Our trip to Copia, in the town of Napa, doubled as a place to give a talk on Mediterranean Food Gardening and a chance to see the place for the first time. Copia is The American Center for Wine Food and the Arts. It is quite beautiful, and the garden is at its summer peak. When I opened the car door in the parking lot, I knew we were in for a treat. The little planted islands in the parking lot are planted in grapes--perfectly manicured wine grapes with, at this time of year, large bunches of ripening purple fruit hanging low on the plants. Ever been to an Italian restaurant where the plastic grapes hung down from a trellis over the dining room? Seeing the real thing in a parking lot is startling for somehow the opposite reason that the fake ones are startling in a darkened dining room.
The day (August 20th) was an Edible Gardens Festival, that included food booths, wine tastings, food demos, garden talks (including mine), crafts, children's activities, and of course, a chance to tour the gardens and the museum.
Colby Eierman, the director of the gardens, took us on a personal tour of the 3 1/2 acres of edible gardens. They are all beautifully laid out in large square plots with wide lawn paths between. I envied the size and productivity of his summer crops. There were lovely tall tomatoes and peppers, and huge gourds that were hanging down from the top of an overhead trellis. Malabar spinach grew or 5 or 6 feet tall, on trellises. It is a tropical plant, very pretty and delicious too, but it won't thrive in cool weather. There were fruit trees, herb gardens, and demonstration plantings of several types of wine grapes. A children's garden includes chickens and rabbits.
A problem they have is symphylans, creatures that eat plant roots. They are 3/16th inch long, white or pale brownish-pink, very thin creatures with twelve pairs of legs. I had only read about them as a pest in Oregon, but there they are in Napa. The only organic way he has found to prevent them is to plant a crop of potatoes, after which the soil is clear enought to plant another crop that would otherwise have its roots eaten up by the tiny beasts.
They create the beautiful gardens with three full time gardeners, occasional seasonal help, and, yes, they do have an intern program, which you can read about on their website.
I tasted papalo (Porophyllum ruderale), new to me. It is a plant with a flavor similar to cilantro, sometimes used as a substitute. It is native to Mexico into South America and used there raw or at the end of cooking.
Another plant new to me was Hoja de Santa Maria (Piper aritium), a close relative of black pepper. The large leaves of this Mexican native are used to wrap fish, then the packets are baked with a spicy tomato sauce. We watched a cooking demonstration in their arena-like indoor demo kitchen, and noticed that there is also an outdoor demo kitchen in the gardens where they can give classes.
David liked the museum best. There is an exhibit on the kind of restaurant known as a diner, a permanent exhibit on various aspects of food and wine in culture and history, and other smaller exhibits. There are also a gift and book store and two restaurants.
You can learn a lot more about this place at www.copia.org It is definitely worth visiting more than once if you live in the Bay Area. They have events and classes thoughout the year. It is at 500 First Street in Napa, just west of the Napa River. Regular admission is $5.00 for adults, $4.00 for seniors and students with I.D., Free for children 12 and under. It is open daily except Tuesday, 10 to 5 (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Days and Christmas Eve). It took a little over an hour to drive there from the Golden Gate Bridge on a Sunday morning, travelling via Hwy 37, through the picturesque marshes.