meet the farmer
A CRATE OF GOODNESS
The McClures offer a colorful and lavish edible landscape.
WRITTEN BY SUSIE SUTPHIN
PHOTOS BY JAMIE KINGHAM
As we walked through the greenhouse, clipping and sampling leaves and flowers, it felt a little like a scene out of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, where everything is edible. It was magical, as the licorice flavor from the French tarragon developed in my mouth, and the taste of cucumber from the starflower made my eyes widen in surprise.
I wasn't on a movie set. Rather, I was at Dan and Rachel McClure's small, specialty-crop farm of two names: Sierra Edibles and Nevada's Own. On 10 acres of land below the beautiful Sierra Nevada in Wellington, Nev., the McClures produce edible flowers but also a variety of herbs, hardy perennials, native berries, heirloom tomatoes, free-range eggs, and one extraordinary variety of mushroom (hiratake).
The McClures have carved quite a niche for themselves, cultivating more than herbs and flowers but also the customer relationships that are at the cornerstone of their business, from backyard gardeners and foodies to chefs and independent nursery owners. They want to help people recreate what they've established in their own yard: perennials that provide a colorful garden from March to November and an edible landscape where grazing takes on a whole new meaning.
Connecting with Customers
Their businesses, Sierra Edibles and Nevada's Own, enable them to connect with customers through a variety of channels. Sierra Edibles sells culinary herbs and flowers, and Nevada's Own provides the hardy perennials. The couple attends farmers' markets in Reno, Carson City, and Gardnerville during the season; they host their own community-supported agriculture program called Crate of Goodness; and they provide value-added items for other CSAs such as Great Basin Basket and Blue Basket Organics.
The majority of the McClures' business is supplying local, independent nurseries with potted, hardy perennials. Dan and Rachel have selected the varieties that are ideal for Reno-Tahoe's bio-region. Working with trials year after year, they can ensure which plants do best at our altitude and in our climate.
"Plants need to be acclimatized, especially with our short, 90-day growing season," Dan explains. "Our plants are grown at 5,000 feet for gardens at or around 5,000 feet."
One of their passions is partnering with local chefs on growing herbs and edible flowers used to finish and garnish different cuisines.
"We appreciate the artisan craft of what chefs are creating," Dan says. "Our edibles give chefs the paint to design their culinary art. We love working with chefs who are having fun in the kitchen because then it is fun for us."
It goes back to relationships. The McClures and the chefs can invest in each other to provide the ingredients that make a dish beautiful and delicious.
Local farm-to-table chef Anne Wiles, of Thunderbird Lodge in Incline Village, loves how Dan and Rachel share the same passion for food and cooking that she does.
"Dan is always asking, 'What do you need? What can I grow for you?'" Wiles says. "It's like we are creating something together and it makes me want to work with him even more.
When a chef wants to change the menu or try something different, the McClures provide that opportunity. But their products also provide the consistency and quality to help make that new item a signature dish.
John and Nyna Weatherson with Restaurant Trokay in Truckee describe Sierra Edibles' products as unparalleled. They say items the company provides typically can't be found on the commercial market.
"We'll pickle the seed pod of the nasturtium for a spicy alternative to capers or garnish a cured hamachi dish with anise hyssop, whose flower tastes like bubblegum," John says.
If the 75 edible flowers, 30 hardy perennials, and 25 native berries weren't enough (not to mention heirloom tomatoes and 55 chickens), the McClures have been exploring a new specialty crop: the hiratake mushroom.
"It started because the space where we grew starter plants went unused six months out of the year," Dan says. "Turned out, it made a great place to grow mushrooms."
Now the hiratake mushroom is a big part of what they sell year-round. When raw, it is earthy but mild. Sautéed, it gives a smooth, rich mushroom flavor to any dish. Hiratake has a short three-to-four-day shelf life, so it must be delivered in a timely manner, which is something Dan and Rachel specialize in, driving a loop from Reno to Tahoe. Mushrooms tie in with one of the McClures' core values, "to help improve people's lives." Mushrooms have several medicinal properties, like containing statin for lowering cholesterol, Dan says. And some of the healthiest cultures in the world make mushrooms a dietary staple.
Now the starter plants and mushrooms will work symbiotically. Soon the McClures will be able to pump the carbon dioxide the mushrooms perspire, from the mushroom room into the plant starter room, where the seedlings can absorb this beneficial gas.
Rachel sums it up best: "Our philosophy is consistency, quality, and diversity. Consistency builds trust, quality makes people happy, and diversity is what sets us apart."
Susie Sutphin lives in Truckee, where she gets her hands dirty in all kinds of sustainable food projects. Read about her ecological pursuits at http://www.Foodchronicles.net.
The McClures' culinary treats can be found at the following eateries, among other local spots:
Wolfdale's Cuisine Unique
640 N. Lake Boulevard, Tahoe City
Restaurant Trokay (formerly Trokay Café)
10115 Donner Pass Road, Suite C, Truckee
Café at Adele's
1112 N. Carson St., Carson City
Evan's American Gourmet Café
536 Emerald Bay Road, South Lake Tahoe
5000 State Route 28, Incline Village
Yosh's Unique Deli
85 Foothill Road, Suite 4, Reno