Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Journey to San Francisco

Across the agricultural plains along the I-5 North.

For reasons that now escape me, I thought driving from L.A. to San Francisco would be a good idea. I had never done the drive before and thought that it was a drive worth doing. Then, once I arrived in L.A. and started doing the calculations: one day up, one day in Napa, another day back, and I started to realize the folly of my ways. I wanted to fly.

Using all the tricks I know in arranging air travel, I still couldn't find a round trip cost under $700 - I always thought there were $75 commuter flights between LAX and SFO. Maybe for those who plan ahead, but the night before? No. Into the car we would go.

Seven hours later, we enter San Francisco.

I buy from a couple of farmers back in Maryland. I've visited a couple of farms too. I've heard the stories of the west coast farms but nothing has prepared me for what I was about to see. Not just acres of crops but miles of crops and cattle. Easily, we passed at least fifty miles of almond groves. Lettuce (or some sort of leafy green) is also a popular crop along the I-5, as are citrus fruits like oranges and lemons. We even snagged a bag of oranges for five bucks in Kettleman City.

It's difficult to fathom the vastness of the agriculture industry. Thousands of acres of cattle for both meat and dairy. High capacity farms with cattle mushed together getting ready for the slaughter. I'm fascinated while being slightly repulsed, but I also know that it seems impossible to continuously feed a nation of 330 million people without such scale - not to mention all the food we produce for export to feed people in other parts of the world.

Ana and her Americano.

Seeing the fields of green leafy vegetables reminded me of a conversation I once had with a friend whose family operates large-scale lettuce farming in Arizona: that the land had been farmed so much that the only nutrients in the lettuce were the nutrients they sprayed onto the crop while growing. Massive and kind of scary.

The drive north on the I-5 is long, straight and relatively boring (once you get past the fascination of miles of crops). It's tempting to push the speed to 100mph but the flow runs just under 80mph (the cut off for getting pulled over when the speed limit is 65mph) and my KIA Optima just doesn't seem up to the task of prolonged cruising at high speeds.

Four Barrel Head Roaster Tal Mor and Ecco Caffe Founder Andrew Barnett.

With only a lunch stop in Kettleman City (to pick up the aforementioned bag of oranges), we make it to San Francisco during the early rush hour and make our way to the coffeeshops of the Mission District, visiting both Ritual and Four Barrel where old friend Andrew Barnett comes to join us for a coffee or two.

At Ritual we find Ben Kaminsky behind the bar, then at Four Barrel: Zacharay Carlsen. Seems that no matter where you go in San Francisco there are coffee luminaries working and making your drink. It's actually nice to see working baristas doing what they do best.

My double shot prepared by's Zachary Carlsen.

As we hang at Four Barrel, their entire company is gathering for some sort of rock concert/drinking outing. Last to arrive is Jeremy Tooker who hangs out for a little bit to chat.

In a little while, with a gift bag from Ryan Goodrow, we find ourselves back on Valencia heading to the Noe Valley for dinner and a nice welcome to San Francisco.

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