Dining Around with Gene BurnsGene Burns interviews Kendra Kolling, Nana Mae's Organics
On location at the Chronicle Tasting, Fort Mason, San Francisco
KGO Newstalk AM 810
February 28, 2009
GENE BURNS: KGO time now 11:29 on Dining Around with Gene Burns. We have been talking with Jane St Claire and we’re going to continue talking with Jane. She’s the founder of Savor California, the portal website. It’s SavorCalifornia.com, S-a-v-o-r California dot com. You’ll find a group of artisanal producers. Among those producers that you’ll find there, Kendra Kolling of Sebastopol.
Kendra, welcome to Dining Around.
KENDRA KOLLING: Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be here.
GB: Nice to have you with us. I have to tell you a story. We’re going to do the news in just a moment, and then we’re going to come back to Kendra and talk about her family’s business, Nana Mae’s, right? Did I get that right?
KENDRA: Nana Mae’s Organics.
GB: I was driving back from Sonoma one weekend some years ago, and I’d just moved out to Northern California. I’d heard all about the famous Sebastopol apple country. So I said, “Let’s get off the highway here, and let’s go down because the sign said Sebastopol. It was in the fall, early fall, I’ll buy some of these apples.”
I couldn’t find a single apple, there was not a farm stand anywhere to be found.
GB: I finally found some in a supermarket. [laughs] Do they have them in the…?
KENDRA: Well, that’s sad but true, but I’m pleased to say that thanks to Slow Food and the CAFF, the California Association of Family Farmers, there has been a resurgence in preserving our heirloom apples in the area. So we have not only old orchards being protected, but new plantings going in continually.
GB: In fact, you and your husband have a very interesting way of dealing. You plant these orchards on land that’s available; you don’t own the land, but you plant the orchards. It’s a very smart idea.
KENDRA: That’s true. We’re modern day sharecroppers, I guess you could call us. We own a very small percentage of the almost four hundred acres that we farm, and we work with over a hundred landowners as a result. And they are the people that I take my hat off to. We wouldn’t be doing what we do if it weren’t for those folks who…
GB: And they’re happy to have you plant these heirloom apple trees and tend them and…?
KENDRA: They’re thrilled. You know, they have already had the grape industry knocking at their door and trying to court them into transitioning into vineyards.
KENDRA: And they see the intrinsic value of keeping the apple alive and well in the county, so they’re the heroes.
GB: I can see it now, someday on Broadway, the story of the great apple-grape war in Sebastopol.
KENDRA: Well, like in Italy, you know, it’s about monocrop culture, it’s really not a pretty picture. And it’s about agricultural diversity.
GB: Yeah, yeah
KENDRA: And that’s where we hope to work together.
GB: Absolutely. We’re going to get you more information on Nana Mae’s Organics in Sebastopol, apples – heirloom apples – and products that derive from those as we talk with Kendra Kolling. She’s one of the companies at the portal website Savor California. Right now, 11:31, let’s get back to our studios here in San Francisco. Let’s go check in with Katie Leaver. She is in the KGO newsroom, and she has this update. Katie?
GB: KGO News time now 11:37 on Dining Around with Gene Burns. We are live at the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason Center, the scene of the ninth annual San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Grand Tasting this afternoon from 2 to 5, and we’re talking with artisanal food producers who are a part of the Savor California website. We’ve talked with Jane St Claire, who originated the site, and now Kendra Kolling is our guest. She is with Nana Mae’s Organics, apple farmers and producers in Sebastopol, and we’ve been chatting about her products and her efforts. Now whose idea was it to, I guess … do you lease the land or you just have an agreement with the landowners to plant apple trees and…?
KENDRA: Well, it’s funny. It’s varied. My husband the farmer has different relationships with different landowners. Some people truly are comfortable with a handshake, and are happy to see their orchard well taken care of, and others we have a signed contract…
KENDRA: Seven year lease, sign on the dotted line, and we’ll pay you at the end of the harvest.
KENDRA: And everything in between. Some people we just trade, we give them Nana Mae’s Apple Juice and vinegars and sauce in return for their apples.
GB: And you grow several different heirloom varieties of apple, right?
KENDRA: We do, indeed. Yes, yes.
GB: Right. How did this get started?
KENDRA: Well, I married an apple farmer.
GB: And how did it start for him?
KENDRA: The long and the short of it, I was living in Marin, shopping at the Marin Farmers’ Market, and he was my local apple farmer. And as I say, one day instead of getting a bag of apples, I bagged the apple farmer.
GB: Yeah, I was joking earlier when I said this story was headed for Broadway. This may get to Broadway quicker than I thought here.
KENDRA: And he courted me through the orchards of Sebastopol, and I fell in love with both him and Sonoma County.
GB: If I recall correctly, he actually is a graduate of Berkeley, right?
KENDRA: That’s true, yes.
GB: Did he study botany, or…?
KENDRA: No, no, he was an engineer. He graduated with a geothermal engineering degree, so worked closely on the land and worked in Alaska, and Washington State, and then – he’s from California – decided to come home and go back to the land and buy an apple orchard.
GB: And there really was a Nana Mae, I take it.
KENDRA: His grandmother. And she hails from San Francisco – 18th and Hartford, a block off the Castro.
GB: Is that right?
KENDRA: We visit and wave to the Victorian to this day.
GB: And some of these recipes were her recipes?
KENDRA: Well, we’re pretty straightforward. We right now bottle apple juice, applesauce, cider vinegar, and so it’s basically her love for wholesome food. He has the fondest memories growing up with her in the kitchen, canning, preserving, cooking all the family meals. And so it was her love for food that I think sent him in this direction.
GB: Right, right. You know it’s interesting. We were talking earlier, and I was thinking. We were laughing about vinegar. I collect vinegar [laughs], I like vinegar, and I collect various kinds, and of course there are now all sorts of varietal vinegars – you can get a particular type of grape vinegar – but you’re making actually varietal apple cider vinegars.
KENDRA: That’s true. We have, now, three vinegars to our portfolio. We do 100% Gravenstein apple cider vinegar, and that’s available in the sixteen-ounce format, and then we have an heirloom blend, which is available in a 32 ounce. And we just had a wonderful write up in the Chronicle, the December issue, for both of those. And in addition, we have a dry pear cider vinegar, and that is from a pressing of pears that we did up at Jepson Winery, and we pressed and fermented the pears for Germain-Robin, and they bought gallons of the juice, and that will go into their spirit production, and the remainder was just so pretty that we decided to bottle it, and now I have a host of chefs that are making beautiful reductions with it in their kitchens in Sonoma County.
GB: They must be absolutely delightful.
KENDRA: I brought some.
GB: Did you really? Now all of these products are available obviously through Savor California, through your page, Nana Mae’s Organics on Savor California.
GB: Now are they also available in stores? Farmers’ markets, or…?
KENDRA: We have several distributors that take our products throughout the Bay Area, and we have our vinegars at Rainbow Grocery, Marina Supers, 6001 California, and a number of other stores. And then we have restaurants like Rosso that use our products. And then we sell at the Marin Farmers’ Market and the Santa Rosa Farmers’ Market during fresh apple season.
GB: Are sources of the products available on your web page at Savor California?
KENDRA: Well, my website is available, and my phone number. If you want more information, I always welcome an email, because there’s nothing like getting product placed in your favorite neighborhood market by sending me an email. And that I often forward and take to the market itself, and that really gets things going. I can’t tell you how that … I had a gentleman email me saying he had our juice at the Academy of Sciences, and where could he get it, and he wants it in his market. And so I contacted his market, they knew him when I mentioned it, because he shops there regularly, and lo and behold, they now stock our pressed pear juice on the shelf. So that’s thrilling.
GB: Do you give classes in marketing? Because if you don’t, you should.
GB: You’re really good at it. Really! No, listen to her. She’s really good at it! How many years has Nana Mae’s been going?
KENDRA: My husband’s been farming for thirty years. Our brand, Nana Mae’s Organics, is eleven years old, and I consider us the little apple farm that could, really, because when I first married into the business, it was a very different feel out there about farming. Everyone said, “Oh, you’re still farming apples? Why didn’t you marry a grape farmer?” Even my mother said that, you know. And so, now again, thanks to – I have to say – the Slow Food group, and the Buy Fresh, Buy Local group – they have continued to educate people as to the importance of supporting the local farmers and our local food economy.
GB: Can people visit your business? Do you have a stand, or a shop, or …?
KENDRA: As we farm other people’s properties, we do it by private appointment. We do a number of field trips to local schools during apple season, so they can always contact me, and we can have an outing in the orchard. We’d love that.
GB: Terrific. Kendra Kolling of Nana Mae’s Organics. Thanks for joining us.
KENDRA: It’s a pleasure. Thank you so much, Gene.
GB: She’s a dynamo, isn’t she? It’s really terrific. And listen to those great vinegars and all my vinegar collection is going to get larger!
It is now 11:44. We’re going to meet other purveyors who work with Jane St Claire at Savor California. We’ll do that just ahead. You’re listening to Dining Around with Gene Burns. We’re live at the Festival Pavilion, the site of this afternoon’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Grand Tasting, and this is KGO.
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