Sweet Crusade: Jim Cochran’s Strawberry Secrets

Saveur • June 21, 2011

On a clear September morning, I set out for the source of California’s most delicious strawberries—quite a trip if you take the scenic route. South of San Francisco, you trace the cliffs of Devil’s Slide until the two-lane highway—and your grip on the steering wheel—relaxes. A couple of hours later, just north of Davenport, you see a 1950s pickup truck on the side of the road with hand-painted signs declaring HERE LIES SWANTON BERRY FARM. It’s a storybook scene: a view of the Pacific, a farm stand stocked with fresh baked pies. But read through the news clips on the wall, and a weightier tale emerges. When Jim Cochran founded Swanton, in 1983, he was just another hippie farmer. But he became the man who unlocked the secrets of growing strawberries without pesticides and paying workers a fair wage to do it.

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Better Off on Big Farms

Slate • Nov. 2, 2009

I love food, but I’ve never been much into farms. I’ve ignored friends’ repeated encouragements to travel the world picking organic vegetables or do a cow-milking internship. But this summer I sucked it up and headed for the fields—the big ones in California’s Salinas and Central valleys, where half the country’s fruits and vegetables are grown. I went there to start research for a book, for which I aimed to work my way through America’s food system, from farm to table. At the outset, that meant spending 50-plus hours a week under the hot sun hoeing weeds, sorting peaches, and cutting garlic. I knew going in that I’d learn unexpected lessons, but of all the new thoughts crowding my head, none have surprised me as much as this: God bless big farms.

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