We hear a lot these days about sustainable food and the importance of eating organic, and in Sonoma County where literally every small town and village has its own Farmers Market and access to raw, natural vegetables, perhaps we take great vegetables for granted.
The House of Happy Walls at Jack London State Park
If you’re lucky enough to have eaten locally grown, organic vegetables, you know there’s no denying their superior quality. You just cannot compare veggies plucked freshly from the earth, to those grown conventionally, harvested early, and waxed to prevent moisture loss, bruising (during shipping and handling), and to increase shelf life.
While growing organic vegetables in Sonoma County’s fertile soil – soil so rich it produces some of the world’s best wine – seems romantic and fulfilling, I was recently invited to learn more about what it takes to be an organic farmer. I was surprised to learn that sustaining the industry takes more than good soil and sun.
Pretty tables dressed abundantly with flowers in Ball Mason jars
“The Organic Life” is a yet to be completed documentary on one man’s pursuit of the alternative lifestyle of working full time on a farm. The film called to our attention the struggles faced daily, and yearly, and the challenges farmers face to earn a living decent enough to find the passion to start the cycle of work over again the very next year.
While only partially finished, the film covered two seasons and from them alone, we were left with a sense that the plight of a farmer is much harder than perhaps we realize. There’s a certain charm and innocence to a life of farming, and without the public’s commitment and support, there’s vulnerability too.
Casey Beck, the film’s producer, chats with a guest styling a retro Gunny Sacks dress, and looks perfect for the occasion
The documentary’s producer is Casey Beck – a filmmaker that moved to Sonoma County with her boyfriend Austin – who happens to be the farmer. We learn more about their experience, and on this evening as we came together with community members and even national press, for a work-in-progress screening and farm-to-table dinner, we helped raise funds and awareness to bring this film to completion.
A picture taken of a print that was up for grabs in the silent auction. The field is ready for planting at Paul’s Produce, located off of Arnold Drive in Sonoma
The event, planned at the Jack London State Park, and designed by Melanie King, of Dreamers and Heroes, also served to raise funds for The State Park system, and the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association.
Tony Coturri brought wines and in depth knowledge which he shared with guests
As we entered the grounds of the park on a beautiful evening in early March, we were directed along a path that led to the park’s House of Happy Walls (the residence of Charmaine London until her death in 1955) by volunteers pouring organic and biodynamic wines from Coturri Winery. The wines were paired at progressive stations, with locally produced cheeses. As we approached the London cottage, we were greeted by Tony Coturri himself. (He was so taken with the Organic Life project that he created a custom blend that featured a label of the same name.)
Entering the Tent
Once gathered, guests were treated to a screening of the film and a short but informative Q & A afterward. We then headed back down the path, now lit with lanterns that called to our attention sweeping Oaks that danced in the park’s shadows. As we approached the tent where the remainder of the evening was to take place, it’s clear side walls and ceiling reflected a warm glow that beckoned us inside.
Personalized place setting at the Meyer Lemon table
Seated at designated tables, each with its own vegetable designation, we engaged in lively conversation with other health-minded locals. As coincidence or maybe something more poignant would have it, I found myself seated next to a woman I had recently conversed with on Facebook, (yet had never met personally). From her Facebook post, I learned more on the issues surrounding the controversial mega seed distributor Monsanto. And now how ironic and appropriate was it to be breaking bread with her and dining on sustainable cuisine?!
Also appropriate was the décor and design of event space. As we sat at intimate tables adorned with fresh floral bouquets set in canning jars, at our feet were gently used carpets, recycled from the homes of others. The mismatched carpets complimented the mismatched china at each setting, and the tasty Amuse Bouche served in matching tea cups and saucers (handed down from generations of grandmothers before us) was an authentically perfect reminder that sustainability is a lifestyle, and on this occasion, an elegant backdrop for the farm to table dinner yet to come.
Chef John Toulze
Prepared by Sonoma’s girl and the fig restaurant, Owner Sondra Bernstein and Executive Chef John Toulze, addressed the crowd and shared their dedication to creating a simple menu that reflected the elegance of the vegetables and other locally sourced ingredients. The meal was delicious and all vegetables were of course harvested from the farm featured in the movie, Paul’s Produce. Served family style we were treated to three courses. (See menu for details.)
Live music from two different bands supported the lively atmosphere and as the wine flowed, the silent auction continued. At the time of writing this I’m still wondering if I was the winner of one of the packages…It was a good cause, a great event, highlighting the importance of year round support for local farmers. They work 365 days a year to give us their best in produce and in education, yet from year to year they face the challenges of not knowing what each growing season will bring. With one bad season, or tractor engine malfunction, operations can be halted and even shut down. Sustaining practices means sustaining the passion that drives them to work year-round for a less than an average salary. The least we can do is enjoy the fruits of their labor. There’s a reason it costs more than food conventionally farmed, and The Organic Life is an important documentary bringing truth and conversation from the farms and into our minds and hearts.
To learn more about some of the local businesses that support organic farming in Sonoma County, please visit the following sites: