Earthbound Farm's Organic Cafe in California's Carmel Valley

I had the privilege of studying Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace as a college student 40 years ago, with a legendary Professor Jonathan Kistler at upstate New York’s Colgate University.  The experience was life altering and turned me into a careful reader.  If you asked me to name another book that rose to the level of this experience by the standard of its effect on my future behavior, it would have to be Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (The Penguin Press, New York, New York, 2006).  A masterful analysis of industrial agriculture, he has provided a framework for understanding why  alternatives, variously called “organic,” “local,” “biological,” and “beyond organic”, have become a growing movement and a hopeful sign in this era of so much doubt about the future.

One of the heroes in Pollan’s book is Joel Salatin, a relentless advocate for grass-farmed food and small family farms, which provide a local source of food to neighboring communities.  When Michael Pollan first speaks with Mr. Salatin over the phone and asks “if he could ship one of his chickens and maybe a steak , too,” it takes some time for Pollan to understand the reason for Salatin’s refusing his request.  Salatin wasn’t “set up for shipping,” but that was not the basis for his rejecting Pollan’s FedEx account number.  Pollan explains the reason for the rejection by quoting Mr. Salatin’s exact words, “No.  I don’t think you understand.  I don’t believe it’s sustainable- or ‘organic,’ if you will- to FedEx meat all around the country.  I’m sorry, but I can’t do it.”

In contrast, Drew and Myra Goodman, the founders of Carmel Valley’s Earthbound Farm, do ship organic food thousands of miles all around the country, and they are also heroes of Mr. Pollan.  Why?  Twenty-six years ago, Earthbound Farm began in California’s Carmel Valley with a small backyard garden, a roadside stand, and a commitment to organic farming and protecting the environment.  Today, 150 farms grow organic fruits and vegetables under contract to Earthbound Farm, which results in the elimination of 270,000 pounds of pesticide and 8 million pounds of petrochemical fertilizer.  According to Maria Rodale’s passionate Organic Manifesto (Rodale, Inc. [distributed to the trade by Macmillan], New York, New York, 2010), chemical farms are in production on about 930 million acres in the United States and 3.8 billion acres globally.”  In contrast, with 13,000 certified organic farmers in America, and a few thousand more who are organic but uncertified, organic farming practices are in use on only 4 million acres in the United States and 30.4 million acres globally.  Maria Rodale, like Michael Pollan, also praises the success of the Goodmans’ Earthbound Farm.  Against this backdrop, there can be little doubt that Earthbound Farm’s Organic Café was worth a visit, regardless of farmer Joel Salatin’s critique.  Further, since I would be lunching at Earthbound Farm’s café in Carmel Valley, the food, almost completely from mid-coast California, was local.

On a sunny and warm mid-November day, with the temperature in the low 70s and the sky a cloudless, baby blue, I took the scenic three-mile drive on Carmel Valley Drive to the Earthbound Farm Organic Farm Stand Market and Organic Cafe, just minutes from Highway 1 that passes through Carmel.  The café, tucked away in the corner of the farm stand, offers prepared foods for take-out or for dining at picnic tables under umbrellas at the front of the farm stand, on a porch area on the side of the farm stand, or at a picnic table in a covered pavilion area, decorated with dried wild flowers hanging from the rafters and displays of corn stalks.  A large display board in the pavilion area listed the 15 fruits and vegetables sold in the U.S. which have the highest amounts of pesticide residues (which certainly reinforced my decision to dine at Earthbound Farm’s organic café).  Beware especially of celery which topped Earthbound Farm’s list (in descending order): celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries (domestic), nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, kale, cherries, potatoes, grapes (imported), lettuce, blueberries (imported), and carrots.

The organic café offered a perfect lunch menu despite the limited sandwich options.  In this age of too much trivial choice in the typical supermarket, the café’s limited menu proved that quality, healthy food is much more important than variety.  The café prepares a grilled sandwich of the day, which changes in the course of the day.  The chef explained that he prepares 8 or 9 panini sandwiches at a time and when they are sold-out, he prepares the next group of sandwiches.  My timing for lunch at the café was perfect, with the sandwich being offered suiting my taste buds and offering a break from my mostly vegetarian diet: organic ham, salami, cheddar cheese, red onion, spinach and Dijon mustard on focaccia bread at a reasonable $8.95.  The next grilled sandwich of the day to be offered, organic sausage, peppers and onion, would have made arriving at the café 10 minutes later serendipitous too.  If the sandwich of the moment had not been to my liking, the café has a wonderful salad bar with a wide range of organic ingredients to choose from, and at a reasonable cost of $8.99 per pound: red and gold beets, couscous salad, rye berries, 3 bean salad, orzo salad, spinach, olives, cucumber, sun dried tomatos, tofu, and, of course, wonderful greens. A café salad, with one of the two soups of the day, either white bean and kale or turkey chili (at $3.95 per cup or $5.95 per bowl) would have made for a satisfying lunch as well.  The café’s kids’ menu offered an organic grilled cheese sandwich at $4.95 or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at $3.95.  The café also serves excellent organic and fair traded coffee, which was the perfect accompaniment to my delicious sandwich of the day.

Special note should be made of the organic herb garden near the outdoor dining pavilion with its “snip your own herbs” at $1.00 per ounce (mix or match).  A tour of the herb garden after lunch was instructional as well as pleasurable with an extraordinary variety of herbs grown in the California sunshine and all carefully labeled: thyme, oregano, sorrel, parsley, verbena, bay leaves, catnip, lemon balm, basil, mint geranium, bee balm, bergamot, chamomile, chives, rosemary, tarragon, and sage (FWB 11/19/10). [Earthbound Farm Organic Cafe, 7250 Carmel Valley Road (3.5 miles east of Highway 1), 831.625.6219
Breakfast, Lunch & Salad Bar: Mon-Sat 8:00AM-6:30PM, Sun 9:00AM-6:00PM]

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