Cathie Anderson: Natomas farm hopes its Steel Magnolia will grow in town

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 - 12:09 am

Small, organic farmers around the region focus on "innovation" and "savvy marketing" just as much as the folks over in Silicon Valley.

Go on one of the monthly tours of Capay Organic in Yolo County if you want to learn that lesson. Or, just listen to the latest news from Shannin Stein, general manager of Local Food Done Right.

You may recall the company broke ground a year ago on Feeding Crane Farms in North Natomas. This week, Stein told me, it completed the purchase of Steel Magnolia, a commercial kitchen on 16th Street in Sacramento.

"Our focus with Steel Magnolia is to really cultivate and support local food production and participate in local food production," Stein said. "We want to teach local producers how to work in a commercial kitchen, how to navigate the permitting process through the county and through the city.

"We even want to help mentor them through the labeling process, how to really get their product from concept to shelf and really help them find opportunities to take their idea and start making it marketable. We want to put people back to work. We want to put people back to work with their own creativity."

As a company, Stein said, Local Food Done Right is trying to expand the number of food producers who want to monitor the origins of their ingredients.

The company also hired a team of chefs who will use ingredients from Feeding Crane Farms and other local growers to create food products, Stein said. The commercial kitchen also will become a base where they can teach people how to incorporate local food into their daily meals.

If you're a student of the Learning Exchange, classes will continue to meet at this kitchen, although it will have a new name, Lulu's Kitchen, a tribute to the owner's grandmother.

Grandparents rule

A boy learns certain lessons before he gets to Jesuit High School, long before he studies geography and international relations at Boston University, and long, long before he gets a master's degree in development economics from the London School of Economics.

If that boy is Ken and Mary Lou Cayocca's grandson, then he learned to love the land.

The Cayoccas live on a piece of farmland in North Natomas, and it was theirs long before Power Balance Pavilion or Natomas Park or Walmart were a gleam in any developer's eyes.

Their grandson Brian Shaad rode horses there and helped to weed the flower beds. For 16 years now, he's lived and worked in England, Nigeria and India on agricultural development, curbing greenhouse gas emissions and expanding access to energy.

"I work with small farmers," said Shaad, who was on a short trip home from India, "and I work very much with that sector of those societies that do agriculture, and agriculture is a major part of those societies and those economies whereas here in America, it's almost like that all changed."

Shaad saved and saved with the hope that one day he would be able to launch a Sacramento-based business centered around farming and food production.

"It took me three years to find the right team," the 38-year-old Shaad told me. "… One year and two weeks ago, we broke ground. The aim was to create a small farm that was viable, that would create jobs that would be able to sustain itself in the market that Sacramento could provide for it, and we did."

Feeding Crane Farms was the first division of Shaad's company, Local Food Done Right. With the acquisition of Steel Magnolia, he's closer to realizing his vision of creating a venture that is a farm, a food processor and a food educator.

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