Speed Dating with Fork & Shovel in Healdsburg


(originally posted March 3, 2010)

Writing about gardens last week all my reference points seemed to be pulling from old friends and dead writers? A bit maudlin, no? Luckily, on Tuesday night Barndiva hosted Fork & Shovel’s annual get-together ~ a speed dating evening between the county’s best sustainable farmers and the chefs who rely on them. It was (excuse me for tempting fate) a hopeful evening in the extreme. Screw maudlin.

Fork & Shovel is primarily an Internet grange, but once a year we face off, flirting shamelessly about our varieties, heirlooms and breeds. A barn dance, without the music. A chance to build a definition of sustainable that can’t be co-opted. This is a crowd that doesn’t just know its food, it grows its food. Then cooks it.

But we really do live in different time zones. Think the Early Bird & the Owl on bio-dynamic crack.

The evening started a bit awkwardly ~ with everyone soaked from the rain and fumbling with name tags with either a fork or a shovel stamped on them. There were loads of new (young) faces. Luckily, Spencer had filled a huge punchbowl with one of his vodka and blood orange concoctions (this one held about 80 portions) and before long the drink wasn’t the only thing flowing. The evening officially began with a hilarious improv between Deborah Walton (Canvas Ranch) and Sondra Bernstein (Girl an the Fig) ~ issues of pricing, and delivery and how much mud a commercial kitchen can handle were deftly raised, then put to one side as farmers took to the podium, one by one. They had 30 seconds to charm chefs, tiny pencils hovering above Fork & Shovel pads.

John had brought the wood burning Rosso oven and before long crispy-edged pizzas laden with examples of the produce we’d just heard farmers singing the praises of started arriving on the bar. Even Mr. Hales, who is not known to enjoy anything he can’t eat with a knife and fork, seemed to be tasting one of each. (One of the nicer moments of the evening for me was sharing the Rosso energy under the makeshift tent during a sudden deluge ~ the smell of warm crust, wild mushrooms, arugula, chorizo, fontina was transporting).

We drank many bottles of wine ~ this is a great BYOB crowd ~ they bring it and they drink it. Bellwether contributed three gorgeous mounds of their new ricotta to taste, there was Big Dream Ranch Honey, Apple Farm Cider and Syrup and toward the end of the evening Doug Lipton opened bottles of his exquisite Home Ranch ’07 Muscat Blanc. If all that weren’t enough, everyone brought an old fashioned dessert ~ double stacked platters of cookies and fruit bars, spice cakes, cheese cakes, Hungarian “these are the walnuts I grow” layer cakes. Somewhere in heaven, Fanny Farmer was smiling down.

We are a Gossipy crowd: doll sheep, who already has tomato starts in the ground (lots of dubious eyebrow raising), how long before Sofia’s plow horses would be fully trained, and whoa, what to make of the sudden interest in classes on how to butcher whole animals? By the end of the evening Barndiva’s contract planting list had doubled, we had finally made it onto Liam Gallagher’s baby lamb allocation list, Karen agreed (though I doubt she will remember) to sell us a pig and do a cooking class with it in the new studio space, and I had collected the names of several goat farmers that swore they would serial call Chef Ryan. (My repeated efforts to bring this lean, light on the land source of protein to Barndiva’s menus have not, up to now, been successful.)

Fork & Shovel is about farmers and chefs working together to create an honorable business model that brings our enthusiasm to the public through increased sales. But we also share a landscape, a view. We are all trying to survive, to thrive even, in this difficult recession, growing beautiful food and cooking it with commitment and passion. We ended the evening with a promise to launch a series of First Sunday Fork & Shovel Dinners across the county.

I suppose maudlin serves a purpose, but what keeps me going in this business does not reside in looking backward. It is knowing that everything these farmers plant tomorrow, any animal they raise, might eventually land on a plate somewhere in my kitchen, eye to eye with Chef Ryan, to be blessed by his talent before being sent out for you to devour in the dining room. “Eat the view” is the most heartening three words in my vocabulary.

Here is the list of Barndiva’s fellow speed daters on Feb. 23, 2010.

Reminder: even if you were born to it and have your parent's experience to pull on, farming is crazy hard work with very few pots of gold at the end of the day. (Pots of poop is more like it. Which is gold to them). Support these sustainable farmers by frequenting the talented chefs who feature their food.

(The list below represents about half our membership. For a full list, visit www.forkandshovel.com and become a supporting member!)

Fork & Shovel Farmers who speed dated Tuesday Feb. 23 @ Barndiva

Bellwether Farms, Big Dream Ranch, Blankety Blank Farms, Canvas Ranch, Cultivating Impact, De Vero, Dragonfly, Early Girl Farms, Eastside Farm, Foggy River Farm, Gleason Ranch, Gretchen Giles (editor of The Bohemian), Healdsburg Eggs, Home Farm, Jim Leonardis Organics, Linda Peterson (representing Farm-Link), Mendocino Organics, Mix, Nana Mae Organics, Owen Family Farm, Oliver’s Market, Paula Downing (F&S Steering Committee, SR and Sebastapol Farmers Market Director), Quetzal, Sky Saddle, Sonoma Meat Buying Club, The Philo Apple Farm,Weed Farm

List of Restaurants Chefs they flirted unabashedly with:

Barndiva, Boon Eat & Drink, Cyrus, Dry Creek Kitchen, Inn at the Tides, Jimtown, Mateo Granados Catering, Mayacamas, Nick’s Cove, Park Ave Catering, Ralph’s Bistro, Relish Culinary School, Rosso Pizzeria and Wine Bar, Santi, The Girl & the Fig/ ESTATE/ The Girl & The Fig Cafe, Vintage Valley Catering, Zazu, Zin

All text and photography, Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted)

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