Thursday, December 6, 2007
Minot, North Dakota is quite a ways from the Central Coast. There the soil, setting and the seasons do not allow for the fields of greens which are enjoyed here, where arugula and radicchios abound and farmers markets are full of fresh produce year round.
Diamond Organics is bringing Minot and Monterey County a lot closer, produce-wise. Housed in a 33,000-square-foot packing and distributing warehouse, its Moss Landing headquarters is located right smack dab in the middle of one of the highest concentration of certified organic farms anywhere in the U.S. Here, high quality organic foods, including just-picked produce from neighboring farms, get packed, shipped and delivered nationwide, guaranteed to arrive upon the customer’s doorstep the next day. Orders are received daily by fax, through the website, or by phone with the help of the catalog.
Founders Jasch and Kathleen Hamilton had always been interested in getting their food at its freshest, starting with the planting of their own organic garden in Rockport, Maine, where they grew sprouts and other organic vegetables. When another nearby nursery started growing the then-little-known microgreen called mache, they agreed to distribute it to many of the trendier restaurants in town. They soon realized they wanted to make freshly picked and organically grown produce available to home cooks everywhere, not just top chefs in top restaurants.
Since arriving here in California 20 years ago, they have built a solid reputation as a premier distribution company, carefully selecting what is unique from each farm, getting to the know the growers behind the food, and seeking out new varieties of local vegetables. Kathleen ticks off her favorites with enthusiasm, many of which she says are popular amongst her customers in Minot.
“Neon pink chard from Serendipity Farms down the coast, the red Russian kale from Blue Heron Farms in Corralitos, the Blenheims apricots and cherries from Van Dyke Farms in Gilroy are unsurpassed,” she says. “Next June you will actually taste the most magnificent blueberries grown right here in Watsonville soil...a first. They come from Healo Yepez, the operations manager for Dutra Farms, who tried growing hundred of varieties before he found the blueberries that like it here.”
Kathleen, who has run the company since Jasch passed away several months ago after a prolonged illness, walks me through her aisles and aisles of food items. One area is only for frozen and refrigerated orders, another for putting together gift baskets (a huge portion of their sales) and then there is more still—ranging from biodynamic wines (grown in special compost and planted according to the phases of the moon) to Happy Girl Farm Pickled Vegetables from Aromas. There are some things from farther off, including sockeye salmon jerky and Nova Scotia alder-smoked salmon lox from Dave’s Albacore of Alaska who, according to the catalog, is “one of the few remaining hook and line commercial fishermen.”
With a new state-of-the-art organic kitchen, a variety of prepared foods are also available for home delivery—including soup and even sushi. Specialty salads like the mesclun ($2.59/3 oz.)—organic baby lettuces, arugula, baby spinach, radicchio and frisee—and “the Fusion” ($7.95/16 oz.), with its red cabbage, jicama, carrots, grapefruit sections and peanuts with a dressing of safflower oil, tamari, apple vinegar, mint, basil, cilantro and sea salt, look tantalizing.
The seasonal quiches are rich, creamy and buttery—tomato, onion and mushroom or broccoli cheese are quite good. The spinach feta brioche and caramelized onion brioche ($8.39/each) are very flaky, and, for those in the market for super protein, there’s the buffalo meat loaf ($11.95/26 oz.).
With a staff of 20, Kathleen is gearing up for the holiday feasts: On the website are photos of Heirloom Bronze 14-16 pound turkeys that you can order frozen, packed in dry ice ($5.95/pound), homemade sweet potato biscuits, cranberry and orange relish, root vegetable gratin, and pumpkin and cherry pies all baked from scratch.
Organic samplers ($82; free delivery) are also popular.
“These are a great way to introduce the public to a wide variety of seasonal produce,” she says.
The sampler I receive is no ordinary box of veggies. Beneath dry ice lay plastic bags of miniature zucchini, mizuna, kale, sugar snap peas and basil. Next layer: kiwis, Fujis, blood oranges, avocadoes and precious heirloom tomatoes swaddled in shredded paper. At the bottom rests an egg crate protecting the precious cargo. The tastes prove up to par with a testimonial I find on the website: “My daughter asked if the pea pods were candy.”
DIAMOND ORGANICS information can be found at 1-888-ORGANIC or diamondorganics.com