On the ‘Dinners With Grain and Vegetables’

This farm has been on a pleasant winding road so far.

Communities of workers and eaters are meeting each other at dinner tables, virtually on social networking sites, and on jaunts to the farmscape 25 miles from the town I can’t wait to retake with all my spirit.

In December and January, many friends (good and old) gathered at each of my parents’ nooks.  Here’s a little of my take on these great events, written for those looking to relive the experience and for those happy enough to live vicariously . . .

A few of ‘Ze ingredients . . .

A few of the vibes . . .

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We didn’t keep a precise count and there certainly wasn’t a roll call, but generally 20 fine eaters came to the fore each of four nights. They came to hear more about what it means to be a farm member and to support their friends growing their foods. And they seemed to be left a little less hungry thanks to all the kitchen help in pairing green salads with a suite of these hearty soups:

Tomato, Kale and Barley Soup
Winter Squash Curry Soup
Roasted Butternut Squash, Fennel, and Farro Salad
Curried Carrots and Lentils

So . . . my dad and I are better at cooking together than we are posing for stinkin’ photographs . . .

Cookin' With My Dad

A Hint of the Food We Prepared (shown here: grain salad + squash curry soup) . . .

A Hint of the Food We Prepared (shown here: grain salad + squash curry soup)

Truth be told:  the real ingredients that made these Dinners With Grains and Vegetables successful didn’t need any cooking or preparation.  Of course, I’m referring to the good people and good beer . 

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Here are some definite takeaways from the ‘Dinners With Grain and Vegetables’ events . . .

WE’LL EAT, WE’LL TALK, WE’LL INVOLVE OTHERS IN OUR PASSIONS

-Tim brought up the erosion of prime agricultural soils that border Missoula and nearby towns in Missoula County.  He dropped the Missoula Community Food and Agricultural Coalition’s name and mentioned some of the work they’re doing to address this issue in case any members want to get involved.

-Anne brought up the work that she is doing with the Missoula Urban Demonstration (MUD) Project and other organizations to spur a local seed library.  A few experiences (one with a Montana producer and another with someone on the East Coast who’s been selecting for useful traits of heritage grains grown in an ecological manner) have really clarified the importance of creating institutions in our communities where seeds can be shared.  There are paths we can take with seeds.  One points due West.  If we take it, we’ll be mimicking the big-guys — the DuPont’s, the Monsanto’s, and the Syngenta’s.  We’ll be hording our seeds — those dormant embryonic pods capable of leading communities toward independence through local weather adaption or pest resistance.  Despite well-meaning intentions (e.g. the preservation of local market dominance for one farm or another), this is a path littered with bread crumbs; crumbs that crystallized due to an honest to goodness  fear that newcomers will bring about competition for burgeoning markets for, say, locally-produced whole grains that certainly haven’t fully ripened.  The other path is a loop that, simply put, probably returns us to place our ethics say we should get back to.  That is, the traditions of a diverse collection of heirloom seeds that once disseminated from farm-hand to farm-hand; seeds that could be planted and replanted true to neighbor’s type; and that could be further selected and crossed with other similar genotypes on the farm in order to spur stronger seed stocks.    I can see how, before land grant institutions and multinational corporations took on a dominant role in seed breeding, the connections between farmers who grew seeds were probably incredibly strong.  This is the path I see Missoula’s seed library taking, step by step as it becomes more formal and reliable.  And I can’t wait to get involved when I re-enter the valley!

ONE THING LEADS TO THE NEXT

Several women I’d never met joined the farm instantly after the meal and promised to bring others on board.  Then they invited me to dine with them soon.   [update: I totally took them up on the offer two weekends ago — oh, what a night!  It sure wasn’t an ordinary meal because, well, they’re incredibly unique human beings; let’s just say they served up dishes I’d never tried before because … my parents weren’t Bulgarian Turks!  :)]

EATIN’ + SHARIN’ = LIVIN’ WELL

Geoff, who dreamed, and Chérie, who agreed, that by purchasing a full share the two neighbors of the self-proclaimed “Fifth Street Estates” could meet their own vegetabalian desires WHILE ALSO donating what fresh food remained of each week’s share to the Missoula Food Bank.  An auspicious idea, no?

Rainbow Chard

A TALE OF TWO VEGGIES

Two glorious family friends connected at a dinner at my mother’s dwelling.  One friend, Leslie, picked up on Laura’s interest in farm fresh late-season veggies (the fruits and roots).  But she also heard Laura loud and clear when she spoke of her success in raising up killer greens (kale, chard, arugula, lettuce, spinach) in the early spring.  The catalyst for synergy, the reason why they’ve joined the farm and purchased full shares is that Laura is fairly disinterested in the cannonball-sized deliveries of greens in June and July.  Leslie couldn’t see the farm any more differently.  When she spoke of her passion for abundant greens, her tone painted a powerful portrait of her, her saute iron, a ton of garlic scapes, and a freckle-to-freckle smile!  Because the two are digging such polar offerings of this farm, it seemed common sense to join forces.  This solidarity is going to pay dividends.  I can’t wait to hear more from and to cook more with them (if they let me near their Rainbow Chard and Weisnicht’s Ukranian Tomato!).

“HE’S JUST DOWN THE ROAD FROM YOU…”

-Another natural connection came a’streamin’ out of my oldest friend Parker’s dad’s mouth.  Bob spoke of the Beckley family’s dentist, a man who recently retired and may be seeking a cool project in his later years.  Evidently he has lived miles from the farm off Highway 12 for a good while.  Being Greenhorns in farming and the neighborhood West of Missoula, we’ll certainly seek out this wisdom!

IT’S NOT A HOUSE, IT’S NOT A HOUSE, she said.  IT’S NOT A HOUSE, IT’S A HOME!

-My mother, who’s home is one of the weekly share pickup locations, riffed on the idea of hosting many more gatherings with farm members throughout the summer!  This is insanely important.  In this age, farms like the Missoula Grain and Vegetable Co. are competing with the ultimate force driving our country’s women and men lives: convenience.  It’s so damn easy to pick up chow from a restaurant or a supermarket.  Farmers who work their asses off to spur a vision of potent community relations and a elbow-rubbing relationship to nature can’t compete with convenience on our own.  Good thing we have some good people and good beer working alongside us, eh?

Soon the gauntlet of our farm’s fresh produce will go from seed to salad.  And with a third-place for people to gather like my mom’s house, like Bernice’s or any number of Missoula brewpubs, this little community we’re building can only GROW!  This is realistic stuff!

It can only make yer young farmer smile . . .

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