Food, Friendship, and Farm Fatales. These were the key ingredients of the first annual Farminista's Feast, a seasonal farm to table dinner honoring nine Novato women in the trenches of the slow food movement. What the attendees shared in common, aside from their commitment to advocacy for sustainable food production, is a connection to me; a food blogger who interviewed each of them over the course of the past year.
September marked a special milestone for me. A year ago last month, I decided to combine my creative writing skills with my love of local sustainable agriculture and author a weekly blog called Novato Farm To Table on the Novato Patch.
The resulting adventure has been a journey of absolute joy which has allowed me to establish personal relationships with many North Bay farmers, ranchers, cheese makers, bakers, and chefs whose commitment to bringing quality food to our family tables continues to inspire me daily. I love sharing their stories, raising awareness, and encouraging my readers to know where their food comes from by supporting local food producers.
As it turns out, many of the slow food trail blazers I interviewed were women. Their individual commitment to supporting our community food shed was a common thread destined to become a beautiful tapestry. With this seed in mind, I thought it would be fun to create an opportunity to introduce them to each other.
I dreamed of hosting a farm to table potluck dinner featuring home-cooked dishes that would showcase one or more seasonal ingredients grown or raised by each guest. The event would celebrate women's contributions to local slow food while commemorating the anniversary of my quest to write about their endeavors.
When I shared this inspiration with my friend Lisa Marvier of Farm Girl Nursery, she graciously volunteered the use of her beautiful Indian Valley farm property as the setting for our first annual fete.
So, on a recent warm September night as dusk was spreading its golden light across the farm, nine women made their way to the sprawling gardens at Farm Girl Nursery for the first Farminista's Feast — each bearing her carefully prepared offering for the communal table. Some already knew each other; others were meeting for the first time.
Gathering on the outdoor veranda porch overlooking the beautiful grounds, the group chatted casually as the sun dipped below the horizon, relaxing with a glass of wine and some appetizers I had prepared: a plate of freshly harvested brown turkey figs, stuffed with sugared organic walnuts and Point Reyes Blue Cheese, finished with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction, as well as homemade heirloom tomato-basil jam served with fresh Belfiore ricotta cheese on toasted baguette slices.
Our appetites primed, we soon drifted naturally toward the long, rustic wood farm table waiting for us at the far end of the porch. Loosely draped with a swath of moss-green lace and set with ivory bisque ware, it was garnished with candles and mason jar centerpieces loosely filled with bouquets of garden hydrangea and dahlias. Strings of white twinkle lights adorned the branches of a nearby tree, while the music of Van Morrison and Frank Sinatra wafted gently on the breeze in the background.
Settling in our seats, we filled our bowls with the first of many courses: a Curried Nantes Carrot Bisque, made from the sweet orange roots I'd pulled from my garden just hours before.
In the hours that followed, the feast unfolded with an unhurried ease as each guest unveiled her contribution; the eclectic surprise menu of sumptuous dishes making a memorable meal that punctuated our shared love of good food.
It was the perfect recipe for sparking new friendship — talking and laughing long into the night while getting to know each other over each delicious course. The lively conversation wandered freely from one timely topic to the next as we sought and found common ground in each other's perspectives.
Sitting at the head of the table I couldn't help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment as we raised our glasses in a communal toast. You never know where an idea may lead you if you are brave enough to embrace it and move forward.
Renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has." So it is with these farministas — each making her own contribution to change the way people perceive their food, not just as sustenance, but as the essence that fuels who we are.
My journey as a writer continues to unfold, and I am humbled to be in the company of these amazing "farm fatales" who make it all the sweeter:
Deann DaSilva, owner of Just Struttin' Farm in Novato, is passionate about raising rare heritage breed chickens. These pure-bred boutique birds are currently in decline and in danger of being phased out all together by farms that favor conventional varieties of birds bred to produce more eggs in a shorter time. Deann launched her business in 2010 using three-quarters of an acre on the family ranch property to raise free-range laying hens. She now focuses strictly on hatching rare breeds to sell. Visit her website at www.juststruttinfarm.com for more information on purchasing heritage breed chicks and hatching eggs.
Her contribution: Vegetable Quiché made with free-range hens eggs and garden squash.
Susan Lustenberger, owner/chef of Novato's popular White Rose Ranch, just won the Novato Chamber of Commerce SummerFest Top Chef competition for the second year in a row. Susan serves up pre-fix dinners "to go" Tuesday through Friday evenings at her tiny storefront located at 902 Grant Ave. (in the rear of Sentimental Journey Antiques on Machin) in Novato. Her southern-southwestern inspired comfort food uses locally sourced, sustainably farmed, organic ingredients. Check out her weekly menu selections at www.thewhiteroseranch.com. Place orders by calling ahead to 415-246-1981.
Her contribution: White Rose Ranch's signature Heirloom Tomato Pie, made with tomatoes straight from her garden.
Annie Spiegelman, gardening guru, columnist, and school garden advocate is affectionately known as the "Dirt Diva" for her work promoting organic gardening. Published author of Annie's Garden Journal, Growing Seasons, and most recently, Talking Dirt, Annie is well-known in the community as an activist for educating youth about sustainable gardening and eating real food. Inspired to action by the devastating childhood obesity statistics in this country, Spiegelman believes the key to instilling healthy eating habits lies in getting kids excited about growing their food. To that end, she dreams of having an organic garden on every school campus in the Bay Area. Visit her website at www.dirtdiva.com .
Her contribution: Fresh Pumpkin Spice Bread Pudding.
Lisa Poncia married into a fourth generation Marin County ranch family. She and husband Loren manage Stemple Creek Ranch just north of Tomales in West Marin, a property purchased by his Italian immigrant great-grandfather in 1902 and operated as a dairy until 1989. In 2005 Lisa & Loren took over management of the family ranch, making the decision to become organic and switch from dairy to beef cattle and sheep. Stemple Creek Ranch is one of the finest examples I know of sustainable, humane farming in practice. Their free-range, grass-fed beef and lamb are unparalleled. For more information on where to purchase their meat, or take a ranch tour, visit their website at www.stemplecreek.com .
Her contribution: Slow cooked Sweet and Spicy Grass-Fed Stemple Creek Beef Brisket
Suzanne Griffin is a Certified Natural Chef and owner of Cooking By The Bay, a San Rafael based business offering themed, hands-on cooking classes that emphasize fresh local ingredients and seasonal menus with a decidedly healthy focus. A strong proponent of eating organic whole foods, Chef Griffin teaches classes in Holistic Culinary Arts at her alma mater, Bauman College, as well as offering her services as a personal chef and caterer. For more information on Chef Griffin's upcoming classes and events, visit her website at www.cookingbythebay.com .
Her contribution: Organic Summer Vegetable Gratin.
Kirsten Neff, talented poet/journalist and regular contributor to Edible Marin-Sonoma Magazine, has been in the forefront of the local grass-roots movement to promote school garden projects. She and husband Sam were instrumental in establishing the Novato Charter School's Enchanted Garden, which has served as a model of excellence for other school gardens in Marin County and beyond. Kirsten is passionate about supporting local, sustainable food producers, and educating children about environmental stewardship. She is also an accomplished food writer. Links to her published works can be found on her website at www.kirstenjonesneff.com/blog.html
Her contribution: Rustic Mixed Organic Garden Greens and Herb Salad with vinaigrette dressing.
Lisa Marvier, owner of Farm Girl Nursery in Novato, is an entrepreneurial force. She and husband Mike Ceresa opened the nursery on their 1.2 acre Indian Valley farm last March, where the focus has been on educating kids about organic gardening from an experiential viewpoint. To that end, Farm Girl launched a series of popular kids gardening and cooking camps that instill an appreciation for where food comes from. In addition to the nursery, Marvier operates an on-site barn store featuring heirloom seeds, organic plant starts, and rustic garden art pieces. Always forward-thinking, Lisa has teamed up with Natural Chef Suzanne Griffin to host seasonal farm to table dinners on the beautiful veranda at her estate property. For more information on upcoming events, visit www.Facebook.com/FarmGirlNursery.
Her contribution: the perfect venue and ambience for our first Farminista's Feast!
Anita Jones, aspiring novelist, oral-tradition storyteller, and Master Gardener has a pension for using her savvy to teach at-risk teens about organic gardening. A tireless volunteer at Marin Oaks Continuation High School, Anita, along with school garden advocate Annie Spiegelman, supervises the before-school garden club program. Her mission: to use the garden to connect with students, teaching them about good nutrition and making positive life choices. Anita is currently writing Peach Seed Monkey, her debut historical novel/screenplay set in the American south for which she was a Novella semi-finalist in the William Faulkner William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. You can follow her debut work-in-progress by visiting http://peachseedmonkey.wordpress.com/home/
Her contribution: fresh harvested asian pear-apples.
* I would also like to thank photographers Trinette Reed and Chris Gramly for capturing the essence of our evening so beautifully! See more of their work at http://trinettereed.com/