FARM TO FORK IN WILLIAMSBURG

WORDS & IMAGES: KATE WEINER

Loam's travel ethos is rooted in the belief that we can find as much adventure in our backyard as we can from sojourns abroad. Both Nicole and I are big believers in celebrating the community you are a part of. And there is no sweeter way to explore place than through festival.

Recently, Rodale's Organic Life launched a two-day Farm 2 Fork Festival to celebrate both the relaunch of their magazine and Brooklyn's culinary bounty. Defining just what exactly farm-to-table dining is--and what this growing movement can accomplish--isn't always easy (read more here). I consider farm-to-table to be an interlocking culinary, agricultural, and sociological practice that nurtures healthy soils and resilient ecosystems. Through my work in urban agriculture and the food industry, however, I have come to see the term take on new dimensions in diverse spaces. It's tough stuff and maybe that's a good thing: it means that farm-to-table eating is a lot more nuanced than piling local produce onto restaurant plates.

During the festival, I was gratified to meet several chefs who were eager to reinvigorate the farm-to-table movement in the spirit of Dan Barber's "The Third Plate." Barber's terrific book posits that the most effective--and most delicious--interrelated system of food and agriculture takes into account issues of ecosystem health, food waste, and sustainability. At the Bites of Brooklyn tasting in a cramped venue by the Williamsburg waterfront, I watched this nuanced approach to eating come to life during a cooking demo from Patti Jackson of Delaware and Hudson on "nose-to-tail" beets. Chefs' ability to redefine what's edible and/or usable is an essential component of farm-to-table dining and I left the demo eager to make a soup from beet greens and kale ribs; all the good stuff we've been taught to discard.

The proof of Patti's integrative practice is in the pudding. Of the many wonderful vendors at Bites of Brooklyn, the sweet and sour cabbage from Delaware and Hudson was my favorite. This was in part because it was one of the few vegetable-centric options offered and in part because the simply plated dish tasted like some succulent cross between Korean kimchi and the cabbage my father likes to fry up on Sunday mornings. I went for two rounds of the succulent ribollita from Bar Bolinas as well, an aromatic medley of white beans and autumnal vegetables that reminded me that cold weather isn't all that bad providing you've got a soup like this on the stove.

Before I left, belly full and notebook flooded with notes on preservation courtesy of the Organic Life Lounge, I stopped to snap a couple shots of the vertical rose wall that Passion Roses had built. As an avid vertical gardener (can I say that yet? is that a thing?) the lush wall satiated my appreciation for the power of plants. I thought that this, more than anything, is what the Farm 2 Fork Festival illuminated. The ability of farm-to-table to take root in the heart of the city is not so unlike a vertical garden. Both institutions flip the rule book on its head by proving that the fundamental things still apply. Because neither a garden that grows upward nor a culinary movement that respects farming is so skewed; what is is mainstream beliefs about what forces drive flourishing ecosystems. Although I would have liked to see a wall threaded from local flowers and would have loved more plant-based bites, I admired the effort of the organizers to showcase different models of farm-to-table. Like the soil that nourishes us, farm-to-table is a compendium of thousand things; and thus how we approach it is forever in flux.