Three Coachella Valley chefs, Amanda Nees, Lorraine Ornelas and Stephen Lee, all make a point to source the majority of their ingredients directly from small family farms rather than ordering from a produce broker or food purveyor. When asked why they choose to conduct these weekly interactions themselves rather than outsourcing to timesaving middlemen, the responses differed, but crossed over in significant ways.

Amanda Nees is a Coachella Valley native. She grew up in North Shore and attended CVHS. Her concept of “family” was always bound up in food traditions, whether gathering at the dinner table or harvesting vegetables from her grandmother’s garden. Like many young people from the desert, she was eager to shake the sand out of her shoes and headed to culinary school in Los Angeles before landing her first job in a big restaurant in Hawaii. After returning to the mainland to create meal plans for the Anneliese private school in Laguna Beach, she “returned to the soil” assisting children in the school’s farm-to-table curriculum. In February of 2017, Amanda completed the circle by starting a private chef business, Prepped By Ace, in Palm Desert and feels that buying most of her produce and all of her meat from the CV Certified Farmers Markets not only helps her community and improves the nutritional value of her clients’ meals, but also connects back to the values instilled by her family.

Lorraine Ornelas hails from farther north, her childhood home surrounded on all sides by the wide farms of Kingsburg, CA. During her culinary training in San Francisco, “farm-to-table” wasn’t a newfangled fad, it was “all there was.” She too took a detour from the agrarian life, but it led here to the desert, working for 8 years as a pastry chef at the Marriott Desert Springs Resort, then 8 years as a personal chef to President Ford’s family. Those demanding positions prepared her for the rigor of entrepreneurship when she opened Luscious Lorraine’s restaurant. At first, she found it difficult to source the best ingredients, but when our local farmers markets opened in 2008, she could finally stop begging her L.A. farmer resources to swing down to the desert. In high season, she orders 85% of her ingredients directly from CVCFM farms.

Stephen Lee travelled the longest journey of all three chefs to make the desert his base of operations. Coming of age during the Seattle “Food Revolution” he lived near the Picardo P-Patch, one of the earliest municipally supported urban gardens. Starting as a teen in Seattle restaurants, he learned the culinary trade from the bottom up and then took time off to work on farms in Washington, Oregon and California where he experienced his “Ah-ha!” moment, finally understanding the “culture of agriculture” as he worked his way back through the food chain. Now an urban farmer in Palm Springs, his intimate understanding of the interdependence of farmers and consumers helped shape his deep respect for the people providing the base ingredients for our sustenance. His recent stint as a finalist on FOX’s MasterChef program did nothing to dim his devotion, and his cart is an ever-present fixture at the CVCFM locations.

Megan Goehring is the Palm Springs manager and community liaison for the Certified Farmers Markets of the Coachella Valley and is passionate about improving access to fresh, high quality food for everyone in her community. For more information about locally sourced food from small California farms, check out www.certifiedfarmersmarkets.org or call (844) 732.7628.

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