Tag Archives: local food

Our local food dinner

We did it! We cooked and served a meal made mostly from ingredients we grew, raised or made from scratch ourselves. We made way too much food, but no one seemed to mind taking leftovers home the next day. It was such an incredible weekend! The weather was perfect, the people wonderful and fun, my husband amazing…

Andy & I during our wedding ceremony

It’s weird to be on the other side of a weekend that we have spent many months preparing for. We’re back home and back to work for a week before heading out on our honeymoon in southern Utah. Then we’ll have to find a new project to take on – maybe getting our new land ready to build and farm on!

Andy asked me several times throughout the weekend, “Was it worth it?” Were all the hours of preparation worth it for one meal? I always said yes, absolutely.

We cooked our wedding dinner with friends and family in a summer camp kitchen

The meal provided more than just pleasure and sustenance for our guests, it was a learning experience for us as well. We gained confidence in our growing skills, since this was by far the biggest garden either of us had tended on our own. It gave us hope that anything is possible.

It was also a test of our relationship. There was stress and there were decisions to make together. We realized that the way we approach projects is quite different. I like to think things through before starting and have a plan for exactly what will happen. When we have to stray from the plan, it stresses me out. Andy, however, likes to figure things out as he goes along, and he is more flexible when something doesn’t go as planned.

Butternut squash destined for soup

“We’ll figure it out,” he said numerous times this summer. “But I want to figure it out now,” I would reply. We struggled at times and got grumpy with each other, but we’ve developed some new techniques for dealing with stress and for combining our different styles of approaching tasks. Once we let go of needing to be right, we realized that it’s better for us to be different. When you combine us, we think ahead and we’re flexible.

Kim roasted endless trays of chicken and potatoes

It’s hard to describe the weekend because for me it all went by so quickly. On Friday we gathered in the kitchen of the summer camp we rented out for the weekend. Friends and family washed, chopped, mixed, baked and boiled. We filled the walk-in cooler with trays of roast chicken and potatoes, salads, squash soup, veggie sticks, hummus, chopped watermelon and cantaloupe and more.

I can’t do Saturday justice by explaining the sequence of events. It was an emotional and incredibly wonderful day. And the food was delicious and abundant.

Max designed the image we had printed on aprons we gave away to our cooks as gifts

To be honest, I find it remarkable that we pulled this off. Neither of us have ever done any catering before, but we decided to make a meal for 90, and it worked out. I’ve been thinking lately about how neither of us are scared to take on projects, even if we don’t know how we’re going to accomplish them. I’m so grateful for this trait, which I can probably thank my parents for. Through their words and actions, they have infused me with a feeling that anything is possible with hard work and determination.

I guess this blog is done, now that our local food wedding is finished. However, I plan to start a new blog that Andy has named, Living From Scratch. We do so much from scratch – cut our own firewood, make tomato sauce and pickles and ketchup, boil maple sap into syrup, bake bread, smoke bacon, make cheese, brew beer…. We enjoy providing for ourselves, and we’re able to live a lifestyle less tied to our income. We still need money, of course, but since we have a low consumer footprint, we are able to put away money even on very modest salaries. Check back for a link to the new blog.

If you want all the recipes we used for our wedding dinner, I plan to post them sometime soon.

In support of local food

I can imagine some future brides poring over wedding magazines – looking at dresses, shoes and flowers. I pore over seed catalogs – ooohing and ahhhing over heirloom tomatoes and hot peppers. Mmmmm…romanesco cauliflower, blue ballet squash, yellow sunshine watermelon…these varieties are definitely wedding-worthy.

I was asked in an interview recently why we decided to take on this project (check out the Portland Press Herald article by clicking here). Why grow and cook the food for our wedding dinner? Why take on another potentially stressful task to prepare for our special day? The question really got me thinking. Was our motivation primarily to save money, be self-sufficient, feel connected to our food source, make some sort of statement about eating locally or just serve delicious, fresh food to our guests?

The answer is a combination of all of these reasons. Andy and I feel passionately about eating fresh, locally-grown food. We love the taste of fresh food. We also try to limit our negative environmental impact, so we eat food that has required less chemicals and fossil fuels to be grown and transported to us and thus has had a lighter impact on the earth. We are appalled by the way animals are treated in factory farms.

We also value community, and we see eating locally as a way neighbors can get to know each other through mutual support. We hope to help preserve the traditional farming lifestyle of New England so children understand where their food comes from and what goes into growing it. For all of these reasons, and probably several more, we strive to eat local food grown in a humane and sustainable way. Writing this blog is, I suppose, a statement in support of small farms. We do what we can to make a positive impact on the world, but we also do what makes us happy. We hope that others will do the same.

Planting cucumbers in black plastic

It makes us happy to work on projects. We’re not the type of people who spend much time sitting around. When living in Portland, I used to run a lot. Now I garden.

It’s hard to explain why we get so much satisfaction from providing for our own needs. In the last year we’ve cut all our own firewood, smoked our own bacon and ham, brewed our own beer, boiled sap into maple syrup, canned pickles and applesauce and froze many different fruits and vegetables. Partly, we do this to save money, but it’s about more than just that. The food tastes better when we preserve it ourselves. The pile of wood keeps us active and outside while cutting and then keeps us warm all winter.

Potatoes

The wedding garden is also an experiment that we hope to learn from in planning future gardens. We are planning to start our own small, diversified farm in the near future, and we will need to do the same sort of planning that went into this garden, just on a larger scale. I’m keeping meticulous records (in this sense I truly am my mother’s daughter). For every crop, we’re keeping track of how much we planted, how much space it took up and how many pounds of product we get out of it. Keeping track of what it all costs will also help us plan future, larger gardens.

Bags of rocks to weigh down row cover -- using the resources we have

Money is also a factor in our decision. As both of us are the type to choose low paying jobs because we enjoy them, neither of us has ever had a lot of money. We are trying to keep our wedding expenses low so we can use our hard-earned savings for farm start-up expenses. Our most recent wedding budget has us spending somewhere between $6,000-7,000 total, with somewhere around $1,500 of that being for food. We were joking that few wedding budgets include things like chicken feed and potting soil. Our budget numbers are still very rough, though, and they could be way off. Check back later for an updated budget.

It helps in taking on this task that we don’t feel like we’re entering this endeavor as total beginners. Though we haven’t done it commercially, we aren’t brand new to farming. My parents moved to Maine as part of the back to the land movement, joining other city folk searching for a more meaningful lifestyle close to the land. As a child, I learned about growing food, raising chickens and preserving food. Andy grew up in the country too. He had his own garden as a child.

As adults, we’ve each spent two seasons working for other farmers. Last summer we spent the summer together working at Dandelion Spring Farm, just to make sure we still wanted to farm together before we bought land. Despite the relentless rain, we had a great summer. During summers when we haven’t worked on farms, we’ve usually had gardens in our yards or at community gardens. Our wedding garden will be the largest either of us has planted on our own.

Planning the menu

We can’t wait to put plants and seeds in the ground, and we have started a few seedlings in Beth’s greenhouse at Dandelion Spring Farm, where we worked last summer. In the meantime, we’ve been planning the menu and trying to figure out how many pounds of each ingredient we will need. My brother gave me the “Moosewood Cooks for a Crowd” cookbook for my birthday 11 years ago, and I’ve been carting it around with me as I move, hoping to use it someday. Finally, I’m cooking for more than 25 people! I’ve always liked Moosewood recipes, as they tend to be both simple and tasty. Our favorite cookbook, however, is “The New Best Recipe.” It was put out by the people at America’s Test Kitchen, who try out many permutations of each dish to find the best recipe.

Our tentative menu (we’ll test and refine all these recipes this summer):

Appetizers:

  • Veggie sticks (carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower, green peppers, etc.)
  • Hummus (we make a killer hummus)
  • Fruit (cantaloupe, watermelon, apples, etc.)
  • Bread (from a local bakery)
  • Cheese
  • Pesto (homemade)

Dinner:

  • Roast chicken (raised ourselves, more on that later)
  • Autumn gold squash soup (Moosewood Cooks for a Crowd)
  • Oven fries (The New Best Recipe)
  • Cubed hubbard squash with kale (this is a dish we made up and came to love last fall)
  • Green salad
  • Caprese salad (tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and olive oil – yum!)
  • Asian cabbage slaw (Moosewood Cooks for a Crowd)
  • Pickles (we’ll follow my great-grandmother’s recipe for amazing half sour kosher dill pickles)
  • Bread (from a local bakery)

Dessert:

  • Pie (we’re calling it “battle of the moms,” since we each brag about our mom’s pies)
  • Ice cream (from John’s ice cream in Liberty, Maine – best ice cream in the state)

Taking into account that the wedding will be in the end of September, our menu centers around seasonally available ingredients. We’re hoping that this year’s frost will come late so we can have freshly picked tomatoes and basil from our own garden.

We estimated amounts of each ingredient needed for 100 guests to help us map out our garden. With 100 guests, we figure we’ll need 27 pounds of butternut squash, 40 pounds of potatoes, 12 pounds of cabbage, 15 pounds of carrots and various smaller amounts of other ingredients. Given the yields from the seed catalogs, we’ve taken an additional step to estimate how many row feet of each crop we’ll need. Farming is unpredictable, so we’ll plant way more than we think we’ll need to make sure we have enough.

A local food wedding

We love to eat. We especially love to eat fresh, healthy, whole, real food. Naturally, when we started planning our wedding last fall, we agreed immediately that we wanted to celebrate by sharing a delicious meal of fresh, locally-grown ingredients with our friends and family. The catch is, we don’t have a lot of money and we have other priorities where we want to spend our money (we are currently looking for land to start our own farm). Largely due to farm subsidies to big business for growing large amounts of commodity crops like corn, healthy food is often more expensive than highly processed junk. Trying to pull off a September wedding for 100 guests on under $5,000, we couldn’t afford the kind of caterer we wanted.

We also like to do things ourselves. We love to provide for our own needs, and we like to be independent and make decisions. These desires are one of the driving forces behind our decision to go into farming together. We get a lot of joy from providing basic necessities for ourselves and others.

So we decided to grow and raise our own wedding dinner. We rented out a summer camp for the whole wedding weekend, and we’ve enlisted our wonderful friends and family to help us cook. We are lucky to have space for a garden where we live this summer (7,500 square feet to be exact) and additional fields to graze our chickens in a moveable chicken tractor.

You can follow the progress of our garden and meat chickens from ordering chicks and testing recipes to planting and harvesting ingredients to cooking and eating with friends and family. We’re so excited to embark on this process, we can’t wait until it’s time to sink our hands in the dirt. This blog will follow the whole process.