Last month I was fortunate enough to be be invited to a truly unique event--a field-to-vase dinner to be held in a working greenhouse out among the farming fields of Watsonville. A precursor to the annual Monterey Bay Greenhouse Growers Open House, the dinner was sponsored by the MBGG and the California Cut Flower Commission to celebrate and promote the locally grown flowers that we're lucky enough to enjoy here in California.
It's about a two-hour drive from Alameda to Watsonville, but any time I find myself in California farm country, it feels like I'm even further from home. I love driving through the patchwork fields and trying to glimpse what crops are growing as they go by my car window in a blur. But when I finally arrived at the Kitayama Brothers nursery I had to stop and just stare for a moment at the green fields stretching out in the distance, just a few miles from the Pacific Coast.
Outside the greenhouse where the dinner was to be held, the Original Sin Desserts & Catering company, headed by Chef Tanya DeCell, was busy preparing the feast.
Once inside the greenhouse, it was like stepping into a rainbow. Tables of Gerbera daisies filled the massive building in vibrantly colored bands of yellow, pink, orange, and red.
And against that stunning backdrop, a table had been laid for about 30 guests and decorated with centerpieces of locally grown flowers.
The flower arrangements were provided by Farmgirl Flowers, a San Francisco company started by Christina Stembel, who has come up with some rather clever ways to sell locally grown floral arrangements at reasonable prices.
What followed was a really fun night of conversation with growers, writers and bloggers, and other guests over a pretty spectacular meal. I got a chance to meet both Robert and Stuart Kitayama and learn a bit about how their family started in the nursery business as well as how the industry is faring now. (Pictured below: Robert Kitayama, CEO/President of Kitayama Brothers; Robert's wife, Karen; and event coordinator Kathleen Williford.)
Are you wondering what kind of food is served at a field-to-vase dinner? Delicious food, locally sourced and generally organic! Consider the menu:
organic chive & cheese puffs
organic chicken liver pate with lemon marmalade
Organic Little Gem Lettuce Salad
organic radish, carrot & mint
organic preserved meyer lemon vinaigrette
organic english peas, tomato, peppers, garlic, onions, saffron
vegetarian OR with organic chorizo and chicken
Wild California Cedar Planked Salmon
organic grilled peach salsa
Organic Grilled Corn on the Cob
Organic Summer Squash with Herbs
Organic Swedish Strawberry Cake
chiffon cake, cardamom, white chocolate whipped cream
While the dinner was an event in itself, for the Monterey Bay growers, it was just the beginning of a busy weekend where they open their doors to give the public a chance to meet local flower growers and peek behind the scenes. The open house is free but the nurseries have plants for sale and there are some great deals to be found. Next year I'm planning on making this open house an excuse for a weekend getaway to the Monterey Bay area so I can check out all the participating nurseries.
Thanks to Kitayama Brothers for hosting such a delightful evening, and to all the sponsors who participated. When fun people (especially plant people!) and good food mix, it's hard to go wrong. And in this case, it was totally worth the four-hour round-trip commute!