By Chef Julia A. Kendrick Conway for Culination Magazine
Farm-to-table is a big buzzword today in the culinary and restaurant world. It seems every other menu touts a local connection, identifying ingredients by naming the farms that produce them. But how much does the trend really benefit farmers and our local food economies?
Here in the far reaches of Northern California, it has become a reality through the Good Farm Fund, which raises money to match dollar for dollar the EBT coupons used to buy fresh produce in our farmers’ markets, and runs a grant program administered by and benefiting small farmers.
The Good Farm Fund recently sponsored a fundraising dinner at a local ranch, where each farmer was paired with a local chef. 175 guests enjoyed dishes based on ingredients that were grown, raised or produced within the county. The vibrant menu was as diverse as the types of farms and farmers; carrot and beet cake with red wattle ham and summer slaw, carrots roasted with Moroccan spices and served over a carrot top salad, Thai green bean curry with coconut milk and fresh basil and peaches wrapped in pancetta and roasted.
As a caterer, we source local ingredients whenever possible, so it was a pleasure to meet with our farmer and choose what item was in abundance given the season; creating a dish that would highlight its freshness and special character. In our case, it was rainbow carrots, which were roasted within twenty four hours of picking. The carrot top salad was born of the mounds of perfectly crisp greens that remained after cleaning, which were trimmed of their stalks and tossed with vinaigrette of cranberry-pomegranate vinegar and blood orange olive oil. Each serving of carrots was plated atop the salad, allowing the subtle taste of the fresh carrots to carry though both components of the dish.
The challenge for all of us is to find ways to support farmers, whether through fundraisers, direct sourcing, or shopping at your local farmers’ market.
Many farmers barely scratch out a living, much like chefs, and put every ounce of their passion into what they grow. No, local products are not the cheapest, and you can’t always count on the availability of a specific item, but if you let the aromas, flavors and colors influence your menu, the results can be profitable for everyone, including the customer.
Julia Kendrick Conway is Owner and Executive Chef at Assaggiare Mendocino. She is leading a chef’s life of Farm-to-Table cuisine, while building awareness for the Good Farm Fund.
An event this week in Ukiah was designed to not only showcase local food producers, but hopefully garner interest in helping them succeed at a daunting task: making a living as a farmer.
“It is nearly impossible to grow food for your neighbors and make enough money to live on,” said Scott Cratty, the director of the Ukiah Farmers Market and one of the organizers of the event, Farm to Table Mendocino. “And it is next to impossible for a young farmer to succeed without a great deal of support from the community.”
The event was hosted June 24 at the Yokayo Ranch, which borders Mendocino College, and featured food grown and prepared by Mendocino County farmers and chefs, along with local wines, beer and spirits. “A vibrant agricultural community is something worth celebrating, and great food is one of the few things we all can appreciate,” said Cratty, explaining that “farm-to-table” dinners which bring food straight from the farmers’ hands to diner’s plates are proving quite popular, but that this dinner was designed to achieve more than an appreciation for locally grown food.
“We decided to do an event that would ‘feed’ the farmers, as well,” said Cratty, referring to the fact that the proceeds of the event would go to the Good Farm Fund, which describes itself as “a community organization dedicated to providing direct support to small farmers in Mendocino and Lake Counties, and increasing local food security for all members of our community.”
After being invited to purchase tickets to the event, diners were treated to appetizers like goat cheese from Shamrock Artisan Goat Cheese of Willits and rye crackers from the Mendocino Grain Project. The small dinner plates included Thai curry green beans by Black Dog Farm of Potter Valley, a selection of cured meats from Heart Arrow Ranch in Redwood Valley, and a vegetable tapenade paired with crostini provided by Saucy and Covelo Organics.
The special guest chef was John Ash, known to many as the “Father of Wine Country Cuisine,” who said that Mendocino County “doesn’t get the credit it deserves” for all it produces, a fact he blamed on a mix of geography and reputation.
“You all are a bunch of food outlaws out here,” Ash said. “But dinners like these can be the model you use to get Mendocino on the map.”
Another way Mendocino County can be put on the map, diners were told, is if residents decide to invest in agricultural ventures. One successful model is Fortunate Farm of Caspar, which partnered with North Coast Brewing Company of Fort Bragg after the company tried to find uses for the tons of spent grain it produces every year.
“I grew up here and loved farming here, but never thought I could make a living farming here,” said Gowan Batist of Fortunate Farm, explaining that her “obsession” with spent grain led to the supportive relationship with North Coast Brewing Company, something she not only credits with giving her “my name on the deed to the farm I live and work on,” but also with “making me a better farmer.”
Another way the community can help young farmers was presented by John Kuhry, the executive director of the Economic Development and Financing Corporation, which recently launched a Direct Public Offering, which may be used to provide the infrastructure needed for a wool processing facility, or a meat processing plant.
“It will take local investments and pool that money into a loan program,” said Kuhry, describing the DPO as “investment crowd funding,” and Ukiah resident Matthew Gilbert as “the poster child for what this fund can do.”
Gilbert, a Mendocino County native who began shearing sheep when he was 12, said he has seen tons of wool go to waste in the county because it is so difficult and expensive to get it processed. He recently bought the equipment he needs to process wool locally, and was given a permit by the city to operate a mill out of his home in Ukiah.
“This project is shovel-ready; we just need enough capital to get it up and running,” Gilbert said, explaining that he cannot afford to pay the interest rates on loans offered by traditional banks. “Our goal is to raise $250,000 for the DPO, and if we do, Matt Gilbert’s mill could become a reality,” said Sarah Bodnar, coordinator of the Farm to Table Mendocino dinner and co-founder of the Good Farm Fund. The dinner was sponsored by The Community Foundation, The Mendocino County Farm Bureau, Leadership Mendocino, Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc., North Coast Opportunities, the Economic Development and Financing Corporation, the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District and the Mendocino Land Trust.
For more information on how to donate, call the EDFC at 467-5953, or go to goodfarmfund.org.
By Heidi Dickerson, Special to the Ukiah Daily Journal
An upcoming Farm to Table dinner combines acclaimed chef John Ash, local restaurants paired with local farms, Mendocino wines, a historic ranch setting, the announcement of a new way to invest, and a mission. These tidbits outline the first-of-its-kind event dedicated to enhancing local agriculture by bringing together agricultural land holders interested in diversifying, community members interested in local investment, bankers, business leaders, ranchers, farmers and chefs to look at ways to pool resources.
The dinner program includes sharing stories of joint business and farm ventures such as one with North Coast Brewing Company and Fortunate Farm in Caspar, the launch of the first community-based Direct Public Offering in California, and a dine-around tasting of inspired plates at the historic Yokayo Ranch, a stunning hillside estate built in the 1920s.
“This dinner seems like the natural next step toward securing a diverse agricultural future in Mendocino County; we’ll be enjoying the best that local farms and chefs have to offer while discussing the most exciting horizons in food and farming,” says Sarah Bodnar, coordinator of the Farm to Table Mendocino dinner and Co-founder of the Good Farm Fund, which will benefit from the proceeds.
Bodnar, who along with her eat-local friend and farmer Gowan Batist, spent an entire year eating only food grown in Mendocino, has a passion for celebrating local cuisine and increasing the viability of local farms. She envisioned this dinner where the Economic Development and Financing Corporation (EDFC) would officially announce its new loan fund, which may be used to finance infrastructure for local agricultural production such as a meat or wool processing facility. John Kuhry, Executive Director of EDFC, will explain the new way locals will be able to fund such projects by investing in California’s first community-based Direct Public Offering DPO.
Chef John Ash, an internationally acclaimed food and wine educator and the former culinary director at Fetzer Vineyards, “is passionate about cooking from the source and loves Mendocino,” says Bridget Harrington, a former coworker at Fetzer and one of the organizers of the event. Harrington is the proprietress of Patrona restaurant in Ukiah, which will be paired with Redwood Valley’s Floodgate Farm for the dinner. Ash will be working with farmer Ben Wolff from Potter Valley.
The menu is currently taking shape as the weather warms and the farmer/chef teams select the farm-fresh items that they will work with. Guests will enjoy several seasonal surprises from an excellent roster of farm-friendly chefs from throughout the county.
Other restaurants, caterers and chefs paired with farmers for the dinner items include: Assaggiare Mendocino with Fortunate Farm, Caspar; Megan Katherine Swenson Catering with Shamrock Artisan Goat Cheese, Willits; Boonville General Store with Anderson Valley Community Farm, Boonville; Black Dog Catering with Black Dog Farm, Potter Valley; Chef Blaire Ladd with Live Power Community Farm, Covelo; Mac Magruder with Magruder Ranch, Potter Valley; Mendo Bistro with Parducci’s estate farm, Ukiah; Mendocino Organics with Heart Arrow Ranch, Redwood Valley; Ellery Clark Catering and Produce, Potter Valley; Pilon Kitchen with Tequio Community Farm, Willits; Saucy with Covelo Organics, Covelo; Tango Foods with Lovin’ Mama Farm, Potter Valley.
Desserts will be prepared by the Hopland Taphouse with Grilli’s Acre Ukiah; Kemmy’s Pies; and more to come.
Libations include donated wine from Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. and hand-crafted beer from North Coast Brewing Company. In addition Black Oak Coffee will supply the coffee and American Craft Distillers will share after-dinner custom cocktails.
Mark Ruedrich the brewmaster from North Coast Brewing Company will share how his company has formed a unique partnership with Fortunate Farm. For example, the brewery provides the spent hops and other grains to the farm, which in turn grows food for the taproom restaurant.
Scott Cratty, owner of Renaissance Market in Ukiah and the manager of the Ukiah Farmers Market is one of the organizers of the Farm to Table Dinner. What does he hope will come from this event? “It will be a total success if we make a connection that eventually helps one new farmer succeed in Mendocino County or generates financing for one new flourishing local business. But even if someone just comes to eat, it will be a memorable, flavorful evening at which you will be introduced to some of Mendocino County’s most exciting farmers and chefs.”
The Farm to Table Dinner takes place on Wednesday, June 24 beginning at 5:30 p.m. with optional ranch tours. Dinner begins at 6 p.m. with the program immediately following and culminates with dessert and cocktails around the pool. For more information on this limited seating, RSVP-only event email FarmtoTableMendocino[at]gmail[dot]com.