Last week’s Farm to Table Summer Kickoff Dinner held at Gather & Feast Farm in La Center, Washington, was the perfect ushering in of our best season here in the Pacific Northwest.
One of the joys of living in the great Pacific Northwest is the food lover’s easy opportunity to declare his or her independence from the conventional food system and support the growing farm to table community and movement connecting local farmers to families, dining enthusiasts, local businesses and restaurant chefs. Whether you are a home cook, a restaurant junkie, a chef and/or a little bit of all of the above, you can continue to help grow the farm to table movement and strengthen the relationships that are interwoven into your local food systems that promote food security, health, proximity, self-reliance and sustainability.The farm to table ethos aims to foster an awareness that the various components of a food system or even a restaurant ought to exist in close proximity to one another with the goals of developing relationships between the various stakeholders (farmers, processors, retailers, restauranteurs, consumers, etc.) and reducing the environmental impact of transporting ingredients across states or countries. Another pillar of the farm to table “movement” is supporting activism and education to generate and grow communities (individuals, families AND the needs of lower income households in the larger community) that can meet their own food needs, thereby again eliminating the need for outside resources or long distance transportation of food and sustaining natural resources in the process. Finally but not least important are the complex issues of land availability for farmers, small-farm friendly legislation and land use planning initiatives and campaigns which are of utmost importance in continuing to grow a healthy and locally based food system.
Here in the greater Portland Metropolitan area, there are endless ways to support farmers and other farm to table players. Here a just a few ideas: Take your family or friends to a U-pick day at a farm, join a cooperative or CSA, hit up a farmstand, join your local Slow Food Chapter, lease your unused land to a farmer, join the Clark County Food System Council or attend a meeting, shop at a farmer’s market, shop a farm online, participate in a farm work experience, or one of my personal favorites, attend a true farm to table dinner held at an actual farm.Gather and Feast Farm in Southwest Washington, in addition to being a year-round catering company (Crave Catering Co.) for special events including weddings and private dinners, holds some of the region’s most scenic, delicious and educational farm to table dinners. This year the 2018 Summer Kickoff Dinner in late June brought together the talents and efforts of Vancouver restaurant Lapellah, Ridgefield vineyard Confluence Winery, and downtown Vancouver’s The Grocery Cocktail and Social, to benefit Slow Food SW Washington.Gather and Feast Farm is a biodynamic farm sitting on a gorgeous plot of 20 acres just outside the historic town of La Center, WA. Free of pesticides, herbicides and chemicals, Gather and Feast grows dozens of varieties of vegetables, fruit trees and herbs and is also the home of laying hens, broiler hens, quail, ducks and their famous Scottish Highland Cattle.Owner Mark Lopez opened the doors of Gather and Feast last year, after spending years in the restaurant industry including as a near-youngster working in his family’s taqueria in Huntington Beach, CA, working for James Beard award winning chef Mark Miller in Las Vegas, opening and owning his own restaurant Baja Grill in Portland and starting his own catering company. As his family grew and personal priorities evolved, Lopez purchased farm land in Battle Ground, WA in the early 200s, later relocating to the current property of Gather and Feast in 2016.With a catering company in full force and effect, and a farm food system team helmed by Portland Seedhouse’s Evan Gregoire, Gather and Feast began offering farm to table dinners in June of 2017.This year’s farm to table dinners kicked off on June 23 with the Summer Kickoff Party which welcomed over 100 guests, and the season will continue throughout July, August and September with other dinners featuring different local partners and collaborators.
The food offerings for the Summer Kickoff dinner began with small bites of Dolmas with toasted pine nuts, mint, rice, garlic and creamy fennel feta dressing; Charred Beet Crostini with goat milk ricotta, shaved red onion, citrus honey vinaigrette and hazlenut lemon thyme gremolata; Duck Rillette Toast Points with dijon mustard, picked cherries and fried shallots; and, Beet Cured Deviled Eggs with horseradish and borage. Hand crafted and locally sourced pre-dinner drinks were mashed up and shaken by Vancouver’s own Salty of The Grocery Cocktail.Before moving to the communal dinner tables where entrees, sides and salads were served family style, guests were treated to a Farm Tour where we walked the fields and met the farm’s chickens and Scottish Highland Cattle. Ambling back to the communal tables through the field, we stopped briefly to ponder the newly constructed Yurt/tent (not pictured) soon to be available through Airbnb for overnight stays. A definite possibility for a future staycation.Chef Michael Campos and team from Vancouver restaurant Lapellah killed the dinner game with undoubtedly the night’s brilliant standout dish, Crispy Paella with rice, preserved tomato soffrito, onion tops and sunnyside duck eggs, cooked over an asada style grill in the wide open air for all to see and smell.Local farm Reister Lamb provided the yogurt and green coriander marinated leg of lamb entree prepared with Food Systems Director and longtime local farmer, activist and seed purveyor Evan Gregoire’s salsa verde.Sides and salads included a Mizuna and Arugula Stone Fruit Salad with honey whipped goat cheese, pickled onions and marcona almonds in a cherry cider vinaigrette; Kholrabi and Green Apple Coleslaw with sour cherry and mint dressing; Wilted Greens in warm pancetta and sweet onion vinaigrette with house cured lardons, marinated summer squash and crispy fried carrots; Butter Braised Radishes with parsley and sea salt; and, Grilled Cainbow carrots with golden raisin tapenade, mint, parsley and parmesan. Live Music provided by local funk-fusion band Ancient Alchemy wafted over diners during the meal all night and into the desserting hour. Crave catering’s dessert diva made an amazing Honey Spiced Cake with goat cheese frosting, Oregon berry chutney, bourbon caramel sauce and candied flowers and pecans. The diner sitting across from me at our table remarked that the this lovely dessert alone was worth the price of admission.
The next time you are planning a dinner party, a family meal, a grocery shopping trip, a vacation or a meal outside the home, consider looking for ways to support your local food system and in particular, if you need a special event venue or a place to celebrate the beautiful summer weather with friends and family, research your local farms to see if they can help or are interested in collaborating. Ideally, also grow food any place that permits at home — garden, balcony, kitchen window. Look to your local community college or center for courses and meetings on gardening and preserving programs. Seek out starters or seeds, look for different varieties of vegetables you normally buy at the farmer’s markets. In the meantime, when you feel like kicking back and supporting the labor of others, Gather & Feast Farm here in Southwest Washington is just one of a number of farms that offer a farm-to-table dining experience that should be part of every food lover’s summer experience this year.