The last weekend in September is always a busy time in the Bay Area. Among the recurring highlights are:
- Mill Valley Art Festival in Old Mill Park;
- Weekend Farm Trails, for hands-on tours to many of Sonoma’s unique farms;
- Eat Real Festival for exploring the newest in sustainable street food at Jack London Square;
- Polk Street Blues Festival for music, art, crafts and food;
- North Beach Art Walk for exploring galleries and studios; and of course, the sui generis San Francisco institution
- Folsom Street Fair, which requires no explanation if you’ve ever been there or heard of it.
Although it is always tough deciding and prioritizing among these options, this year’s task was complicated by an event sponsored by one of our alumni organizations—an edible plants walking tour of Mt. Tam, a four-hour walk guided by natural and heath food specialists, Christian Bates and Bethanne Wanamaker.
We decided to make a weekend north of the Golden Gate, taking in the Mill Valley Art Festival, our Mount Tam walking tour, four farms along Sonoma’s Weekend Farm Trail and sustaining ourselves at some North Bay restaurants.
We spent Saturday morning wandering through the Mill Valley Art Festival, where booths are scenically sited among the towering redwoods of Mill Valley’s beautiful Old Mill Park. Then to our Mount Tam walking tour, where we learned how to survive a day lost in the foods by identifying edible plants including new-growth Douglass Fir needles, thistle seed, wild oats, Madrone Tree berries, wild bay leaf fruits, and acorns. Our guides then showed us some natural health aides, such as zeolite and other edible clays (which are natural detoxants), coffee berry (a laxative) and turkey tail and other polypore mushrooms which, when dried and brewed as tea, have antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties.
After the walk, we just happened to end up, where we began, at the Mountain Home Inn on Panoramic Highway. Although we already had reservations for dinner (at a local, sustainable, organic food restaurant, of course!), we could not pass up the opportunity to have a couple drinks on deck, with a sweeping view down to the coast.
Then down to Sausalito for dinner at the recently opened Plate Shop. Our shared appetizers, Joyce’s Ivory king salmon and my Red Wattle Pork chop were all lovely and went well with a bottle of sommelier-recommended Barolo.
Sunday was reserved primarily for tours of four Sonoma Weekend Farm Trails farms, each of which offered opportunities for varying degrees of hands-on exploration, in addition to tours. Out choices were:
- New Carpati Farm for a tour of their mushroom house and a hands-on construction of our own oyster mushroom kit, where we packed a plastic bag with steamed hay, sprinkled in the mushroom spores and received detailed instructions by which we are guaranteed to harvest more than a pound of mushrooms in about 10 weeks. But, since we couldn’t wait for ten weeks for our reward, we decided to pick a pound of pre-grown assorted mushrooms for Sunday dinner;
- Bear Foot Honey Farm, where we started with a presentation on honey, honeybees and their societies and the dangers they face in today’s world. Then, we donned our protective hats and veils (shunning the offer of a full protective suit) to venture into the hives, with a personalized tour of the hives, where our guide pulled racks from the hives, pointed out the different types of bees and eggs, showed us the intricate dances by which bees communicate the location of new sources of flowers, showed us how pollen and nectar are deposited and then scraped honey off the racks for tasting. Returning to the shop, we tasted all types of the Bear Foot honeys and creams;
- Split Rail Farms, to see and learn about their Nigerian Dwarf and Nubian goats, Tunis sheep, heritage chickens and broad range of all-too-cute meat rabbits and to hold adorable day-old chicks; and
- Spring Hill Cheese, where we not only tasted cheese, but saw and played with day-old and week-old calves, learned to milk a cow (with guaranteed first-time success lessons), dug our own potatoes and picked a couple pumpkins.
But as much as we tried, we were so engaged in most of these tours that we spent more time than we planned. We ended up missing at least three other farms that we had hoped to visit:
- LovePatch Farm (miniature horses);
- Rose & Thorn (bamboo nursery); and
- Green String Farm (a broad range of fruits and vegetables).
Although we did not have time for all our planned farms, we did make time for a great Thai lunch at Sea Thai restaurant in Santa Rosa, were we enjoyed their sweet corn soup, grilled prawn bruschetta and flash-tempura fried ahi in spicy sweet and sour sauce.Delicious!
We really enjoyed the weekend and will almost certainly revisit the Sonoma Farm Trail. But after many years of exploring the increasingly touristy and “homogenized” Folsom Street Fair, we need a bit of a break. Next year, unless yet more opportunities arise, we will probably take the ferry to the Eat Real Festival and then spend Sunday in our own neighborhood, at the Polk Street Blues Festival and North Beach Art Walk.