The Wine Country Online

A story reprinted from


The Quarterly Newsletter of the Sonoma County Slow Food Convivium

Volume II No. 3, Spring 2001


By Barbara Bowman

Chef Evelyn Cheatham of the Sonoma County Probation Camp met with 25 members of our convivium in March. She described the boys she works with and the culinary program she is successfully building. Her dedication and her words put us on course. Within several days, Slow Food member Andy Cutter and the boys dug trenches and laid the irrigation needed to develop the kitchen's garden.

Next, Chuck Levine designed a plan for terracing the hillside and building a series of raised beds. With pick and shovel, level and mallet, our Slow men joined camp boys and worked over a series of Saturdays to build the first long garden bed, using recycled redwood from old picnic tables and benches. (In their woodworking program, the camp makes sturdy picnic tables for public parks in California and Oregon.)

Other members of Slow and other boys focused on revitalizing the north garden that already contained 22 raised beds in need of weeding, amending, and planting. With donated compost from Petaluma Mushroom Farms, Inc. and the county dump, wheelbarrow brigades enriched every bed. We attacked the Bermuda grass, laughed, disagreed about pinching flowers off young strawberries, rejoiced at the sight of earthworms, and watched a bluebird nest in the lone birdhouse at the edge of the garden.

As of mid-May, the boys are harvesting salad greens, scallions, and radishes. The sunflowers are short, but stocky. Their companion green beans are beginning to climb the sunflower stalks. The peas are in bloom, and the carrots need thinning. We lost our first few tomatoes to the unexpected April frost, but 60 plants, all seeded by the boys in sifted soil and cell packs, are set in and growing well.

In the kitchen, Slow Food member JeNé Thomas is a regular volunteer, helping the baking crew cook from scratch. Phyllis Baldenhofer hosted four of the culinary students for dinner at the Farmhouse Inn where member and Chef Steve Litke gave a kitchen tour and presented a delicious meal.

Cynthia Nestle, our summer garden coordinator, says: "This is clearly the best thing our convivium has done, probably more important than finding new says to feed ourselves."

(For more info about the Sonoma Convivium, contact Jack at