NORWOOD - If you like to eat out, you know all about farm-to-table, whereby chefs carefully source the food they prepare, ensuring it is as fresh as possible, sometimes even growing it themselves in a garden just outside the kitchen door or at a farm they may own nearby, or working closely with select farmers.
For a meal that might be even fresher, you can check out table-to-farm: a “farm fresh dinner,” whereby the consumer travels to the farm for a meal consisting of items grown and harvested right there.
Not that there’s anything new about this concept, but, then again, the newest and most eternal fad in eating is to eat like people used to eat by avoiding the all-too-convenient, all-too-affordable and all-too-flavorless or salt- and sugar-laden products of agribusiness.
Which is something that Indian Ridge Farm, near Norwood, could never be accused of being. Instead, Indian Ridge is a stellar example of Community Supported Agriculture, its bounty of produce purchased in advance and in bulk by the 65 households with memberships, who pay in part for their food by putting in some hours of work in the fields. What they get in return are a couple of boxes of goods every week during the summer.
This would be food unadulterated by pesticides or herbicides, never processed or packaged, medicine- and hormone-free, plants fertilized only by farm compost, lots of heirloom varieties, and all of it harvested at the peak of readiness. It generally happens to taste pretty outstanding, too.
One week in June, Indian Ridge expanded its offerings by hosting its first Farm Fresh dinner, the brainchild of Indian Ridge baker and chef Lori Goralka, who said she has been eager to demonstrate what can be made from what the farm produces, the menu “of the moment,” depending on exactly what is ready for harvest.
Indeed, the morning of the first dinner, Goralka recalls, when Barclay Daranyi – the farm’s proprietor, along with her husband Tony – brought her the vegetables she’d be serving, “I got super emotional because they were so beautiful, fresh from the garden, with soil still on them, that I knew cooking with them would make beautiful food….”
Beauty being the key word here, because Indian Ridge on a summer evening is spectacular, the farm on a slight rise near the northern edge of Wright’s Mesa, framed by distant mountain ranges in all directions, as if it were hidden away from the real world. The dinner is served on the patio of the straw bale home built by the Daranyis, beneath a grape arbor, a setting of pastoral splendor: bees humming, a pond just below, the sound of chickens clucking off in the distance.
You might be in Provence or Tuscany or Sonoma, although Wright’s Mesa, while lacking in glamor and culinary renown, might be more beautiful than any of them, and is certainly more untrammeled.
Before dinner, while Goralka and Indian Ridge interns were presumably putting the finishing touches on her five courses, Tony and Barclay led the 20 guests on a tour of the farm, describing their management of pastured chickens, whose hutches consist of no-longer-roadworthy repurposed horse trailers, surprisingly readymade to keep foxes out after dark; discussing the drought of 2012 and how closely it resembles the drought the first year they farmed at Indian Ridge, only this year they are far better positioned to make it through thanks to all the water conservation measures implemented during their tenure.
Being truly sustainable, Tony mused – in farming certainly, and perhaps in other realms – means being prepared to survive the most challenging conditions one is likely to face. What was implied but not spoken was the pervasive sense many of us share: that foreseeable challenges in the years ahead could prove far more daunting than anything we’ve seen in the recent past.
Back in 2002, Norwood witnessed what was then the third-biggest wildfire in Colorado history, the Burn Canyon fire, not five miles from Indian Ridge, the scars still easily visible from the Daranyi’s home. The two bigger fires in Colorado’s recorded history were occurring at the same time.
All three, Hayman near Denver, Missionary Ridge near Durango, and Burn Canyon, have been eclipsed by fires this year, as Indian Ridge and all of the rest of us in Western Colorado hold our collective breath as if doing so might prevent another massive firestorm close to home, wherever your home may be. The Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs had not yet demonstrated what an extreme fire in an urban zone can do. But some of us a few weeks earlier had seen Chasing Ice at Mountainfilm, which documents the astounding speed with which Arctic ice is melting. And there were other immediate worries: Europe perpetually teetering on the brink of financial collapse, an impending ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on health care, and what promises to be an unsettling election season.
Naturally then, over dinner, conversation turned (at my corner of the table, at least) to sustainability in an increasingly precarious world, precisely because Indian Ridge is so self-consciously a refuge from it. The Daranyis were able to negotiate a very favorable price for their land thanks to a desire on the part of the seller to see it used for sustainable farming, without which the farm would not be viable, Barclay noted. So they had a break. And yet, starting with that edge they have built, seemingly, a self-sustaining and beautiful oasis of living not-so-simply – because sustainable agriculture is dauntingly complex, what with crop rotations, composting, natural pest control, attention to biodiversity and animal welfare concerns, conservative water management, and managing the community of CSA members. It is manifestly hard work.
Still, Indian Farm represents a premise fully realized: that there are enough nearby residents who will partner with a farmer in a new paradigm for demonstrating, perhaps, how the planet might be saved, not to discount the reward of eating well at the same time.
And that is exactly what Goralka had set out to demonstrate, not necessarily salvation, but eating well, starting her guests off with chicken-liver mousse on a round of toasted Indian Ridge bread, with cherry marmalade on top, served with soda made with cherry puree mixed with seltzer. Pastured chickens may be Indian Ridge’s most visible claim to fame, since they are produced in enough quantity to be made available even to persons who are not members of the CSA coop, at the Telluride Farmer’s Market, for instance. Indian Ridge Chicken grilled under a brick made an appearance as the main course, as well, with braised mustard greens and a garlic, parsnip and potato puree on the side.
Earlier, as an appetizer, those beautiful aforementioned baby vegetables, roasted, were served with a goat cheese béchamel. A creamy spinach tarragon soup received especially high praise.
All this, and a few other items, including a cherry tartlet with vanilla goat milk ice cream, for $75; bring your own wine.
Sadly, if you are intrigued by this opportunity for both farm fresh food and food for thought, the next Farm Fresh dinner at Indian Ridge, in July, is sold out, but if you call quickly (327-4762), you might snag one of the few seats available for the Fall Harvest Dinner.
Beyond that, you might book a dinner for next summer, when those dates are set, or look around for a Farm Fresh dinner at another of the region’s new-paradigm farms. Zephyros Farm, in the North Fork Valley, has produced a few, for example.
Which poses a vexing question: Indian Ridge just might be able to sustain itself, and even its 65 or so member households, up to a point, and this is inspiring, to be sure. But Indian Ridge, and even Indian Ridge plus all its brethren, can only serve a sharply limited number of Farm Fresh dinners.
And while your one or two meals at a table at a farm will almost certainly be delicious and memorable – and may feel very much like life itself, deeply pastoral, as if you had finally arrived home – and it may even suggest to you how the world might be restored, you may not be able to rationalize the fact that there really is not enough of this for everyone in the world to partake of it.