Dining Reviews

Locavores Only

dn leadFarm dinners at Route 1 Farms and the Homeless Garden Project expand the revolution

It just doesn’t get any more idyllic than the farm dinner I enjoyed at Route 1 Farms’ Rancho del Oso coastal eden on Waddell Creek.

Stretched out overlooking the fields and redwoods, the white linen-covered table hosted more than 120 grateful diners, a half dozen organic growing gurus, the impeccable culinary attitude of Heidi Schlecht and Amy Padilla of Feel Good Foods, plus a lovely procession of wines from Jeff Emery’s Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard. The warm day was as spectacular as the setting, completed by an orange “supermoon” rising as we drove back to town.

Before the feast, our host Jeff Larkey, joined by his longtime partner and co-founder of mighty Route 1 Farms, Jonathan Steinberg, led us on a tour of the acres bordering Big Basin Redwoods State Park and shady Waddell Creek. Fields of dahlias in full bloom, corridors of yellow fennel, new plantings of lettuces, kale, cilantro and dill, all exuded robust aromas and colors.

To the lively tunes of the Rhythm Rangellers, we began with glasses of Albariño and Grenache, joined by outstanding sheep cheeses from Rebecca King’s Garden Variety Cheese, bread from Companion Bakeshop and the best dolmas I’ve tasted outside of Crete. Tender, packed with lemony, olive oil-marinated ground lamb and rice, they were divine appetizers. Dirty Girl Produce founder Jane Freedman (owner of Sea Level Farm) was at the table, as was Rick Everett from Everett Family Farms, and Dave Gardner from Route 1. The tales from farming legends Larkey and Steinberg were as choice as the seamless flow of dishes and wines. 

Garden Party

Even though the Route 1 Farms dinner series is sold out for the rest of the season (with a long waiting list), there’s still time to treat yourself to great al fresco foods at the Homeless Garden Project’s first Sustain Farm Supper; a multi-course meal prepared by Gema Cruz of Gabriella Cafe with wine pairings from Fogarty Winery. Between dinner and dessert, enjoy stimulating dinnertime conversation by Eli Zigas of the nonprofit organization SPUR, the author of Locally Nourished, and Nikki Silva of The Kitchen Sisters.

The dinner at the organic 3.5-acre Natural Bridges Farm will focus on the local, organic, and sustainable ingredients of  such dinners, but also on ways in which we in the Bay Area can continue to direct the conversation in sustainable food practices.

“Santa Cruz is a leader in this,” Silva agrees, “but there’s so much more we could be doing—recycling, mandatory composting—our policy-makers can do even more.”

Silva is inspired by the work done in San Francisco by action groups such as SPUR, a pathbreaking think tank of ideas and action on foodshed planning in the Bay Area.

“We could become such a model of this kind of management,” Silva says. And while it’s true that Santa Cruz has always been ahead of the sustainable curve—“after all,” she points out, “look at what we’ve done with water”—we don’t yet have systematic and mandatory re-purposing of food and compost in place. Everything in this county should be organic,” Silva insists. “We could become a magnet for environmental tourism. People could be coming to visit this region for more than simply the natural beauty.”

Join Zigas and Silva as they expand the focus of “locavore” consciousness and a discussion on “The Powerful Benefits of Promoting Local Food Systems” on Saturday, Aug. 23, from 4 – 7 p.m.

The Homeless Garden Project’s Farm Suppers continue on Sept. 27, where chefs from Soif will supply the delicious background for farm expert Daphne Miller. Tickets are $75. All proceeds from the dinners benefit the HGP’s job training programs. PHOTO: Eric Bailey

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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