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Circle

(Founder's thoughts - Anea's ramblings)

As a girl, I grew up on a sleepy street in Sonoma in an old Victorian that, for most of my childhood, was in some state of remodel. Our street had no sidewalks, and back then the East side of town was a tad hokey and a little old-fashioned. We had a garden in our backyard. Chard that repopulated itself every year and sometimes made random appearance's in Daddy' lawn, brave rebels towering in that inedible expanse of green before succumbing to the mower blade. Green beans with pointy ends that were imagined into the fountain pens used by the founding fathers, the mud that appeared in the garden rows after a watering the ink pots for signing the Declaration of Independence. Sunflowers masquerading as flowers easily fantasied as the shoe closets of fairies and elves. Tomatoes with their rounded shoulders, seeming flirty yet solid as they burnished into their Early Girl sunburns. Zucchini morphing overnight from dainty squash into massive baseball bats that I was convinced were under the spell of some mischievous garden gnome. Our garden was a part of our family landscape for as long as I can remember.

When I started school and made friends and we began comparing our lunches, I soon realized my lunches did NOT contain the forbidden fruit that so many others had - Twinkies and Fritoes and corn nuts and Cheetos and Ho-Hos. Puffy pink marshmallow balls covered in snowy coconut. Oreo cookies that could be twisted apart so your teeth left grooves in the white filling. Tiny donuts with powdered sugar exteriors to leave a dusty mustache on your upper lip. I had apples and oranges and home-dried fruit rolls on wax paper and homemade soup in a thermos. On a good day I got a homemade oatmeal raisin cookie and on a REALLY good day, I got a Waxtex bag with 3 Fig Newtons. When I ate dinner at some of my friends' houses, their macaroni and cheese was bright orange and made from a box. I'd only ever seen my mom boil the pasta and stir in the cheese that I'd grated, adding milk, butter, salt & pepper. Our butter was in a cube and would leave holes in your toast on a cold morning if you didn't butter your bread right out of the toaster. My friends used the creamy stuff that came in a plastic tub. I became resentful. Why were we such weirdos? 

It wasn't until much later that my older sister explained to me how little money my parents had when we were growing up. By then I was in college and had already developed an appreciation for good food after a few stints in restaurants. I no longer viewed my family as weirdos but as mavericks. My sister burst my bubble a bit when she explained that they weren't so much mavericks as practical because when we were little, our parents made ends meet by having that garden and making our meals from scratch. Store-bought food was expensive and a luxury. We didn't eat traditional junk foods because our parents just couldn't afford to buy them. By the time they could, we were accustomed to how we ate, and I had also begun to notice that the food I got at home tasted tons better than what I ate at my friends' houses. While I relished the novelty of Pringles and Hostess cupcakes, I found comfort in my dad's pots of rice served with chop suey or mom's baked garden zucchini, halved, seeded and filled with sourdough & Italian sausage stuffing. I was familiar with the life cycles of the vegetables we ate. I knew what herbs were and picked them often. And my friends became fascinated with our refrigerator and cupboards because there was always something to eat and it was either fresh or homemade. 

As an adult now with two small children, it's funny how persistently gardens continue to inhabit my landscape. My parents still live on the sleepy street with no sidewalks, their old Victorian a finished product with less space for gardening. Tomatoes and zucchini and green beans still make an appearance in borders alongside rose bushes and rhododendrons, but the chard has been permanently mowed into submission.  But my husband has become an avid gardner and our children are learning to eat their food straight from the plants and trees and vines of our garden. What was a necessity of economics for my parents has become a necessity of food security for us. We want to know that our foods are not sprayed and our seeds are not tinkered with. Regardless of the reasons, the idea and the reality of a garden remains intact. Rebels and fountain pens and fairy shoe closets may become imagined a little differently in the minds and hearts of my own children. My kids will, nonetheless, have a world informed by the chard and green beans and sunflowers and tomatoes and monstrous zucchini that they pick, cook and eat. My garden landscape has come full circle.

Transient

Valley Girls Off to the Local Food Lab!

Local Food Lab

Local Food Lab

We're excited (the kind of excited that leaves butterflies in your stomach and a gully feeling in your throat) to announce our acceptance into the Local Food Lab Accelerator starting next month. Hoot 'n' Holler!

Seedstock.com announced today:

News Release – PALO ALTO, CA. Silicon Valley’s first food and farm startup accelerator has announced its Fall 2012 class. Over 50 startups vied for only twelve slots in the program. Entrepreneurs were selected based on a competitive application process. Startups from around the country were chosen both for their business potential and for their dedication to disrupting the conventional food system through sustainable and environmentally conscious business practices.

Read more about the accelerator and the participating startups here

One more day to go...

Baker Creek pumpkin, gourd and melon display.

Baker Creek pumpkin, gourd and melon display.

The Heirloom Food Expo is 2/3 underway with one more day to go. The Valley Girls crew has been busy, busy, busy all week - cooking, boxing, packaging, labeling. And BOOM, Monday we were setting up our booth at the Expo, and yesterday we were open for our very first day of business, our maiden voyage into the land of sales.

Day 1 was exciting and chaotic, diving headlong into putting ourselves out there for all to see. What would people think? Would they understand our story, who we are and what we do?  Would they like our products, our image, US? Would they see the blood, sweat and tears we'd invested into this venture, not to mention the capital investment that we hope one day to recoup? Dipping your toe into the retail market for the first time is a lot like a blind date. Those butterflies in your stomach, the hope and fear all muddled together, looking in the mirror for the umpteenth time to make sure you don't have spinach in your teeth. All of us felt it, the girls were nervous but fresh and pretty in their cotton, patterned aprons.

Setting up our booth Monday night.

Setting up our booth Monday night.

Our first day wasn't a bang out day for sales, but we told people our story. We invited them to try our samples of dried fruit. We talked about Sonoma Valley Teen Services and the Life Skills programs they've kept going and the new ones they're creating. We told the story of working with the "at risk" youth of the teen center where Valley Girls cooks. We relayed the history of the girls who partook of the programs of the teen center over the past few years who have gone on to become the girls of Valley Girls Foodstuffs, a program created to teach  the ins and outs of starting a business from the ground up and to give the girls their very first job.

Massive pumpkins!

Massive pumpkins!

People got to meet Esther, 17, the oldest girl of 8 kids who lives in a 3 bedroom home with a her close-knit family, is a leadership honor student in her senior class, and a hard worker who has a passion for good food and the social issues that surround it. They met Julie, 17, the oldest of a family of 6 children who has a willingness to take on any task that is handed to her with a cheery smile, has a desire to work with herbs and nutrition, whose sweet-natured conversations with difficult customers hint at her adeptness with placating small children, and who has a creative eye and interest in photography. And people got to meet Maria, 19, a quiet young lady whose demeanor sometimes hides how quickly she catches on to details, who listens to what you tell her and executes it perfectly, and whose twin sister Yaz joins Valley Girls in between classes at college, the two of them working in perfect unison  as they navigate the kitchen. 

Our products on display in the exposition hall, featuring our colorful real fruit soda syrups in the forefront.

Our products on display in the exposition hall, featuring our colorful real fruit soda syrups in the forefront.

Our booth at the Expo has been well-received. People want to hear these sorts of success stories about teens who are going above and beyond most people's expectations. And the girls of Valley Girls Foodstuffs are definitely farther above and further beyond what most people can possibly imagine. Hard workers, they are committed to the vision of a business  they are in the process of helping to create. They grasp the importance of what they are doing. They understand it requires making mistakes and learning from them. If you've found this website, we hope you spread the word and help them create a booming business that can employ even more kids who can learn these skills and become a part of something potentially really significant.

Esther, Julie and Anea at the Heirloom Food Expo.

Esther, Julie and Anea at the Heirloom Food Expo.