Thursday, February 20, 2014

Livin' in the Blurbs: Moving Our Food System Forward


Like the pairings of Astaire and Rogers; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; and Key and Peele, there's a beautiful affinity that happens when farmers and chefs get together. On Monday, March 3, the Farmer-Chef Connection will be holding an all-day conference to further the conversation between food buyers and growers in the Northwest. This year the day is organized around five-minute, TED-style talks called  "FED" talks (get it?), featuring some of the area's best known food movers and shakers:
  • Gabe Rosen and Kina Voelz, Biwa: “Health Insurance and Wages in a Small Restaurant”
  • Frank Morton, Wild Garden Seed: “Plant Patents on Common Vegetables”
  • Samantha Bakall, Oregonian Food & Dining Reporter: “Waste Not, Want Yes: Beyond Farm-to-Table in the City Where the Dream of the ‘90s is Still Alive”
  • Alice Busch, Emergency Management Coordinator at Multnomah County Department of Human Services: “Dining Through Disaster”
  • Cory Carman, Carman Ranch: “The Steakholders in Sustainable Beef”
  • Dayna McErlean, DOC, Yakuza, and Nonna: “Successfully Broke”
  • Lyf Gildersleeve, Flying Fish Company: “Traceable Trash Fish”
Details: Farmer-Chef Connection. Mon., Mar. 3, 8:30 am-5 pm; $39 with preregistration online. Event at Western Forestry Center, 4033 SW Canyon Rd.

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Portland is a place where more and more people are starting to ask the question "Where does my food come from?" And, no, I'm not talking about that episode of Portlandia where the chicken being served in a restaurant is named Colin. It has more to do with a desire to eat healthy, local food and avoid pesticides, GMOs and big carbon footprints, to support accessibility, community and quality in our food choices. Perhaps no one exemplifies that ethos on the purveyor side than Ben Meyer of Grain and Gristle and Old Salt Marketplace. In a recent article in Forbes magazine on Portland's leading food entrepreneurs, Meyer discusses his strategies for selling the highest quality, sustainably produced meat and produce for an affordable price, plus providing all of his employees with a living wage and health care. His restaurants are places where not just his neighbors, but the farmers and ranchers he works with, can afford to eat in his restaurants. His new project is The Descendants Dinner Series, bringing together pioneering chefs of the Northwest's farm-to-table movement with outstanding area farmers and some lucky young chefs in what are sure to make delicious, as well as stimulating, evenings.

Details: The Descendants Dinner Series. Beginning Mon., Mar. 10, 6:30 pm; $100 includes beverage pairings. Reservations required. Old Salt Marketplace, 5027 NE 42nd Ave. 971-255-0167.

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Like so many modern conveniences like the internet, e-mail and artisan cheeses, it's funny how you don't realize what you've been missing until one day it comes into your life and you're, like, "Wow, how did I ever get along without it?" Until Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF) was organized to foster family farmers whose approach agriculture respected the land, treated animals humanely and sustained local communities, small farmers had very little support in advancing issues that affected them or a way to network with other farmers who shared their concerns. In addition to promoting legislation that helped ease restrictions on farm-direct sales and marketing, FoFF has been involved in efforts to ban growing canola in the Willamette Valley, started public education evenings called "InFARMation (and Beer)" to bring the public into the discussion about the direction of the state's agriculture and been involved in a myriad of other efforts. They're currently in the middle of a series of 20 Listening Sessions around the state designed to bring together farmers and ranchers to talk about the great parts of, as well as the barriers to, farming successfully in Oregon, where they can brainstorm solutions and help define the future of agricultural policy in Oregon. Upcoming sessions in the metro area are:
  • Thurs., Mar. 6, Redland Grange, 18131 S Fischers Mill Road, Oregon City, 7-9pm. Please RSVP here.
  • Mon., Mar. 10, Kennedy School, 5736 NE 33rd Avenue, Portland, 7-9pm. Please RSVP here.
Details: Listening Sessions with Friend of Family Farmers. Full statewide schedule here.

Top photo from New Seasons Market. Bottom photo from Friends of Family Farmers.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Descendents Dinner Series at 100.00 a person: please tell me again about all his values and how he is implementing them. Could any of his employees, purveyors, farmers afford to come at only 200.00 per 2 plus gratuity? Come on, this could be a Portlandia skit.

eat well,
jane

Anonymous said...

Jane,
I appreciate your point, but I feel compelled to tell you that we pride ourselves on our guiding principles of paying wages to our employees and amounts to our farmers to allow them to enjoy our menu all the time. These dinners are no exception.
I'll point out that we are bringing in phenomenal chefs (and paying them for their time), the best farmers in the nation (and buying their products at premium prices). This is not a regular meal.
These dinners are a very special occasion, and we want all of the chefs to be able to create menues that will befit the occasion.
You may not realize that we, in the restaurant industry, work extremely hard for very long hours to make you dinner. In most cases, to make your dinner cheaper, ingredients are the place to cut corners. We do not do that. We charge what we need to, in order to make a living. No one is getting rich, I can assure you.
I would simply ask you where the last great meal you had (including beverages, and the attention to detail necessary for a meal like this) for under $100. Because I would really like to dine there!
I would be happy to lay out the finances for the series, if you would like to talk in person. I find blog comments to be a very negative place for real discourse. Please feel obliged to email me: ben@oldsaltpdx.com, or stop in to old salt and I can explain why it costs what it does to hold special events like this one.
I appreciate your point, but would love to talk with you about how and why we do what we do. And hopefully you will join us and see what a value it really is.

KAB said...

Thanks, Jane, for posting and thanks, Ben, for responding.

I'd also like to point out that in addition to providing health care for his employees, Ben strives to pay a living wage to his employees and market prices to his suppliers. It's a revolutionary model for Portland and for the country.

That said, food access is, and should be, an important issue second only to food that is healthy and safe.

Great discussion, and thanks for the comments!