Chino Farms

February 8, 2012 · 13 comments

Last summer, I was invited to dinner at my friend’s parents’ house atop a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  As if that weren’t enough of a treat, I was served the sweetest corn on the cob I had ever had the pleasure of gnawing on, the ear’s yellow teeth yielding to my bite with a sugary pop.  I simply had to know where my gracious hosts had acquired such golden bounty.  Chino Farms, came the response.

Soon after that delicious evening, I found myself tracking down this tiny farm run by the Chino Family.  My hosts had told me that, back in the day, the Chinos had acquired the land in Rancho Santa Fe for a bit of a bargain:  the land wasn’t considered prime real estate — it was a little too swampy, slightly too far from the ocean, and not on one of the nearby hills that overlook the sprawling valley below — but the soil was perfect for growing any number of delicious fruits and vegetables.

I later learned from a meal at the fabulously fancy George’s at the Cove and online sources that San Diego foodies and restaurateurs alike rely on produce from Chino Farms.  The only thing folks seem to grumble about is the price.  Undeterred, I arrived one Tuesday morning in October.  That sugary corn was still in season, as were little strawberries that were the juiciest, most strawberriest of my life.  It was all the Mister and I could do to not devour the whole punnet on the ride home…

The stand is a little out of my way, otherwise I would have returned before last week, my second visit.  I vow to go more often, because the drive is a lovely one — a winding road with a 45mph speed limit (my favourite speed — fast enough to get from A to B, but slow enough to enjoy the scenery!) past Del Díos Lake, and through a valley of lush semi-tropical California vegetation that reminds me so much of Spain.

Twenty minutes later, past the lake, I turned onto the driveway leading up to a wide wooden shack.  It is a simple structure, but the fruits, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers on display are the jewels in the crown.  Here’s what I admired / bought on my visit last week:

Maybe it’s the New Yorker in me used to a higher cost of living, but I was pleasantly surprised how reasonable prices are.  Considering that everything is grown locally and without the use of pesticides, I think prices are quite fair.  All of this cost me $17 —  not that much more expensive than in a supermarket chain:

Clockwise from top: broccolini, sage, parsnips, purple broccoli, Meyer lemons, oranges, carrots.

Later that evening, I cut the carrots and knobbly parsnips into strips and roasted them in the oven (400˚F for 20 mins.) with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of sea salt.  They were a wonderful accompaniment to the sautéed broccoli and broccolini which enjoyed a squeeze of lemon — the lemons, incidentally, were perfectly sour, but also incredibly sweet.

Banjo is curious about citrus fruits (presumably because they are like brightly coloured balls with a crazy smell) and eyed the quartet on the counter for a while before gingerly licking the peel.  I cut one and licked the flesh inside and squealed —  better than any sour candy.  Dessert was an orange each; and I can’t remember a sweeter one.

Over dinner, I turned to the Mister and declared that, with produce like this, it would be so easy to be vegetarian.  I’d rather spend the money saved on meat and put it towards fruits and vegetables that have been grown with love.  You can taste the difference.  He concurred.

As for the sage, with its heady medicinal perfume… it was thrown in a little frothy butter the next day and served on top of a bowl of pumpkin ravioli.

Come Friday, I might return for a beets to make borscht, along with some buttery lettuce, nasturtiums (edible flowers!), more citrus and knobbly parsnips… Watch this space!


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