I thoroughly enjoy entertaining, both personally and publicly. The largest crowd I ever convened was in the spring of 2000. Called “The Gala” it was the last in a series of downtown block parties in Grants Pass, Ore. Over 3,000 people attended.
For nearly two years, I worked with a team dedicated to keeping local businesses open while the couplet that runs through the heart of the city was ripped up, reconstructed and repaved. Concerned merchants needed to draw customers through the broken streets to their doors, and the noontime parties in the construction zone did the trick. The fifth and final block party celebrated the project’s completion and involved clowns, a conga line, a marching band, chairs delivered by the National Guard and 3,300 hamburgers grilled to order.
Last month when I invited author Ann Vileisis to Crescent City to give a presentation on her book, “Kitchen Literacy” I wanted her visit to evolve into more than a traditional book signing. I asked Teri and Ron from the Crescent City Farmers Market for their help. The “food event” as we called it took on a life of its own as farmers, cooks, students and friends created an indoor farmers market with a variety of offerings.
I knew the subject of Ann’s book would attract a local following. I was hopeful that in addition to being educational, the evening would promote a mutually beneficial synergy between growers and consumers. What I wasn’t expecting was the overwhelming support for local food production that manifested itself last Friday night in the Arts and Crafts Building at the fairgrounds.
When the doors opened, one by one, two by two, folks kept coming in a steady flow, hungry for fresh vegetables, eggs, homemade pesto, smoked salmon, dried mushrooms and all the other fabulous local products and information available about food. As you shopped, you smiled, chatted with each other and the vendors, bought books and hugged friends you had perhaps not seen since the last farmers market.
You came because of your desire to eat the freshest, most nutritious foods. You came to support local farmers and harvesters. You came to stand against the use of pesticides and preservatives in your food or out of concern for the effects on the planet caused by transporting of food thousands of miles from farm to table.
You were voracious. You shopped like it was Macy’s the day after Christmas and filled your bags full. And it seemed like every shopping bag had leeks poking out.
Paul and Julie from Coastal Air Farms were the last vendors to sign on for the event, giving me a call just the day before. Paul said that he had vegetables in his field, but wondered if anyone would show up to buy them. Well, show up you did — for carrots, potatoes, kale and chard — and for leeks. Paul and Julie sold out of their leeks. I tried to buy some, but watched the last bunch go to a determined woman in a black raincoat.
I never wanted a leek more than I did Friday night. On the way home I ranted to Rick, “I can’t believe we didn’t get a single leek.”
After much contemplation about the dynamics of supply and demand in general and leeks in particular, I came to this conclusion: There’s a new way of doing business in the kitchen. Fresh, organic, non-processed local food has caught on big time, here and across the country. It’s both new age and old-fashioned. It’s non-partisan, non-denominational and non-negotiable.
May this growing season be a great one for all our local food producers. Paul and Julie, plant more leeks and bring them to market. We’ll be waiting for you. This time I’ll be first in line.