by M’Lisa Kelly
I have been a professional chef for 23 years. Along with this way of life that I am so passionate about, I have made some amazing friends and colleagues of local food purveyors and farmers. No one becomes a chef or a farmer to become wealthy.
Most folks who grow or prepare food for living do so because they cannot imagine NOT doing it. It is a part of their being, a way of expressing their love for humanity and the environment. I designed my Farm to Table class to introduce students to the people I admire most — local family farmers and producers, who live their beliefs and make a living keeping those “do the right thing” values, no matter how hard the work is.
Our students don boots and hats, pile into a couple of vans, and head out to the far reaches of the Bay Area to spend each day on a different farm. Sometimes, when a farmer will let us, we do some community service for the farm. We pull weeds, we cut crops, tote and apply compost to the crops. Along the way, our famer hosts tell us about their life, what is important about the crops and animals in their care, and they show us the importance of stewarding the soil and the environment for the next generation of farmers. It is an amazing learning experience for our students. I hope this experience cultivates a life-long interest in where food comes from and a commitment to vote with one’s fork.
We visit Farmer Al of Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood, who grows the most amazing stone fruit anyone has ever tasted. In fact, even Julia Child sought out Al’s peaches! Alexis Koeford of Soul Food Farm in Vacaville supplies eggs and chickens to Chez Panisse and is now branching out into herbs and lavender for wellness. Nicolette Hahn Niman will give us a tour of Niman Ranch, which has elevated the standard by which many ranchers now raise livestock. We visit Chef Tim Bodell of Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, who not only runs the kitchen of the amazing restaurant, but has expanded the Winery’s organic garden to support his cooking.
During the final two days of class, our students design, prep, produce, transport and serve the meal that we has been inspired by our farm experiences. The meal is served to the staff and clients of the Cerebral Palsy Center on Lincoln Avenue in Oakland. The students experience, first hand, what it takes to take a meal from farm to fork, and the true difference in flavor and quality that results.