Petaluma farmers go for the gold

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A chance for local farmers and ranchers to celebrate the end of the summer season while providing a glimpse into what goes into growing and delivering food to our tables, the Farmer Olympics is coming soon to the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds.

This window into the farming world not only helps raise awareness for the importance of food sources and resources, but also enlightens many about the affordability and accessibility of local produce.

The Farmer Olympics is presented by the Farmers Guild, which is led by founder Evan Wiig, who grew up in Denver, attended college in San Francisco, and eventually landed a publishing job in New York. Ironically, it was an abandoned lot in the Big Apple that spawned Wiig’s love of agriculture.

His first experience digging in dirt came by way of a community garden he helped set up in Brooklyn. Since that time, he moved back to California and has been the driving force behind the creation and expansion of Farmers Guilds throughout the state.

On Saturday, Sept. 17, from noon to 7 p.m., ranchers, farmers and regular folks will gather at the fairgrounds to compete in old classics like potato sack races, watermelon seed spitting contests and egg and spoon races, as well as farm-fresh competitions like hay bale stacking, squash bowling and T-post pounding.

On the cerebral side, there will games such as seed matching and food lexicon trivia. Corn husking, butter churning and competitive drip irrigation building are just a few of the hands-on activities planned for this year’s event.

Professionals and novices of all ages are encouraged to join in the fun. Most of the games are self-explanatory and require no preparation. But for those competing in the Ugly Produce Beauty Pageant, the Scarecrow Contest and the Pizza Topping Competition, a bit of pre-planning is encouraged.

Speaking about the Scarecrow Contest, Wiig said, “We are hoping to inspire schools, 4-Hs and other youth groups to create some pretty spectacular Scarecrows.”

On the cusp of the Halloween season, this is a great opportunity to put together your family’s favorite costumes, from Star Wars characters to ghosts and ghouls (in the form of a scarecrow) and bring it to the Farmer Olympics in order to compete for prizes.

Home gardeners are encouraged to bring their best backyard delights, but for those without a garden, the Farmer Olympics will also host a farmers’ market throughout the event. Oliver’s Market will provide the pizza dough, and TV chef and Petaluma native, Laurie Figone, will be on hand to help contestants through the process of chopping and dicing their ingredients. Petaluma’s Miguel Elliott will cook the pizzas in one of his hand-built cobb pizza ovens.

When it comes to food choices at county fairs, the local options are usually limited. Sure, there are more items “on-a-stick” than one could ever dream of, but the food vendors are usually not local, nor do they sell regional products. They travel around the state, and sometimes the country, following these summer and fall festivals without having any real connection to the community that these festivals claim to be celebrating.

County fairs generally showcase agriculture, from local 4-H groups to farmers to ranchers. They even have culinary pavilions where visitors can view prize-winning veggies, fruits, flowers and canned goods, all produced within a few miles of the fairgrounds.

More popular than ever, county fairs often have a crowded schedule of local chefs to demonstrate cooking techniques, often standing side-by-side with their local suppliers. But step into the fair food alley, and it is rare to see anything local.

With an event that celebrates farmers, it makes sense for that event to source from those same farmers.

“Support means more than just moral support. It means buying the products that are being grown, raised, and produced locally,” Wiig said.

Organic labeling is fine when there are no other options. “But those labels are just a surrogate for a relationship, especially when it is easy enough to source ingredients from local farmers just down the road,” Wiig continued.

Although not a culinary festival, Wiig wants the Farmer Olympics’ food court to showcase provincial wares, while retaining county fair familiarity. Wiig is constantly striving to bridge the gap between sustainable, conscientious farming and the consumer.

“Consuming local products is not reserved for the upper crust anymore,” Wiig said.

This is where Estero Café and Sonoma Coast Shuckers come in.

Samantha and Ryan Ramey have built quite a reputation for walking the walk when it comes to locally sourced ingredients, ever since opening their Estero Café in Valley Ford in 2011.

One of Estero Café’s specialties is handmade hotdogs, consisting of 100 percent Longhorn beef from Bloomfield’s Twisted Horn Ranch. The results are phenomenal. Where a lousy hotdog will stay with you all day, a quality built pup is as flavorful and fulfilling as eating steak.

Estero Café will wrap their hotdogs in cornmeal, also made in-house and from local corn, in order to create corn dogs, another county fair staple. They will also serve chicken drumsticks from Marin Sun Farms, and if the weather is warm enough, maybe a few of their farm fresh salads.

Sonoma Coast Shuckers will also be on hand, offering sweets from the sea, in the form of both grilled oysters and oysters on the half-shell.

The company is co-owned by Leilani Martin and Tyler Fitts, who work directly with a single private oyster farm on Tomales Bay. With no holding tanks involved, SCS’s oysters are extremely crisp and clean tasting because they are served up the same day they are pulled from the water. They offer a signature garlic herb butter and wasabi cocktail sauce and Peppadew mignonette sauce, both of which are a wonderful addition to their sweet raw oysters.

Their barbecued oysters are just as good as their raw ones, due in large part to their integration of farm fresh ingredients. Their Oysters Rockefeller is made with local cheese, yogurt from Clover Stornetta, kale grown on Roblar Road and are topped off with breadcrumbs from Point Reyes Station’s Brickmaiden Breads.

Sonoma Coast Shuckers is currently brainstorming ideas for some sort of “shuck and chuck” game, were contestants will compete by shucking, eating and chucking their oyster shells.

At its core, the Farmer Olympics is about bringing together and reconnecting the entire food chain, from farmer to customer. Through fun and inventive farm-inspired competitions and games, local farmers can strut their stuff, while connecting with the consumers who benefit from their hard work, innovation and stewardship of the beautiful lands surrounding our community.

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