Fresh Perspective

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Photo by Marie Gregorio-Oviedo


he beer industry is alive and well in Ventura County. Oh, sure, we’re still small potatoes compared to San Diego and Portland, but it seems that every season brings a new craft brewery for hopheads to obsess over. In the last year alone, the area saw MadeWest, Ventura Coast and Ojai Valley Brewery come online, and the organic brewer, Leashless, is set to open this July. Like the farm-to-table restaurants that abound here, microbrewers often rely on locally sourced ingredients — everything from herbs to fruit and even coffee — to build their beer lists.

Casa Agria, which opened in Oxnard in 2015, also relies on homegrown produce for its recipes. But the pale ales and IPAs that dominate the craft beer market are a small fraction of what Casa Agria has to offer. This brewer specializes in farmhouse-style ales and unusual (yet refreshing) sour ales made with a variety of local fruits, and fermented with wild yeast collected in the county, too. Still something of an acquired taste, sour ales are growing in popularity, thanks in no small part to Casa Agria’s liquid persuasion — and possibly to a beer-drinking population ready for something new.

This craft brewer isn’t the only company changing hearts and minds through its products.

Cindy Liu of Black Sheep Food Company has used the food industry to blaze a trail for her daughter, Sammy. The one-time caterer wanted to build a business that would provide Sammy, who has Down syndrome, with the means to support herself. Knowing that people with physical and mental disabilities are frequently at a disadvantage in the job market, her mission moved beyond the personal to encompass a movement: Changing the way these individuals are perceived. She intends for Black Sheep to provide training and employment for people with disabilities, and hopes that through the company’s products and services, others will begin to recognize that those with special needs are different, perhaps, but no less valuable.

The revolutions underway at Ojai Olive Oil are less about product than process. The oil pressed from olives harvested from trees more than a century old continues to be of an exceptional quality, winning awards at international competitions every year. But Phil Asquith, whose role at the company has expanded in recent years, is looking at operations a little differently from how his parents (the founders) viewed them. Community building, self-sufficiency, less stress and more joy — these priorities are part of his business plan . . . and his lifestyle. 

What all three of these stories share is a new lens through which to view food, and how it’s brought to market. And through these individuals, we, as consumers, gain more than just access to quality products. We have the opportunity to expand our palates — and perhaps our perspectives, too.


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