Marc Boyd: Monterey Bay Aquarium spotlights sustainable food sources

Enzo Olive Oil farm foreman Silverio Madrigal shows Koroneiki olives.
Enzo Olive Oil farm foreman Silverio Madrigal shows Koroneiki olives. Fresno Bee file

This month the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Whole Foods Market teamed up to present “Cooking for Solutions,” celebrating World Oceans Day 2015. The event was held at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and featured dozens of small businesses from throughout Northern California, who were on hand to give visitors a delightful taste of their sustainable food products.

One of the new organic products on display was from Ricchiuti Family Farms in Clovis with their award-winning Enzo Olive Oil produced in Madera. Since their first crop of organic olives in 2011, they have won an amazing 56 awards for its taste and quality at competitions in the United States and worldwide. In 2014, they won “Best in Class” at the New York International Olive Oil competition.

Vincent Ricchiuti, from the Clovis family’s fourth generation says, “Ninety-eight percent of olive oil sold in the U.S. is imported, but once consumers taste the difference between California and imported olive oils, they don’t go back.”

Ken Peterson, communications director at the aquarium, says 15,000 visitors poured into the facility during the weekend event for the sustainable food festival, and to observe the breathtaking marine exhibits, entertaining feeding programs, and educational opportunities leading to a greater understanding of the aquarium’s mission to “inspire conservation of the oceans.”

Peterson has a message of hope for those concerned about the vast challenges we face restoring the sustainability of our oceans over the next few decades. “Fisheries are more concerned about sustainable fishing practices than they have been in the past. We started the Sea Food Watch program in 1999, which promotes ocean health by encouraging consumers to consider how their food choices can affect ocean health.”

Jolyn Bibb, event planner for Whole Foods Market, says, “Our mission aligns with the Monterey Bay Aquarium in support of sustainable seafood.”

This year’s event marks the 14th year the two have joined forces to celebrate sustainable foods and to showcase these innovative new businesses that combine responsible environmental stewardship with the entrepreneurial spirit of the American dream.

Harv Indar Singh, local forager and buyer for Whole Foods, helped select the Northern California vendors attending this year’s event. He says, “My role as a local forager is to seek out local partnerships and to help them grow and mentor their businesses.”

Nearly every company at the event has a compelling story that started with a vision of a sustainable food product primarily produced and distributed within the local economy. Ricchiuti explains why they decided to go organic: “We wanted to ensure the production of a high-quality product.”

Sustainable food products rely on multi-cropping, minimal to no pesticide use, healthy soil, careful selection of seeds and plant varieties, conservation of water, fair treatment of workers and promoting local food markets.

Sustainable farming will play a growing role in California’s agricultural economy as it transitions to a future with a less reliable source of water. The devastating, four-year drought in California is forcing farmers to re-evaluate future crop choices. The “Cooking for Solutions” event not only showcases great, new organic products, but it also showcases the positive impact sustainable food choices can have on our natural environment and our local economy.

Marc Boyd lives in Arnold and works as an educator and property manager.