in Bolinas. He sells his vegetables at farmers’ markets throughout Marin.

Farmers’ markets, especially in Marin, are themselves a phenomenon. “Sunday morning at the Civic Center is the third-largest market in the state,” says Brigitte Moran, executive director of Marin Farmers Markets, a nonprofit that employs 17 people and oversees seven weekly markets throughout the Bay Area. “Each Sunday we have over 250 booths; for many it’s a family ritual.”

Moran says that five years ago only 5 percent of the produce sold directly to consumers at the Civic Center market was organic. “Now it’s over 40 percent,” she says. Moran’s organization coordinates farmers’ markets in Novato (Tuesday evenings), Fairfax (Wednesday evenings) and Marin Civic Center (Thursdays and Sundays). “Hopefully, we’ll soon have a Saturday morning market in Marin City.” Local open-air markets also take place in Corte Madera’s Town Center (Wednesday midday), Point Reyes Station (Saturday mornings), downtown San Rafael (Thursday evenings) and Tennessee Valley (Tuesday afternoons).

Patricia Furlong, a Sausalito management consultant, has been shopping farmers’ markets weekly for six years because she prefers the flavor and purity of fresh vegetables. “I arrive a little past noon,” she says. “That’s when farmers begin making deals.” Furlong, who was born in Ireland and lived in Portugal before coming to Marin, favors the Civic Center’s Sunday morning market. “It’s like a festival,” she says, “Besides produce, there are locally grown flowers, handmade soaps, and all kinds of sauces, breads and candies. After buying their week’s food, many people sit and enjoy a fresh-from-the-farm lunch.”

Whether you are buying West Marin’s organic produce, meats and dairy products at an outdoor market, your local grocery or a favorite restaurant, the benefits far outweigh any slight increase in price. Besides the added flavor and nutritional value, you’ll be supporting the Marin economy and reducing the carbon emissions required to transport food long distances before it reaches your plate. The phrase, “we’re all in this thing together” truly applies here. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?

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