When a chef wants sheep’s milk for fresh ricotta, alfalfa hay for smoking or chervil root and dill bulbs, they call this woman. When they want scallop testicles, yes, Kerry Clasby can deliver those, too. The “intuitive forager” works with farms, traveling about 1,500 miles up and down the West Coast each week to gather torpedo onions, caviar limes and purple majesty potatoes, which she sells to chefs like Mario Batali and at farmers’ markets in California and Las Vegas. Find her at Bet on the Farm at Springs Preserve or Downtown 3rd Farmers’ Market and she’ll likely give you a smile from under her wide straw hat and cut you a slice of something fresh and delicious.
What makes a good farmers’ market?
Just like any business—just like writing, just like anything—you have to understand the dynamics in order to make it successful. I’ve seen a lot of farmers’ markets tank. I mean, it’s brutal, because farmers stop showing up, customers stop showing up, some of the farmers are still there and they’re losing money … The truth about farmers’ markets is that you need to have one-stop shopping. So the supplementation with the California fruit, which is very temporary in Las Vegas, it fills a gap. We’re really competing with Whole Foods, in a way.
How many farms do you and your staff work with?
We deal with about 350-400 farms, but seasonally each week, we’re probably gathering from 125 farms.
Where do you put all that produce?
I have a warehouse in Thousand Oaks, California; I have farmers dropping off there, as well. There’s nothing that’s going into a cooler. We don’t have things stored. That’s the good news about my business—it’s not like going to a grocery store. Most of our stuff is picked on a Tuesday or Wednesday and delivered on a Thursday or Friday.
You worked at IBM and Xerox. Did you see this second career coming?
Never in a million years. When I first started this business my parents would come up from Boston, and they’d be heading back to the airport, and I’d be like, “Can you drop this fruit off at this account on Laguna on your way?” I love the markets; I love tasting this great food. I’m in Massachusetts, and I’m going to the farmers’ markets here. I’m a farmers’ market junkie.
Do chefs ever make crazy requests that you have to track down?
I’ll tell you one that I was able to get: scallop testicles.
Exactly what I said. They do that with cod, too. I went to French Laundry, and they served me these things and didn’t tell me what they were. I’m a vegetarian and there I was, chomping on these codfish balls. I mean, really. … So, I went to Nantucket, and I have a scallop fisherman, and he said, “Well, we throw that stuff away, but okay, we’ll give it to you, Kerry.”
You’re really a liaison between the farmers and the chefs and consumers. What has it been like meeting all these small farmers?
All the farmers that I use are men and women who compost, adding nutrients back into the soil. Their growing practices are labor intensive and extensive and in-depth. … So [they’re] men and women who love what they’re doing and take care of the soil, because the soil is like blood. If you have a product that’s growing in the soil it needs to be able to take minerals out of the soil in order for us to get them into our body.
You’re constantly giving people tastes of things at the markets. Is it fun to watch their reactions?
The older I get, the more spiritual I become, and I wonder at the depth of creativity in the intelligence that this earth took. Just to taste and understand these varieties. ... As Hippocrates said, you are what you eat. You let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food. Whatever I can do to be a part of everybody’s health and healing for longevity, for families to not experience unnecessary losses, that’s what I want to be a part of in this universe. ... I’m 53 years old, and I just want to make sure that the legacy I leave, that the people I touch, that I’ve done the right thing. Because I don’t want to have regrets.
When was the last time you had junk food?
I had French fries the other day and pizza the other day, too.