Friendly Foods and Foodie Friends
My childhood friend, Kate, moved to Shasta, California, about two years ago. It’s been four years since we’ve seen each other, and we finally managed to plan a visit. My friends, and even strangers, asked me why she moved from Tucson, Arizona, to Shasta, a tiny town of 1,700 located just five miles from Redding in the foothills if the Cascade Mountains.
Sometimes the simplest reasons suffice. She wanted a change, including mountains, greenery, water, a like-minded community—and close proximity to a Trader Joe’s. She and her family drove down the coast, starting in Washington State, making their way south until they landed in Shasta, at the top of the Sacramento Valley, which she and her two daughters now call home.
As I thought about what makes a place home to me, I realized that growing food is at the top of my list. Can you get food locally? Can you grow food? Do people care about their food and where it comes from? As the airport shuttle headed out of the agriculturally rich Sacramento valley, and toward Shasta, vast valleys of rice became hills covered in pine trees. I thought certainly nothing could really grow here. Don’t pine trees usually indicate poor soil?
The first very dark and very quiet night in Shasta, Kate took me to visit her friends for dinner. I immediately discovered that my (possibly uninformed) opinion was dead wrong. Everywhere around me I saw food. Pear, avocado, fig, apple and pomegranate trees stood tall over gardens which sequestered the bright summer sun to produce massive crops of tomatoes, peppers, squash and greens.
Framed by a backdrop of breathtaking mountains were oak and walnut trees. Blackberries and grapevines line the roads. Some of these plants were cultivated as early as the 1850s when about 70,000 people arrived for the gold rush.
A small bakery, nestled into the historic district of Shasta is a testament to this food-focused community. Locally roasted espresso is served with freshly baked bread. After a day of hiking, I had to sample the iced cinnamon bread and thick slices for French toast.
There is not much else in the town center—a gas station, a post office and some ruins. But that’s ok; sometimes the simplest things are all you need.
Photo of a bakery in Shasta by Otehlia Cassidy.