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The Woman Behind La Jolla’s Secret House of Food

Michelle Lerach has pretty quietly moved mountains for San Diego’s farmers, makers, and food scene with Berry Good Food Foundation
Photo Credit: Jamie Dickerson

There is a house in La Jolla that is almost entirely food. It overlooks Black’s Beach. It is a very, very nice house. Walk its grounds, and you come across blueberries and strawberries and cabbage and habañeros and herbs and goats and bees and chickens and greenhouses. What was once a tennis court on the grounds has been filled in with more food growing.

It is a house-farm, an Eden on the sea cliff, and it’s become an epicenter of San Diego’s food scene. It’s owned by Michelle Lerach and her husband, Bill. Michelle took a sabbatical from her law practice to live and work on a goat farm in Northern California. There, she saw how connected farmers and ranchers and makers were to restaurants, grocers, distributors, lawmakers (who endorse public spending on agriculture), media, etc. She wanted to bring that to San Diego. She wanted to bring them all to the same plot of land (or house, in this case) to start fostering good, local foodways.

So she opened her home—affectionately called the Castle of Chaos—to all of them. Any given day, you’ll see local chefs and winemakers and farmers strolling around her home, inspecting things, cooking things, or just kicking up their feet. During the shutdown part of the pandemic, she turned her front driveway into a market to help farmers move product. Food from her home is featured at some of the city’s top restaurants.

She started the Berry Good Night, which was an annual dinner where she’d invite thought leaders on food and environmental stewardship. It also invited some of her very high-profile and influential friends who could, upon meeting farmers and food people, either financially support their work or advocate for them in legislation. In 2015, that night evolved into Berry Good Food Foundation, which operates workshops on all sorts of responsible, good-stewardship food initiatives (seafood, soil health, food waste, food justice, etc.) and supports gardens at elementary schools on both sides of the border (they’ve donated $50K to 23 schools so far).

Michelle Lerach

Michelle Lerach

She also gathers some of the biggest brains in the country for discussions on UCTV (which have over 14 million views). Finally, she was one of the executive producers (along with Giselle Bündchen, and others) on the film, Kiss the Ground, a documentary about regenerative farming. It was produced by Ryalnd Englehart (whose family owns Cafe Gratitude and Gracias Madre), narrated by Woody Harrelson, and included cameos from Ian Somerhalder, Tom Brady, and a couple songs from fellow San Diegan and farmer/food activist, Jason Mraz.

That’s a lot, I know. Basically, she’s used her law degree and connections to move the city’s food scene forward in fairly massive ways.

“At the end of the day, we just want to connect and foster an inclusive, equitable, regenerative food system in San Diego,” she says.

She’s our guest on this week’s podcast. Specifically, she’s trying to raise awareness for regenerative farming and Kiss the Ground (the organization that’s also co-founded by Englehart). An upcoming dinner on Nov. 19—with chef Flor Franco and David Castro of iconic Valle de Guadalupe restaurant, Fauna—will advocate for regenerative farming being a bigger part of the U.S. Farm Bill.

We talk about regenerative farming: what it is, how it works, why it’s important. A fascinating talk.

For food news, we discuss San Diego Beer Week—a week long series of events dedicated to the local craft beer scene, especially the incredible chefs-and-beer-pairing event at Lodge at Torrey Pines; we discuss the incoming of not one, two, but eleven San Diego locations of the famed L.A. donut shop, Randy’s Donuts; and David points us to the Rock the Tins Beer Cocktail Competition with chef Claudia Sandoval at Amplified Ale Works.

For “Two People, Fifty Bucks,” David rediscovers his love for Puesto and raves about their secret weapon—brewer Doug Hasker (try the Clara); Michelle says nothing beats the simple side dish of carrots at Callie; and I am genuinely, genuinely impressed by the new food at Cutwater’s tasting room, especially the hoagie.

By Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

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