Saturday, July 26, 2008

Farm Dinner at Local Roots

A few weeks ago, Matt and I found ourselves seated at this long white table between garden beds. We sat with a hodge-podge group of 30 friends and strangers eating food prepared by one of Seattle's rising chefs from produce and poultry from the very ground on which we sat. The event was simply titled, Farm Dinner, an event put on monthly by a small farm in Carnation, Washington (about 40 minutes east of Seattle) called Local Roots. Siri and Jason, the young married couple who help farm this land, splitting their time between a trailer on the farm and their apartment on urban Capitol Hill, are friends of a friend. When we heard about what they were up to, Matt and I jumped at the opportunity to see local organic agriculture married to delicious, lovingly prepared food. Plus we wanted to pick Jason and Siri's brains about how to get started growing our own food.

As we move from the East Coast to the West, trade student life for professional pursuits, and look forward to settling in one place after our nomadic existence, the thing that keeps rising to the surface of our desires and conversations is surprising: local food and gardening. Matt and I have been reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan (named a New York Times' "Ten Best Books of 2006"), a book in which Pollan follows the question: "Where did my food come from?" through four major food chains: the industrial (McDonald's/supermarket), industrial organic (Whole Foods), beyond organic (sustainable farming), and finally to a meal that Pollan hunted and gathered himself. We tease that reading the book has been equivalent to a conversion experience; we can't walk into a supermarket without seeing the products in light of the new knowledge we've been given.

The result of this book and other voices we've been tuning into lately has led us to conclude that we would like to learn to grow food for ourselves and support farmers who invest in sustainable systems of growing that optimize God's design, rather than opposing it: redeeming the land, redeeming the animals, and ultimately redeeming the health of individuals and society.

So we were pretty excited to see if our impressions about rural life were mainly a romantic ideal or an actual reality as we made our way out to Carnation. Our evening at Local Roots started off with a greeting from Otis, one of the farm dogs, and a glass of sparkling wine at a table set up between a work shed and a portable chicken coop. Rainier cherries in a bowl staved off pre-dinner hunger and we spit our pits into the bushes while I chatted with the evening's wine guy: Matt from Sitka and Spruce, a newer Seattle restaurant with a sort of young, hip vibe and a mix of rustic, family style eating and impeccable, seasonal cuisine. The chef/owner, Matt Dillon, was recently named one of Food and Wine's top ten new chefs and used to work for the famed Herbfarm. The Matt I was talking to was a different Matt, but a member of the Sitka and Spruce family all the same, all the more so because he is engaged to our chef for the evening: Emily Crawford, who Matt Dillon brought up from San Francisco to join him in his new business venture, The Corsun Building (Emily's link will take you to a brief article in Seattle Magazine naming her a promising up-and-comer to the Seattle food scene).

Once most of the thirty dinner guests had arrived (mostly adhering to Jason's prior warning to were flats for the dirt paths and long sleeves/pants for the mosquitoes), Jason and Siri gave us a tour of Local Roots, beginning with the chickens, several of whom were "harvested" earlier in the week for the night's supper. Mainly, theirs are laying hens, something Matt and I are considering once we have space to keep a coop.



After that, we were shown their growing vegetable beds and greenhouses and Matt and I lagged behind and spoke with farmer Dan, the land owner who is partnering with Jason and Siri and an old hippy of the best kind. Intelligent and practical, he shared with us about the financial realities of farming and the quirks of being organic.

Finally (finally!), we sat down to dinner and Emily explained the menu for the evening: four courses with wine.

rosemary water

our foody friends: Peter and Maria

First Course: baby carrots, shaved fennel, beets, gold and purple potatoes, grilled sardines, served with a homemade garlic aioli.

Second Course (sorry I didn't have the best pictures of this): frisee and chicken salad made from the Local Roots poultry, which (since it was older and less meaty than the 6-8 week old Cornish Cross varieties sold in in supermarkets) was soaked in brine to make it tender. Also, Emily made some very mild and tasty pate on toast from the chicken livers, onions and seasonings.

Farmer Dan

Third/Main Course: lamb, provencal style sausage and spicy mustard (made by Cormac of Sitka and Spruce), and grilled savoy cabbage and asparagus.

As the sun began to go down (and we were attacked mercilessly by perhaps the entire mosquito population in Washington state), we were served our last course: apricot crepes with creme fraische, in honor of Bastille Day, which it happened to be that day.

Matt and I lingered after everyone else had, for the most part, gone home. The food was perfection and we found ourselves asking Jason and Siri tons of questions. We promised to come back again on a week day to learn more about growing and to help with the weeding, something necessary for organic farmers who don't use commercial pesticides to do, but very labor intensive and grateful for extra hands.

Matt and I realize we're not farmers. We're probably going to become gardeners that produce food for ourselves and neighbors to enjoy, not an entire metropolitan area. But as we meet the brilliant, dedicated people who believe in growing whole, nourishing foods for our community and others, we are ever more convinced of their necessity and want to support them as much as we can. A candle-lit night in the field with a feast of culinary delights like the one we experienced could probably convince anyone, but the romanticism aside, we look forward to the path of learning ahead of us.

If you live in the Seattle area and want to try some Local Roots produce, Jason and Siri can be seen at the Broadway, Queen Anne, and Madison farmers markets and they also participate in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program that allows non-farmers to have a share in the farm and delivers weekly produce boxes of whatever is in season to your home.

If you live farther away, Local Roots was recently visited by Outstanding in the Field, a very cool company that creates farm dinners like the one we had all over the country (only for those with a large "going out" budget, though).

Emily's flawless cooking can be tasted at future Farm Dinners and at the Corsun Building.