Michele Grgas Thomas The Triplicate

During six days of events, community celebrates how it eats

I've known it and preached for a long time: Food brings people together. I would much rather talk business over lunch or sit down to dinner to discuss important matters than sit around a conference table or a cocktail table, for that matter.

It is, I guess, my preference to lean on food to break the ice, set the stage or jump-start a relationship that prompted me to raise my hand at a Community Food Council meeting a couple of months ago when the request for volunteers was made. Sure, I would be on the committee to create a celebration of food right here in Crescent City in conjunction with the second annual national Food Day.

Enthusiasm propelled Food Day, which is officially Oct. 24, into Wild Rivers Food Days 2012 - six days of events that began Saturday, Oct. 20. From the moment organizing began, the Food Days idea became a rolling stone rumbling through the streets of Del Norte (and Humboldt and Curry counties), gathering more momentum every day.

It came in the form of fiscal support, in-kind sponsorships, dozens of participating partners and several hundred curious attendees.

Timing couldn't have been worse. The events competed with the final presidential debate, our beloved Giants play-offs and the first World Series game. Some people probably stayed home because of thunder, lightning and hail storms. And on that sunny Saturday we kicked off with workshops, many folks preferred to work in their own gardens rather than come indoors to hear gardening tips from an expert.

But despite the challenges and the up and down audience numbers, our first Food Days celebration in Del Norte was a success.

Did it make money? Well, no, but then every event was open to the public and free. Volunteers and in-kind contributions were plentiful. Expenses were underwritten by the Healthcare District and The California Endowment Building Healthy Communities initiative.

The events joined many different hands together: authors and chefs; food producers and purveyors of furniture; a first class audio-visual system provider and an audience wanting to learn about permaculture; teens in Halloween costumes and a program providing teens healthy, free meals.

Young budding artists participated in the Food Art Show and members of Crescent Harbor Art Gallery came down to the fairgrounds to admire and hang the art work - big hands and little ones touching.

In terms of numbers, the Meatless Monday Cook-off had the largest turnout - with over 200 people. Six judges - all professional foodies - chose the manicotti by chef Charlie Fore from Porcini's as their favorite. The "People's Choice" was vegetarian taquitos prepared by Justin Hall, chef at Sutter Coast Hospital. And only a few votes behind was Anne Boulley, the Triplicate's own Artisan Cuisine columnist and Brookings caterer and food instructor, who prepared a wonderful roasted tomato soup with meatballs made from portabella mushrooms and black beans.

Our Food Fairs and Authors Night had good attendance, but more importantly, I overheard some great food-focused conversations and I saw a lot of smiling faces. The biggest smile one night had to be mine - when a young woman came up and introduced herself as the niece of my college roommate, Claire. I haven't seen Claire in 40 years, so to be able to meet and hug her beautiful niece was an incredible moment for me. And food brought us together.

Many organizations and individuals were involved in Wild Rivers Coast Food Days 2012. I can't list every name because I know I would forget someone. Just know that there were many different hands - dozens and dozens of hands - joined together contributing to the recipe of Food Days and stirring it up.

Reach Michele Thomas, the Del Norte Triplicate's publisher, at mt-ho-mas-@triplicate.com, 464-2141 or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.