Ruth Rhodes

Daffodils rise miraculously out of the depths of February! Hope springs eternal.

Having been raised back East, I always feel a little surprised to see flowers so soon after Christmas, but they're up even earlier than usual this year.January and February's unseasonably warm weather has left us all a little shaken - plants and critters alike. When you prepare yourself psychologically for a long, rainy winter and then wake to weeks of balmy sunshine, it's easy to lose your bearings.

At my house, the warm weather inspired a lot of outdoor activity.I weeded and arranged my spice garden, trimmed my lavender, and turned early compost over onto the asparagus bed. I admit to foolishly planting some seeds - rationalizing it as an experiment - but who was I kidding? It was a prayer to the natural world: hurry, spring, hurry.

While amateur gardeners such as myself are raising our expectations, serious farmers are wary. A friend of mine who has a large apple orchard has been anxious about his trees breaking bud.Already the Indian Plum is boasting its new spring clothes and the bees are on the move.But a killing frost could cut spring off at the knees, a reminder to all that "nature business" is the same "business" that fills our bellies.

Speaking of business, there's a new food entrepreneur in town.Some of you may have seen signs posted around Crescent City advertising the "Del Norte Mushroom Club." Jamie Yarbrough, returning to Smith River after many years in the Bay Area, thinks he has a winning idea for economic development in our area: growing mushrooms.He isn't ruling out becoming a mushroom buyer, but he's primarily interested in setting up a cottage industry that capitalizes on Del Norte County's natural advantages for fungi: rain, rain and more rain.

Yarbrough's idea is to cultivate - and to encourage others to cultivate - oysters, chanterelles and shiitakes that can then be sold at a retail outlet somewhere along the Wild Rivers Coast. It's ambitious - but certainly not unthinkable.This quarter's issue of Conservation magazine just reported on another "Mushroom Messiah," Paul Stamets, who has made his fortune on the mushroom kit mail-order business. Yarbrough may be onto something.

Unfortunately, growing your own mushrooms from kits takes time and talent, two things perhaps lacking in my kitchen. I recently tried to cultivate oyster, shiitake, and lion's mane mushrooms. Each kit grew a small crop, but the yield was pitifully small compared to the effort and expense.I do have similar bad luck in the garden, however, so perhaps it's my black thumb. I'll stick to reading and writing about food, and leave the serious growing to the experts.

I'll be in good "local" company, too.Ann Vileisis, author of "Kitchen Literacy," will be coming to Crescent City on March 6 for a local food celebration called "A Culinary Revolution."Vileisis' presentation will provide a visual tour of the history of food in America - how production, packaging, quality and customer ignorance have shaped our pantry shelves and palates - and how we can regain control. I can't imagine a more exciting event for people who love to cook, eat and think about food.

Convenience has its costs.