The event was held at Straw Hat Farm on Solar Road Monday night, and guests sipped on lemonade or cucumber water as they strolled through hoop houses full of burgeoning tomato plants and other vegetables to the large shed where drying garlic hung from the ceiling, and where dinner was served.
Chefs Donn Wagner and Peter O’Brien of Simmer Food and Wine cooked chicken on a large outdoor grill and served up side vegetables that were picked on the farm early that morning.
As they stood in line waiting to fill their plates, many guests withstood rain showers, but stood their ground. As the wind picked up, some had to make a run for it to a covered tent filled with linen-covered tables, where conversation was lively; some went back for seconds, including slices of the cherry pies baked by Karen Byler, who runs the farm with her husband Chet.
According to its website at strawhatfarm.com, Straw Hat Farm sells many varieties of vegetables, but specializes in organic gourmet garlic. The farm also has 300 laying hens and sells farm-fresh eggs. About five years ago, the family-owned farm added a state-licensed kitchen, and now offer baked breads, pies, granola and more, all using organic flours and grains. The farm has its own stone-burr mill and uses all freshly ground wheat, and the kitchen also offers dog biscuits, a project of the children of the family. Most of the farm’s sales are through area farmers’ markets.
Brendan Lore, owner of Pahgre’s Restaurant and the member of the food partnership who came up with the idea for the Farm Dinner, said he’s often first in line at the Montrose Farmers Market, competing with other local chefs for the freshest local produce.
Buying fresh and local is a movement that’s sweeping the country, Lore said, and it’s spread to the school district and hospital here, and both are involved in the Valley Food Partnership, as are several local restaurants.
So are other producers like the Bylers, and they’ve all come together to promote the goals of the partnership, which operates under the umbrella of the Montrose Community Foundation.
Kathy DelTonto of the Montrose School District and Mike Krull, chef at Montrose Memorial Hospital, are both involved in the partnership, Lore said, along with many others.
Carol Parker, a retired farmer and rancher, did much of the hard work of organizing the Farm Dinner, Lore said, with help from a lot of volunteers and the Byler family.
Parker has applied for a planning grant through the Colorado Health Foundation to develop baseline information on local needs and wants, Lore said.
“Our overall goal is to consume more local food,” he said.
Throughout the evening, the focus was on food, and guests were entertained by music by Marv Ballantyne while they waited in line for their plates.
Parker said she was amazed at the turnout, which, according to the number of full tables, went over the goal of 100 tickets sold. The final tally collected isn’t confirmed yet, she said, but she considers the evening a great success.
Parker said she’s anxiously awaiting word on the planning grant, but that whether it’s approved or not, the Valley Food Partnership will continue to strive to increase consumption of locally grown products, which she says is best for one’s physical health as well as the health of the local economy.
“We will be moving forward regardless,” she said. “There’s a lot of energy and interest around the whole local foods issue.”