Foodshed, Watershed

Sustainable Seafood

Sustainable seafood is as important as any other sustainable production. If we’d like more fish, we need to protect our oceans.

As part of SHED’s passion for  sustainability, highlighted all this month as part of Healdsburg’s commitment to protecting and celebrating our environment, we source our seafood from TwoxSea, a San Francisco-based distributor changing the way that seafood is farmed, caught, and handled.

(more…)

Artisan Producers, Cooking, Watershed

Crab’s Very Short Season

California’s commercial crab season south of Mendocino County commenced on Nov. 15 this year and the harvest is looking great, but Kenny Belov of TwoXSea can’t help but look ahead to its end. Because while California’s dungeness crab season stretches all the way to June, the animals themselves do not.

“The crab has been wonderful and delicious and all of the good things that you want it to be,” says Belov, whose company provides all of SHED’s seafood. “The problem is that, by the end of this month, we’re going to be wondering if we actually have enough crab for Christmas and New Year’s. There will be crab, but it may not be fresh.”

Belov has a boat fishing for crab right now off the coast of Bolinas in Western Marin County and reports that it’s “definitely been a good and strong harvest,” but can’t suppress a slight tone of pessimism. “Unfortunately for people like myself and those at SHED who would like to see a more spread-out season — as opposed to everything coming in all at once and disappearing — what we’ve had this year is a tremendous amount of crab that’s getting vacuumed up quickly.”

Belov calls the start of crab season “D-Day for crabs,” explaining, “The fishermen know exactly where the crabs are and, on the exact same day, they all drop their pots. The crabs just crawl in. The fishermen do this for a few weeks until the ocean floor is more or less cleaned up. The big boats can’t make a living at just five pounds of crab per catch, so they’ll stack their pots up and go home.”

Belov pauses. “That’s the nature of high-volume fishing,” he says. “It’s out there, let’s go get it.”

If humans didn’t excel at exploiting resources, be they buffalo or oil or carrier pigeons or redwood trees, we wouldn’t have enjoyed such species growth. Our approach to seasonal shellfish is nothing if not distinctly human. It’s there, it’s got value . . . let’s go get it. According to Belov, the problem is locally compounded by fishing boats from Oregon and Washington state that carry California licenses. The crab season up north began Dec. 1, so they had two full November weeks to harvest in our waters before returning home to glean their own treasures.

“And these aren’t boats,” Belov stresses, “they’re ships. That’s the nature of this fishery; it’s a sad part of this fishery.”

As it stands, local dungeness is “vacuumed up” by December’s end, cooked, and frozen to be consumed through the rest of the season. As an example, Belov describes a business neighboring his on San Francisco’s Pier 45 that right now is frantically cooking all of the crabs that Whole Foods Markets nationally purvey. All of them.

And in truth, most of California’s catch is exported, not only out of state, but out of the U. S. Too much just comes in all at once. “A small amount of the crab caught in this area is consumed fresh,” he says, “because it’s impossible for us to eat it fast enough.”

Belov, who owns Fish Restaurant in Sausalito with partner Bill Foss and is hugely involved in supporting sustainable, line-caught fishing practices, says that he got into wholesale seafood because he felt that he simply couldn’t ignore the current state of our oceans. “I had to do it,” he says.

He suggests that an answer to extending the crab fishery requires the same kind of thinking that has prompted many consumers to pay the true price for a dozen eggs or eschew tomatoes in January.

“We need to look at ourselves and wonder what the price threshold really should be and what we’re willing to pay [for crab],” Belov says. “The price of crab to the vessel hasn’t changed that much in the last decade and so, the only way you can sustain yourself as a vessel owner is to fish in volume. As consumers, we can argue that we’re willing to pay three times as much as we currently do, but are we? What is the price threshold that we’re willing to hold?”

Educating consumers and nurturing customers who understand the nature of the problem remains key. “It’s people like those at SHED who make my job much easier,” Belov says, “because they’ve already bought into this fight of sourcing renewable products that will shape our future. It’s very easy for me when I source something that’s the right season and the right flavor profile — they’re just ready to take it.”

But for now, the season is on, the pots are dropped, and the ships are still in local waters. The Great Crab Vacuuming continues. “It’s one of our great local products,” Belov says, “and I wish that more of it stayed local and I wish that the season was as long as it is supposed to be but I don’t have a solution other than to try to pay your fishermen as much as you possibly can and try to get customers to embrace the idea of riding the season out with the fishermen.”

Farming, Foodshed, Healdsburg, Nonprofits, Watershed

Giving Thanks

As Thanksgiving nears and we consider the bounty surrounding us, we extend our gratitude to 10 local organizations that provide our community with a variety of ways to connect with fresh food, local farmers, healthy practices, and a love of the earth. Our additional gratitude to Petaluma’s Douglas Gayeton of the Lexicon of Sustainability project for the amazing image.

• Farm to Pantry. A volunteer organization devoted to providing fresh, healthy, and affordable food to all through gleaning surplus produce that might otherwise go to waste from area farms and backyards.

• Russian Riverkeeper. Aiming to advocate, educate, and celebrate the Russian River watershed, Russian Riverkeeper works to inspire us all to protect this important local resource.

• LandPaths. A nonprofit whose goal is to foster a love of the land, helping citizens to learn more about our area so as to better protect and preserve it.

• Healdsburg High School’s Farm to Table Program. Helping the newest generation learn the value and practices of sustainable agriculture.

• Healdsburg Farmers Market. Founded in 1978 and one of the 22 original certified farmers’ markets in California, its last day of the season is this Saturday, Nov. 29, from 9am to noon.

• The Farmers Guild. Originally named the Young Farmers Guild, this group encourages and helps to connect the “newest wave” of agriculturalists.

• Community Garden Network of Sonoma County. Offers training, mentoring, and assistance to those who keep plots in the 90 community gardens we’re proud to have in this county.

• Community Alliance with Family Farmers. A state-wide program that connects farmers with consumers, chefs, and others who value sustainably grown and healthy fresh food.

• Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. A nonprofit agricultural center with an organic demonstration garden placed within the borders of an intentional community.

• The School Garden Network of Sonoma County. Supports nutrition-based learning programs in our schools, connecting kids to the earth in order to better understand their role on the planet and the importance — and pleasures — of healthy eating.

Best wishes for a lovely Thanksgiving from all of us at SHED!

Healdsburg, Modern Grange, Watershed

If This Creek Could Talk

They say a man never steps into the same river twice. But what if he steps into what used to be a creek, then became a slough, and then became a creek again? Perhaps then, he's stepped into a story.

Foss Creek, the Russian River tributary that we quite literally overlook here at SHED, is a waterway that has been through a few such changes in identity. Like all natural resources, it has had an evolving relationship with the region’s human population. Since the time of early settlers, Foss has transitioned from utilitarian waterway to beloved neighborhood creek – a storied past that we’ll learn about in our free community talk and creek walk tonight in the Grange from 5-7:30pm.

In Healdsburg’s early days, people knew the creek to be wide, full, and as one pioneer enthused, a great place to raise ducks. In Healdsburg Tribune editions from the 1880s, a time at which fishing reports were regularly served along with local news, it was noted that the creek teamed with trout after a heavy rainstorm. After one such rain, a local resident was lauded for catching 50 trout one day, 60 the next. 

But as Healdsburg’s population grew in the late 1800s, the creek was used for more industrial purposes. A tannery and gristmill were built alongside its banks, and its waters were used to carry away production waste. Residents also used the creek for household waste in the days before indoor plumbing was common.  

Near the turn of the last century, the creek was known as Norton Slough, and served as a dividing line between the more and less desirable parts of town. The illicit area on the Western edge of Healdsburg had its dance halls, brothels, saloons, and other houses of ill repute a mere footbridge away from the tidier lives of "decent" citizenry.

23

After a century or more of misuse, the creek became overgrown with wild brush and liable to flood. It occasionally did and could cause serious damage — something many current residents will remember. But now, thanks to Russian Riverkeeper’s Foss Creek Community Restoration Project, much of the invasive non-native plants have been removed, which has reduced flooding impact and improved wildlife habitat along the creek. Today, depending on season and rainfall, the former slough is home to crayfish, sculpin, and even the occasional otter

At tonight’s community creek walk, Don McEnhill, executive director of Russian Riverkeeper, and Jack Sorocco, longtime Healdsburg resident and raconteur, will reveal the history of Foss Creek through colorful stories and historic photographs, then lead us in a guided walk down a portion of the creek to point out ecological and historical features of note. Families are welcome. Bring your walking shoes, your camera, and get ready to take a trip up the creek and back in time. 

Many thanks to the Healdsburg Museum and Historical Society for the use of their archive and images.