When I was a freshman at USF, a friend’s boyfriend told me I was “an earthy woman.” I should have been flattered, I guess, but instead I cringed, fearful that perhaps a chicken feather was showing through somewhere.
I chose San Francisco for college, not because of the University, but because of The City. San Francisco was the center of the universe in the fall of 1968, and I couldn’t wait to escape my parent’s egg ranch and turn my tanned nose up at Southern California and move on to a more sophisticated life.
From the time I was 5, my family made a living raising 10,000 white leghorns and selling their eggs. By the time I was in high school I carried a big chip on my shoulder because I didn’t have a “normal” life like my friends who had swimming pools instead of chicken coops in their yards.
Ten-thousand laying hens producing an average of six eggs per week each — well, you can do the math. There were eggs to collect, eggs to clean, eggs to candle, weigh and pack in cartons stamped “Grgas Egg Ranch — Farm Fresh Eggs.”
We did not eat our laying hens, but raised a few fryers on the side for Sunday dinners. We had a small garden but happily accepted homegrown vegetables (and homemade wine) from relatives. In summer we bought strawberries, cucumbers, corn and green beans from the local roadside stands. Beef was purchased by the side and kept in our upright Amana freezer. Fresh fish was always available from friends of my father since he had worked for Star-Kist canneries for many years.
When I arrived in San Francisco, there were new foods to try like fresh Dungeness crab and sourdough bread. But mainly I survived on dorm food the first two years. That was my first taste of tastelessness. I had never eaten canned green beans before. I still think they’re disgusting. Equally disgusting were the pale, bland scrambled eggs served for breakfast in the cafeteria.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that not everyone grew up eating fresh foods. I was spoiled. As I moved into adulthood, I sowed many gardens — from super size to container — including the 4- by 8-foot raised bed in my current yard that’s producing more winter greens than we can eat. No matter where I’ve lived, I’ve sought out farm fresh eggs and in Grants Pass I had my own small flock of hens.
I’m not sure what James meant when he called me an earthy woman, but I know I am a woman who appreciates what comes from the earth. I am certain the best food is fresh, unsprayed and unprocessed. I have raised my children to appreciate the difference.
So, you see, it’s no accident that I have asked Ann Vileisis, a remarkable woman from Port Orford, Ore., to speak here about her book “Kitchen Literacy” this Friday evening. Ann will explore the history of food, where it comes from, what’s happened to it over the years and our new-found interest in local foods. I am so excited to have her in Del Norte County sharing her “Kitchen Literacy” with us.
During my first year of college, an epidemic of Newcastle Disease swept through many chicken ranches in Southern California. My parents lost their livelihood and sold off the equipment from the ranch. They bought a small convenience store and transformed our back yard into the largest, most prolific home garden I have ever seen. Still no swimming pool, but tomatoes, green beans, squash, corn and trees with an abundance of delicious fruit.
Please join me Friday night at the Arts and Crafts Building at the Fairgrounds to welcome Ann. We also have more than a dozen vendors with their local food products for you to sample and purchase from 5:30 to 7 p.m. before Ann’s presentation. See you there.