As dusk approached on the day that the front page of The Bulletin featured an article about the financial woes of the Common Table, a line of people formed out the door of the downtown nonprofit restaurant. The room was full, booming with conversation, exclamations, and introductions.
"Apparently people in this town actually read the newspaper," commented one volunteer.
While the urgency of the article might have played a role, the crowd that Friday evening was lured in by the monthly Meet Your Farmer Dinner, an event that has become increasingly popular since its inception almost a year ago. The event is a dinning and educational experience; a four course meal prepared by Common Table chef Bethlynn Rider using products from one local farm, the farmers of which give a presentation after the meal. The farm featured this month is Bend's landmark organic produce grower Fields Farm, located just two miles east of downtown.
"The intent is to showcase local producers to the public that they might not otherwise hear about. Basically connecting customer with producer," explained event founder Nicole Timm of Central Oregon Locavore.
The restaurant's namesake, a 20-foot walnut table in the center of the room, along with a second row of tables of equal length all lined with vases of freshly picked flowers, bench seats and chairs provide an ideal communal setting. The set-up is casual. Most dinners have purchased tickets online in advance and check in at the front counter next to a small chalkboard displaying this evening's menu. A situation that would seem to breed chaos - people entering at various times, no common beginning and end to the meal, four courses served in a succession to match the pace of each diner - is handled gracefully by a mostly volunteer staff.
I squeeze between fellow diners at the end of a bench seat where conversation generally revolves around the dietary mania that fuels these events. Tonight's dinner is raw in celebration of the short window of fresh produce available in our temperamental high desert climate. The first course arrives quickly, a tomato-watermelon gazpacho, refreshing with zucchini adding a nice crunch to the all-to-often soggy gazpacho. Next is a salad with a nice balance of sweet, tangy and nutty flavors. The main course is a beet ravioli with thinly sliced raw beets towering in a spiral with cashew cream sauce between.
Just as dessert arrives for most dinners, a lovely lime mousse in a nut crust, topped with gelato from Bonta (a new ice cream maker in Bend), Debbe and Jim Fields of Fields Farm begin their presentation. Timm introduces Fields as the "godfather of organic farming in Central Oregon," and rightly so. Jim and Debbe have been at it since 1989, operating as a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm since their inception, a popular model these days, but virtually unheard of 20 years ago.
The CSA model allows the risks and benefits of farming to be shared between grower and consumer. Consumers purchase a "share" at the beginning of the season, giving the farm a guaranteed market in exchange for weekly food boxes.
"We went and asked our friends, co-workers and people we were in co-operative daycare with to join us in this farming experiment. Their small amount of money helped us to do this and allowed us to learn how to be farmers," explained Fields.
If you're interested in becoming a CSA member of Fields Farm, the Fields suggest calling in April to get your name on a list that will be invited to join the farm next season. A $620 share will get you 25 weeks of fresh organic local produce. Event organizer, Central Oregon Locavore, is a year-round online market offering a wide range of local food products. Pay a visit to their site (centraloregonlocavore) for information on upcoming Meet Your Farmer Dinners, volunteer opportunities on local farms, and news and events for our thriving local food community.