It’s rare that a culinary event is a raving success before the first bite is taken.
But such was the case at last Sunday’s Sustainable Settings Harvest Festival in Carbondale. The 10-year-old event brought together a decreasingly rare group of individuals that are both self-proclaimed foodies as well as avid environmentalist interested in embracing integrated solutions for sustainable development.
From the moment we waded through the muddy parking lot and entered the gate at the Sustainable Settings ranch, I knew we were in for a treat. Perched at the entrance was a colorful cornucopia cart featuring the late-summer bounty of the farm. There were tomatoes and beets, peppers and beans, kale, broccoli, apples, onions, eggs, milk, cheese. After passing the cart and the tented dinner tables, I counted a mere 35 paces before I reached the chicken pens. Another 12 to the perfectly messy rows of vegetables. Five more to the goats. And another 6 to the cows.
And the best part? We were encouraged to reach out and sample any of the fresh food we passed while on the tour of the garden. “All you have to do is wipe off a little water and maybe a little dirt first,” said Brook Le Van, executive director of the 16-year-old nonprofit. And sample we did. Fresh broccoli and kale, perfectly crisp peas, and tomatoes.
Back at the pre-dinner soiree by the cornucopia cart, Aspen Brewing Co. beer was being pumped from kegs, regional biodynamic wines were being poured from Peak Wine & Spirits, and Big B’s juices from Colorado’s North Fork Valley were being sipped all while Paonia’s The New Frontier String Band played sweet bluegrass-y tunes. Chefs from Chris Lanter’s team at Aspen’s Cache Cache restaurant and Mark Fisher’s teams at The Pullman in Glenwood Springs and Town in Carbondale were busy grilling freshly slaughtered cow and lamb and piecing together the Thanksgiving-like spread.
I thought I had reached the pinnacle of farm-to-table cuisine at last year’s Slow Food Roaring Fork’s annual harvest dinner at now-defunct 689 restaurant in Carbondale (also by Mark Fisher). It was a much more formal affair, with small tables and waiters. The food was expectedly fresh and delicious, but there was something quite special about the Sustainable Settings event, and I’m sure it had to do with eating within arm’s reach of where the veggies grew and the animals fed. And waiting in line to pile the bounty on to our plates was a communal experience that harkened back to harvest festivals of centuries past.
And the simple preparation of what might literally be the freshest meal I’ve ever eaten certainly didn’t disappoint. There was mixed grilled sausages (boudin noir, longaniza, luganeca) with mustard, preserves and pickles; pork adobada with La Roca tortillas, homemade queso fresco, pickled red onion, and salsa roja; beef filet carpaccio with truffle aioli, sunchoke chips, and herbs; cumin roast beets with Greek yogurt and herbs; mixed kale, squash, zucchini, carrot and turnip salad with dried fruits and nuts; mixed vegetable terrine; roast beans with bacon, melted leeks and arugula; and peach crisp with Greek yogurt, whipped cream, and ice creams.
A quote from Amory Lovins, co-founder, chairman, and chief scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute, on the front of much of Sustainable Settings’ literature sums up the meal quite well: “Sustainable Settings’ lamb and other food tastes better because it is better for the land and the planet.”
I’ll cheers to that. And I’ll sign up for their Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) food boxes so I can whip up my own local cuisine at home. More info at www.sustainablesettings.org .