Beyond the Harvest: More Than You Can Imagine
Text by Sue Burns | Photos by Shannon Adams, NTD Media Films
As a food blogger, I have been incredibly fortunate to tour several farms in California, and I have never been less than awed at every one. Meeting the families who have been farming for generations and spending time in their fields and orchards is a privilege for which I am grateful. It is there, listening to them talk about planting, harvesting, challenges and successes, that one can see, hear and feel their dedication to growing the best foods they can in the most efficient and sustainable way. And they do this not just for their own families and those who work for them, but for everyone who purchases and eats their products.
As one said, “It’s a global impact; what we do brings families together.”
Farm tours aren’t available on a wide scale, so sharing them through my writing is very important to me. I do my best to convey the true feeling of being there so that more people will learn about everything that goes into growing the foods they enjoy. Now there is a resource that takes us even closer – as close to a personal farm tour as we can get. Beyond the Harvest is a new television series that “explores the farm-to-table phenomenon, uncovering the stories behind the intertwined partnerships among the farmer, the farmworker, packers, shippers, marketing representatives and chefs who help deliver the freshest local products from the bread basket of the world, California’s Central Valley.”
Executive Producer and host Ray O’Canto, of the popular Dine Out Along the Road series, says the show “has a higher good to elevate the small farmer that has a global impact — we are focused on telling positive stories about these dedicated families.”
You may already be familiar with Dine Out Along the Road. Entering its seventh season, the show focuses on specific cities in Central California, shining a spotlight on beloved local eateries and the people who bring them to life.
O’Canto, born in Venezuela, was inspired to create Dine Out by his father, Jose, who played baseball on the country’s national team and came to the U.S. when he was drafted into the major leagues. He ultimately landed in Visalia on the minor league Redlegs (the Cincinnati Reds’ feeder team). After retiring from baseball, he went to work at El Presidente Restaurant as a dishwasher. Intent on doing more, he traveled to the Oakland hills every weekend to train as a chef at his uncle’s restaurant. He quickly moved up in the Visalia restaurant, eventually owning and running it for 40 years. The show is O’Canto’s ongoing homage to his dad, telling the stories of small restaurants doing great things.
Inspired by the success of Dine Out Along the Road, Executive Producer Stephen Paul (of the Paul family, which has a huge legacy of farming in the Central Valley for decades) – approached O’Canto to say he loved the way the series featured the restaurants in the area and suggested a similarly styled show focusing on family farms and the agricultural industry in the Central Valley. The pilot was shot at the Peterson Farm in Kingsburg. Following that, four more were produced to round out the first season. Season 2 planning is underway with six episodes, anticipated to feature blueberries, persimmons, dairy, wine grapes and almonds, and will be shooting in May to air in October. The creators look for Central Valley family farms with generational history that are growing commodities that have global impact. Keeping in mind the distribution and quantity, they also consider how those commodities are being used and repurposed.
Episode 1 features peaches and nectarines grown at the Peterson Family Farm, but actually begins in the kitchen at ultra-hip Chow (organic) Market, Cafe and Bakery in Oakland. We see the chef assembling an artisan pizza with sliced peaches, burrata and arugula before the footage cuts to the farm. There, we meet Vernon Peterson and members of his team and learn about the family history, planting and cultivation, and the harvest. (As O’Canto says, “You can’t tell the story of California agriculture without telling the cultural and historical component.”) We visit the packinghouse and follow the fruit to the distributor and on to Chow in the Bay Area, coming full circle as we see the pizza being pulled from the oven.
The correlation between Dine Out Along the Road and Beyond the Harvest is seamless. Our area is commonly called “the breadbasket of the world” because of the high percentage of foods grown here and globally distributed. But do people really know what that means and how that happens? Every Beyond the Harvest episode pays tribute to the whole process and intricate connections that link produce grown on family farms to packing and quality control, marketing, and transport to the restaurants and stores.
Currently, the series is shown in five markets: Fresno, Bakersfield, Chico, Redding and Eureka. Once the episodes air, they are available online, and I found myself watching one after the other, drawn into the tales of each farm. Every episode is fascinating in its own way.
Ramon at Peterson Family Farm explains how he determines how much fruit will be produced on each tree based on how it is trimmed and shaped, spacing between branches and how much fruit is pruned. Natalie Soghomonian-Chooljian of Three Sisters Organic in Fresno talks about how grapes vary in taste and sugar levels depending on each vine down to which side of the vine they’re on, and moisture levels. Tad Kozuki of Kozuki Brothers Farming in Parlier shares how his father found Japanese pears in Lindsay and began farming them, which led to planting brown Asian pears in the late 1960s. No one wanted to buy them because of the color – until Sunset Magazine published an article on Asian pears, which immediately set the trend and increased demand.
O’Canto is hard-pressed to narrow down his favored moments from the shows. The episodes on Kozi Farming, Three Sisters Organic and D&S Farm have all been nominated for California Emmy Awards.
Some of the special times that come to his mind are talking with Augustin Cardenas of Cardenas Farms in Reedley, who started as a migrant farmer and is now one of the most prolific mandarin growers in the Central Valley. He recalls watching Augustin and his father, Andres, tasting fruit together in the orchards. Andres talked about his pride in his son for fulfilling the American Dream. Sitting on a tractor amid the grapevines with Natalie Soghomonian, who started at the bottom of her family’s farm and worked her way up, brings O’Canto back to his own boyhood days of sitting on a tractor with his grandfather.
O’Canto selects the episode on D&S Farm in Atwater as one of the most special. It showcases the ingenuity of all farmers as it tells the story of David Souza and his dad, David Souza Sr., creating a business using the sweet potatoes not pretty enough for market to make Corbin Cash sweet potato vodka, gin, liqueur and rye, and blended whiskeys.
Beyond the Harvest is informational and inspirational. It’s also important.
The producers hope that the series will educate consumers and inspire them to learn more and try the featured produce and products. They want to encourage state and national legislators to be aware of the impact that their environmental policy decisions have. They aspire to get everyone involved in supporting farms and utilizing the products. And they want to give back. Eventually, when the show is profitable, they want to contribute to the Community Food Bank.
We are accustomed to the beautiful views of orchards, fields and farms as we drive through the Central Valley. But how often do we think about — or do we really know — everything that happens beyond the harvest?
Take my advice and watch an episode soon (http://bth-tv.com/episodes/). You just might find yourself binge-watching the entire first season, which will leave you eagerly anticipating this fall’s new episodes right along with me.