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The seeds of Rancho Gordo were literally planted in a grocery store here in Napa. I was shopping one August for tomatoes and despite being in one of the world's most magnificent agricultural regions, all the tomatoes were from a hothouse in Holland! Worse, they were hard and pale pink instead of the ripe tomatoes I was craving. I started to grow my own tomatoes and this eventually led to beans.
All of my agricultural pursuits have been based on being someone who likes to cook but gets frustrated by the lack of ingredients, especially those that are native to the New World. It seems to me these indigenous ingredients should be familiar, if not common but instead our own food is considered exotic and sometimes in danger of being lost as we pursue a watered down Euro-centric diet. American cuisine seems to be in a position of re-inventing itself and I'd love to include ingredients, traditions and recipes from south of the border as part of the equation. I love the concept of The Americas. I feel as if it's just as important as the European heritage many of us share.

Of course you don't need to know where food originates in order to enjoy it. The beans are amazing and work in almost every cuisine. Their roots may be Mexican but can you imagine anything more French than the Flageolet bean? Borlotti may be the pride of the Piedmont in Italy but they wouldn't exist without their roots in Colombia.

I quickly learned that I wasn't a particularly gifted farmer and in order to grow the amounts of beans I'd need to really make this work, I'd have to work with bigger growers. We now have four growers working with us, all in Northern California except one in Fresno. We import one bean from Peru and our quinoa comes from Bolivia. My goal is to support Northern California agriculture but there are some instances where the best quality means sourcing outside of my state. Sourcing quinoa and amaranth led me to a cooperative of Bolivian farmers who hand-harvest the Rancho Gordo products.

I'm lucky enough to travel throughout Mexico and Central America searching for unique and rare legumes and herbs that I'll bring back to my trial gardens here in Napa. Each summer I grow them out to see if they'd be suitable for production or just seed-saving. We're starting to develop a substantial seed bank as friends and customers are constantly sending me odd and rare beans from their travels. I share seeds via the Seeds Savers Exchange and I'd encourage anyone to give growing beans a go. It's easy, fun and the rewards are almost immediate.
Press coverage of Rancho Gordo has been plentiful, no doubt in part due to the colorful beans themselves. Recent articles on Rancho Gordo in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Chow, Sunset, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Country Home, San Francisco Chronicle, and Chile Pepper have all contributed to the groundswell of interest in heirloom beans. In January of 2008, Saveur Magazine listed Rancho Gordo at number two on their esteemed Saveur 100 list.

My book Heirloom Beans: Recipes from Rancho Gordo, co-written with Vanessa Barrington, is published by Chronicle Books.

New World food is exciting, tasty, healthy, romantic, and debatably, easier on the earth. I hope you enjoy cooking with these Rancho Gordo products as much as I enjoy growing and presenting them.

 

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