On the California Strawberry Farm Tour and Culinary Event

July 29th, 2014

 
koda farms strawberry
 

A week ago I was lucky enough to be part of the California Strawberries Farm Tour and Culinary Event, thanks to the California Strawberry Commission. Along with several other bloggers, I got spend two days down in sunny Santa Cruz learning about strawberries and enjoying strawberry-themed cuisine. Read on for lots of photos and lots of strawberries...

 
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The blogger lineup for the strawberry culinary event

All photos without the watermark are courtesy of the CA Strawberries Commission.

Here we all are at the welcome cocktail reception. I've found that one of the best side benefits of going on these trips is that it provides a great opportunity to connect with other bloggers, sometimes ones outside of my usual food blogger circles. Although I also love meeting bloggers wherever I go, from conferences to parties I find the small group atmosphere and extended schedule of these trips are so much more conducive to really getting to know people. A list of these lovely ladies and their blogs is at the bottom of this post.

chaminade flowers
The flowers of Chaminade

Our home base in Santa Cruz was the Chaminade, a retreat-style resort tucked up in the Santa Cruz mountains. The flower gardens on the grounds were in full bloom when I drove up, a heady welcome.

chaminade interior
The main building interior
chaminade view
View towards the ocean

The best views are from the main building where the restaurants and lounge areas are located. From the outside terrace, you can see over the trees all the way to the ocean at the edge of the skyline. Coupled with some late afternoon sun, this was perfect relaxation after my drive down from San Francisco.

chaminade strawberry sushi
 

My favorite appetizer during cocktail hour - salmon and strawberry sushi.

chaminade bartender
 

The bartender making us strawberry basil margaritas.

chaminade dinner
The Manresa room

Our welcome dinner at Chaminade - all the dishes were strawberry themed, of course. 

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I think one of the dishes that wowed everyone was the gem lettuce saladwith strawberries and avocado. It turned out we were all smitten by the black Hawaiian sea salt sprinkled on top.

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My main course: phyllo-wrapped salmon with strawberry pepper coulis. So pretty.

chaminade dessert

And of course, dessert: almond cake with strawberry caramel, mascarpone mousse, and strawberry mochi. I was super impressed with this; the strawberry mochi really made the dish unique and pulled it all together.

santa cruz view 

The next morning, we had some time to explore downtown Santa Cruz before we went to the strawberry farm. Although we ended up next to the famous Boardwalk, we all decided to walk around the shoreline and get a view of the cliffs and the surfers instead. It was a photo-perfect overcast morning.

santa cruz boardwalk
The Santa Cruz boardwalk
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This photo probably captures the spirit of our walk best: bloggers walking and doing social media all at once. I know, it looks a little silly, but in our defense we were doing a photo scavenger hunt so everyone was posting their photos of the cliffs and the shoreline.

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A shot of me, Sweet Foodie, and Snixy Kitchen in front of the West Cliff surfer statue, a monument to "all surfers, past, present, and future."

santa cruz surfers 

And some actual surfers out among the cool grey waves.

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Another blogger lineup. It certainly was nice to have a professional photographer along who could corral a bunch of highly excited bloggers together for such great shots. 

koda farms strawberry fields 

After our Santa Cruz beach tour, we rode out to Watsonville and Rod Koda's strawberry farm, Shinta Kawahara. The sun was just starting to break through so it made for some beautiful shots of the strawberry fields.

The combination of consistent sunny weather, coastal fog to keep temperatures from getting too high, and rich soil make much of the California coast ideal for growing strawberries. Over 90% of the US strawberry crop comes from California - so every time I've driven down south on the coast and marveled at all the strawberry fields, I guess I was right in thinking there were an awful lot of them. There are over 400 strawberry farmers in California, and they grow more organic strawberries than anywhere else in the world.

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Rod Koda is a third generation strawberry farmer; his grandmother-in-law started the farm in 1959. Today he grows both conventional and organic strawberries over 27 acres. Rod and many other strawberry farmers in the area are very progressive and involved in developing new ways to grow strawberries while fighting off traditional pests and diseases, while using a minimum of chemicals. These methods include using predator insects to kill the mites that destroy strawberry plants, or a "bug vac", which looks like a large vacuum attached to a tractor, to suck up bugs without hurting the plants. Although Rod has conventional and organic strawberry plots, he tries to use many of the techniques that he found successful for his organic crop on his conventional crops as well, since he also thinks that fewer chemical measures are better.

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We got to walk through the seemingly endless fields of strawberries and eat as many as we wanted. That's a pretty tough offer to resist: we spent the rest of the tour strolling out with our mouths full of berries.

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Rod grows several different varieties of strawberries so it was fun to compare them. I really liked the Monterey variety, as it was super sweet, and had slightly soft, yielding flesh without being mushy. However, opinions were pretty evenly divided among the group about which variety was the best. Rod affirmed that it was tricky to guess which varieties would become favorites of the public. I think we all agreed though that no matter which one was our favorite, we were happy to eat them all!

farmers wife granola

Rod's wife also makes her own granola with strawberries from the farm; we all got a jar as a gift! They even included the recipe - you can see it in the photo if you want to try your hand at making it!

rod koda daughter

Here is Rod and his daughter, who helps him out on the farm. He's hoping she'll continue the tradition and become the fourth generation of strawberry farmers in the family.

rod koda strawberries 

Rod in front of pallets of his strawberries, ready to be shipped out.

koda farms strawberry hills

Look how endless and green these fields are under the clear Pacific coast sky! 

 
lobos truck lunch 

We had a final meal before the end of our tour: lunch served up by the Lobos Truck. This food truck is based in LA and they were also part of the last strawberry tour the CA Strawberry Commission did in Southern California. Apparently the organizers liked the Lobos Truck so much they asked if they come up north and do another strawberry-themed lunch. I am glad they said yes because this was a fantastic meal.

lobos truck chef jasmine
 

Chef Jasmine speaking to us about her dishes. She inherited her love of cooking from her father and decided to start her own food truck after working in restaurants. She came up with a strawberry-inspired menu especially for this event: below are my favorites.

lobos truck stuffed strawberries 

I could have eaten a whole flat of these strawberries stuffed with farmers' cheese and rolled in pecan bacon dust. 

lobos truck strawberry ribs

This is one of the Lobos Truck's signature dishes: baby back ribs on mac and cheese. The bbq sauce was modified to include strawberries, making this a ridiculously addictive combination of savory and sweet. If you come across the Lobos Truck in LA, I strongly recommend you don't pass this dish up!

lobos truck dessert
 

No passing up dessert either. We had a choice of strawberry shortcake sundae in a jar, or chocolate brownie with strawberry caramel and bacon bits. Actually they were so nice they gave both choices to everyone! I was pretty envious of all the bloggers who would be flying home afterwards, while I would have to fight off a food coma driving back up north to San Francisco!

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Here are the other bloggers that were on the culinary tour. I had a great time with them all and look forward to following their blogs!

Dara of Cookin’ Canuck www.cookincanuck.com
Kristy of Sweet Treats & More www.sweettreatsmore.com
Katrina of In Katrina’s Kitchen www.inkatrinaskitchen.com
Cariann of Oh Sweet Basil www.ohsweetbasil.com
Melissa of Hungry Food Love www.hungryfoodlove.com
Caroline of Caroline Kaufmann Nutrition www.carolinekaufman.com
TerriAnn of Cookies & Clogs: www.cookiesandclogs.com
Sarah of Snixy Kitchen www.snixykitchen.com
Rosalynda of This Mama Can Cook www.thismamacancook.com

Thanks again to the CA Strawberry Commission for a fun and delicious two days in Santa Cruz. I'm sharing the recipe for the farmer's wife granola below, but I'll be following up in a couple days with my own strawberry recipe and a giveaway (yes, another one!) Stay tuned!

This is a sponsored post. I was invited on a press trip by the California Strawberry Commission and my travel, accommodations, and food were provided by them. All opinions in this post are my own; I hope you enjoyed it and found it informative!

Farmer's Wife Granola

  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup dehydrated strawberry and mango pieces
  • Heat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking pan with parchment paper.
  • Combine first seven ingredients in a large bowl. Combine honey, brown sugar, and oil in a saucepan and heat over low heat until smooth and not grainy.
  • Pour honey mixture over the oats mixture and stir. Spread on prepared baking sheet and bake until golden, about 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
  • Place on cooling rack and stir to break up any large pieces. When fully cool, stir in strawberry and mango pieces.

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