By Susan Whitesell
The Rio Vista Slow Food Festival, coming June 21st, is a farm to table event that celebrates the rich diversity of meat, wine and produce from this area. This is the third of several articles that highlight some of the festival participants.
California Endive Farms produces over 4 million pounds of endive yearly, making Rich Collins the largest endive grower in the country. According to a 7x7SF online article by Eric Wolfinger, “California Endive Farms produces 99.9 percent of the state’s endive for customers that include Alice Waters, Thomas Keller, and Whole Foods.” That’s an impressive list of culinary heavy hitters!
According to Collins, “Endive is a super super complex crop to produce consistently throughout the year to the quality our market demands.” Those familiar with his story know that it took over 3 years and epic failures before the company turned a meager profit in 1986 and that it took ten years before Collins finally nailed the complex growing process.
Product production wasn’t the only difficult hurdle Collins faced. The bulk of his efforts after product production were in marketing to a fledgling endive market, primarily chefs. Collins says, “We’ve never been the classic farmer who was producing and sending this stuff away. We’ve always been in the marketplace.” The company also markets to consumers, for example, giving away more than 600 packages of endives and serving sample appetizers with goat cheese and honey at the recent California Artisan Cheese Festival in Petaluma. We can also expect samples at the Slow Food Festival!
Collins says the health benefits of endive are catching on with both the older and younger generations. Endive is a super versatile super healthy vegetable. As an appetizer, endives are a great alternative to chips and crackers and a great addition to salads adding color, texture and taste. They can also be roasted, sautéed or baked. Complex in fiber, endives easily handle the heat on a grill so they don’t wilt or fall apart as other vegetables do.
Collins also has a long history with the Slow Food movement, attending the first Terra Madre conference in 2004 in Turin, Italy. Terra Madre is an international Slow Food event that brings together a network of food producers, cooks and university educators bi-annually to discuss global food sustainability issues. Collins has also met and dined with Slow Food movement founder Carlo Petrini. Collins was also a featured speaker at last years Slow Food Festival and demonstrated and shared his endive appetizer with attendees.
This article was originally published in The River News Herald.