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Cuisine scene: Marin's bounty ready for its close-up

Steve Quirt (left) helped rancher Mike Gale make the transition to organic farming. Now Quirt has co-written a documentary about West Marin farms, 'Hidden Bounty of Marin: Farm Families in Transition.' (IJ archive)

Leslie Harlib
Marin IJ link to article
August 13, 2008

In film time, it takes scant seconds to visually swoop an audience from San Francisco's slick towers across the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge, through suburban Marin County and into our western farmlands.

But those few seconds at the beginning of "Hidden Bounty of Marin: Farm Families in Transition" punch home the point that even though West Marin is less than an hour from downtown San Francisco, it has evolved into one of America's epicenters for organic and sustainable agriculture.

"Hidden Bounty" is a new 28-minute documentary written and directed by Steve Quirt and Ellie Rilla of the Marin U.C. Cooperative Extension in Novato. It will premiere Aug. 29 at the Foreign Cinema restaurant in San Francisco at a fundraising dinner for Marin Organic. (The dinner, by the way, is just one of hundreds of events that make up the huge, inaugural Slow Food Nation Convention that's expected to fill San Francisco with 40,000 visitors from Aug. 28 to Sept. 1.)

It will also screen at 7 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Point Reyes Dance Palace.

"We're really close to a full birth now," said Quirt, who says the intention of the film was to not overanalyze organic farming. Instead, the filmmakers wanted to explore the viewpoint of the farmers.

"We hope this will help people get a picture of what it means to make the choice to continue to run small family farms in a mindful, ecologically sound way in this day and age," Quirt said last month, after I had the chance to view a work-in-progress version of the documentary.

Many of Marin's best-known growers and food producers - and some who are not as well known - star in this flick that took 11Ú2 years, including four months of filming. Featured are Dave Evans of Marin Sun Farms, Mike and Sally Gale of Chileno Valley Ranch, Albert Straus of Straus Family Creamery, the Giacomini Family of Point Reyes Original Farmstead Blue Cheese, John Finger of Hog Island Oyster Company, among others.

"Farming is moving in a real good direction," said David Fix, "Hidden Bounty's" photographer. "A few years ago if you drove from inland Marin out to Tomales, you'd see bare fields or no farming other than beef. Now, you see potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, lavender, apples. It's really diversifying out there."

Diversity is also the buzz at Slow Food Nation. The four-day festival, America's first collaborative gathering of sustainable and organic farmers and food producers on this large a scale, is the most extensive culinary event I've seen in the Bay Area.

Workshops and tastings will take place from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. most days at Fort Mason. There are fundraising meals planned at restaurants throughout the city. A four-day farmers market from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, where a victory garden has already been planted, will showcase 63 organic farmers and artisan food producers from around the United States.

Marin products will include ghee from Ancient Organics; raspberry jam from Point Reyes Preserves; cream-top milk from Straus Family Creamery; ice cream from Three Twins and Red Hawk Cheese from Cowgirl Creamery.

Some of "Hidden Bounty's" farmers will be part of the Slow Food festivities, too, including Sue Conley and Peggy Smith of Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station and Petaluma. The cowgirls are curating the cheese pavilion, one of 15 areas devoted to artisan-level food and drink in the giant Taste Pavilion (normally the Festival Pavilion).

Albert Straus will be serving Straus Ice Cream in the ice cream pavilion. Marshall Honey will be part of the honey pavilion, and McEvoy Olive Oil will be in the booth called Olive Oil Old and New.

Tickets are still available to the 5:30 and 8 p.m. Slow Dinners on Aug. 28 at Small Shed Flatbreads at 17 Madrona St. in Mill Valley. Guest chef Leif Hedendel, formerly of Greens and Citron, will prepare an intimate five-course vegetarian feast with organic, biodynamically grown produce from Marin Roots, Gospel Flats, Fresh Run, Paradise Valley, Star Route Farms and Andante Creamery. The evening will be a fundraiser for the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center.

To get the full details on the elaborate lineup of Slow Food Nation events, go to www.slowfoodnation.org.

Leslie Harlib writes about food and restaurants on Wednesdays. Dish with her on her blog, Leslie Harlib: Savoring, at http://blogs.marinij.com/savoring. Write to her at the IJ, P.O. Box 6150, Novato 94948-6150; call 382-7340; fax 884-1478; e-mail lharlib@marinij.com.